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material world: terracotta

Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, 210BCDirectly translated, terracotta is baked earth. A material that’s literally as old as the hills, its been used for centuries to make everything from simple pottery to over 8000 soldiers which form the Terracotta Army. Between those two extremes—a vast array of building bricks, roof shingles, and cladding on steel supported skyscrapers.

After the Chicago fire of 1871, the need to rebuild the city allowed it to become a lab for technological advances in architecture at the same time steel became more readily available for building construction. The modern sky- scraper was born and clad in decorative glazed and unglazed terracotta. Hence the architect Louis Sullivan’s coined phrase, “form ever follows function”.

photo courtesy of flickr/yeowatzupPreviously it had been used in the building and decoration of the Forbidden City in the 1400s and plaques in Mesopotamia around 1950BC. Whether baked in the sun or high fired in a kiln, often terracotta is unglazed and textural. Its porosity makes it perfect for potted plants since it can absorb and hold water like a sponge, then feed them naturally over time.

For vernazza, terracotta is molded into a sleek modern dinnerware profile void of all ornamentation. The beauty of the design is in the detail of the proportions and the stark contrast between the warm unglazed terracotta body and the glazed soft-gray center.

And just as durable terracotta pottery survived thousands of years—dating as far back as 3000-1500BC—vernazza easily goes from the refrigerator to the oven or microwave. So yes, its safe in the dishwasher.

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