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Alexis Harrison on Tactile Architecture

4 Nov 2019
By Alexis Harrison

Alexis Harrison, architectural ceramics consultant at Arup, has a special interest in clay materials – particularly bricks and architectural ceramics. Here he considers why these materials have experienced a huge resurgence in recent years and architecture's return to tactile materials.

"There is no material used in construction, used in building facades, that is more versatile than ceramics. Because it is made from clay, and clay is this wonderful material that is fluid, it can be shaped into different forms, shaped using different techniques and you can then apply different surfaces, different finishes to it. And because of that you can create the most beautiful architecture. Effectively anything you can do with pottery you can pretty well do on a building and that leads to wonderful buildings.

Alexis Harrison considers the resurgence of ceramics in architecture © Chris Jackson

One of the projects I worked on as a consultant was One Eagle Place working with Eric Parry and the artist Richard Deacon. And that was a great example of where you had this collaboration between the manufacturer Darwen Terracotta, the architect Eric Parry, and the artist Richard Deacon and Arup as a specialist ceramics consultant to ensure that everything was kind of buildable, that we could advise the architect on how it could be constructed, how it could be built cost effectively, but also putting the architect in collaboration with the right manufacturers. So that’s why the material’s had a huge resurgence.

We have moved away from the Hi-tech era of buildings that were very mechanised, very machine-like. We have moved very much back in recent years to an understanding of materials that are tactile, materials that we have some sort of human emotional connection with.

We are still pushing the boundaries of these materials and making new forms, new shapes, new colours. It’s a very exciting area to work." 



'Hand Held to Super Scale: Building with Ceramics’ is an exhibition and associated public programme curated by the Building Centre exhibitions team and Fettle Studio. Supported by the Built Environment Trust.


 We would like to thank our headline sponsor Boston Valley Terra Cotta and our exhibition supporters ArupDarwen TerracottaNBK Terracotta and Szerelmey.

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