IN-Review: Ceramic Material Systems in Architecture and Interior Design

IN-Review: Ceramic Material Systems in Architecture and Interior Design


Written by : Martin Bechthold, Anthony Kane and Nathan King.
Published by Birkhäuser, Basel 2015

This book is comprised of one of the oldest materials utilized in the history of humanity. Ceramics can be classified into: clay, silicate glass, cement and other composed ceramics. Many applications can be found as the traditional ceramic tiles on floors and walls, consumer products for decoration and daily uses, including façade applications providing innovative thermal properties on buildings.

Ceramic Material Systems encompasses much more than the traditional knowledge we might have about ceramics, opening up its content with the understanding of ceramics, its behaviors and properties; one gets to follow how this material has been so over-utilized in history and under-utilized today. Quoting the authors of this book, their focus of their work is summarized as follows:

“Ceramic Material Systems: Far beyond their long-standing decorative and protective use, architectural ceramics have matured into material systems of great potential. Triggered by material research, design computation, and digital fabrication methods, the innovations in ceramic technology are enabling expanded applications for ceramics as multi-functional, performative systems for contemporary architecture and construction.”

In order to have a broad scope of what this book contains the following is  the list of chapters that narrate the evolution of Ceramics:

  1. Ceramic Material Systems
  2. Fired Clay – A material legacy
  3. Materials and material properties
  4. Production processes
  5. Applications – Interiors
  6. Applications – Exteriors
  7. Materials Flows: Life Cycle Aspects
  8. Surface Effects
  9. Patterns and Aggregations
  10. Thermodynamic Skins
  11. Form Customization Strategies
  12. Emerging Systems
  • Products and Technologies
  • Appendix

As a descriptive explanation of every chapter, the first one, Ceramic Material Systems, provides and introduction of what ceramics are, the evolution of ceramics application in architecture, which systems are available and included in the book, plus the importance of this material in Architecture and Interior Design. It is this chapter that opens your appetite for ceramics and dig into the book right away.

It is important to clear out the focus of this book in terms of the types of Ceramics explained, from a materials science point of view. It basically “deals with glazed and unglazed clay-based ceramics that are, more specifically, relatively thin compared to their surface area, and fired at high temperatures to produce hard and durable products”. This statement rules out cement-based ceramics, glass-based and technical ceramics (all those consisting of minerals such as alumina, boron, graphite) and other substances including bricks, which are referred to other literature.

Pearlescent Glaze. Algueña Muca Music Hall and Auditorium. COR Associados Miguel Rodenas + Jesus Olivares (2011)Following Chapters 2 to Chapter 6, is where everything there is to know about the particularities regarding ceramic materials is covered with delicate detail; its properties, manufacturing processes (every single one we already know and new ones), common applications ranging from interiors as adhered surfaces and exteriors as ventilated façades and extruded profiles for sunscreens and acoustic claddings.

As our times require more attention to sustainability and environmentally conscious materials, Chapter 7 covers the Life Cycle of Ceramics outlining the correct use of ceramics in order to comply with sustainable processes as well as the many issues presented from cradle-to-cradle. The last Chapters include case studies of amazing projects built with Ceramic Systems including Thermodynamic Façades, Surface Effects and yes, 3D Printing Ceramics and robotic construction along with other emerging technologies either patented or under academic research. At the end of the book you will also find a selection of products already in the market and other producers by the time of printing of this book.

FullSizeRender 3Every chapter evolves with great sequence and Chapter 10 Thermodynamic Skins, caught my attention for its innovation, which includes a multitude of projects and explanations regarding ceramic use as evaporative cooling systems and daylighting strategies. A few notes on this topic is that Prototyping and testing is emphasized as remaining “crucial aspects of the design and development process”. In addition, the old strategy of evaporative cooling is also remarked as one that is reinforced by the porosity of the ceramic in use, which impacts the water-absorption of ceramic elements, influences resistance to heat and flow and specific density. For this, the authors note: “Longer kiln firing at higher temperatures creates denser, less porous ceramic; whereas adding grog or other materials increases porosity.”

FullSizeRender FullSizeRender 2The beauty of materials is when you get to explore their capabilities and make them performative, using them as a medium for other actions one seeks on innovative strategies. The project: Sony Research and Development Office in Tokyo (shown on previous images), is an urban cooling façade or bio skin comprised of hollowed ceramic profiles driving water through out the whole façade while performing evaporative cooling. These wet ceramic profiles can actually control heat gain and cool down its immediate surroundings, using rain water stored underground in the building and pumped through pipes.

Breathing Columns- Spanish Pavilion by Mangado & Asociados. Image by Grupo San José.

Breathing Columns- Spanish Pavilion by Mangado & Asociados. Image by Grupo San José.

A similar approach is provided at the Spanish Pavilion at the International Exposition of Zaragoza, Spain. The project, by Mangado & Asociados in conjunction with Ceramic Manufacturer Decorativa Tozeto S.A.,  is an effective evaporative cooling system throughout the columns of the Pavilion. The hollowed ceramic tiles in terra cotta and concave form, surround a steel core for support while driving water through its interior.

“Rainwater is collected on the roof and guided through the columns into the reflecting pool underneath the canopy. This water basin supplies the evaporative cooling system located on the eastern perimeter where it surrounds the entry passage through the outdoor space into the interior. Misting nozzles located at the top of the columns produce a continuous film of water running down the smooth inside surface of the terra cotta extrusions.”

Learn more about terra-cotta used as cladding here.

FullSizeRender 4 FullSizeRender 5I could go on and on about this book and talk about every single chapter but that would not be fair. The intention is for you to get into it and read it on your own terms, grasp the manufacturing process you most like and the system you prefer to learn more about for better implementation on projects. I highly encourage you to find this book and others regarding ceramics if you are also starting your business on this particular material or are just interested in learning about these systems that seems to be everyday, more and more incorporated on our buildings. Besides, who wouldn’t want to customize a façade or design their own profile for a special client or even your own?

Get it now at any of your favorite book stores online now, worth acquiring. For any additional question email us at


Sincere appreciation to Birkhäuser Publishers for the provision of this review copy. Thank you.

Ceramic Material Systems in Architecture and Interior Design Book Cover Ceramic Material Systems in Architecture and Interior Design
Martin Bechthold, Anthony Kane and Nathan King
Construction Materials

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Mabelle Plasencia

Founder and Editor at INmatteria©
• Architect | LEED AP BD+C, with an intense passion for materiality, innovation, technology and science. • Arquitecta | LEED AP BD+C apasionada por la materialidad, innovación, tecnología y ciencia.