Inverted clay membranes
Ruth van Eck-Rotholz

As an architect, I became interested in the possibility of creating self supporting free form catenary shell structures using clay, something that had only been achieved in architectural structures with quick setting concrete around steel reinforcement. I wanted to capture the spontaneity and freshness of the ideal form that is created by Earth’s pull of gravity with a minimum use of materials.

In my approach using clay as the new shell material, new variables and problems occurring from the properties of the clay were revealed: the strength of the fiber, the weave, the pattern of the absorptive fabric, the type of clay slip and it application, the connection of the fabric to the hanging structure, the span of the structure in relation to the height, the size and temperature of the kiln, and the manner in which the catenary arch is fired while accommodating shrinkage properties of the clay and preventing the stress it puts upon the structure.

The art is to develop a technique using clay that becomes a beautiful and light way to span space, as it were, vaulting without the use of masonry units. I want the forms to express the tension on the fabric through expressive folds and pulls with a graceful arched shell that seems to want to dance with the light.