A bridge between architecture and design 
It was a real experience to meet Christine Jetten, a former artist who now designs ceramic glazes for use in architecture all over the world. Her studio and laboratory in the Dutch city of 's-Hertogenbosch is the place where Christine designs  terracotta façade ornaments and fancy bricks. The specialisation in designing glazes was there first. Later she introduced a terra cotta approach. She has been designing glazes for 20 years now, for modern buildings since 2000. She has also added a series of imaginative, lively ceramic glazes with specific properties for modern architectural applications to her range of products - so much so that she is sometimes called "the ambassador of the new glazes".

After graduating from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam in 1990, she started to work as an artist and designed monumental ceramic sculptures (statues) and installations that were displayed in art galleries, museums and sculpture gardens. "This experience of making large ceramic objects for display out of doors allowed me to build up expertise in the field of frost-resistant objects almost effortlessly," Christine  explained. "But I wanted to know more, so I studied Ceramic Technology at Eindhoven University of Technology." 


Royal Delft, the world-famous manufacturer of earthenware products, requested her at the end of the 1990s to put her specialised knowledge of the composition of glazes to use in the restoration of historic ceramic structures in the company's own factory, De Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles. A number of historic ceramic objects in the inner courtyard of the factory, including a fountain and the entrance to the factory museum, were brought back to their original glory under her inspiring leadership. Since the 1960s the industry started producing the boring tiles and we got used to these and started accepting them where it can be a totally different world in experiences. I started to create exciting new glazes for use in large ceramic panels for building purposes. Her innovations in this field were inspired in part by a visit to Holland House in the City of London, designed by the famous Dutch architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage, during her initial studies for De Porceleyne Fles. Christine was fascinated by the glazed façade of the building that she saw in London; they had been made specially for the purpose in Delft, and transported to London.  It has been an architect of KPF who was inspired by this building and commissioned her to design a glaze for modern use inspired by the Holland House design.          


"I create glazes that determine the identity and the image of a bulding"


As her innovative glazes became better known, she was approached by an increasing number of internationally renowned architects, for whom she has desgined the glazes for the façade cladding and interiors for building in such places as London, New York, Madison (New Jersey), Washington DC, Beijing and Doha, the capital of Qatar. A unique feature of the glazes Christine Jetten designs is the way the specific properties of the glaze is used to match the design of the buildng in question. She has been involved in consultations to this end with renowned architects and consulting engineers such as KPF (Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, New York and London), UNStudio (Amsterdam), Allied Works Architecture (Portland and New York), ZGF Architects (New York and Washington DC), BKSK Architects in New York and ARUP (UK). She has worked together with a number of ceramics manufacturers in the preparation of her products, such as Boston Valley Terra Cotta in the USA, NBK in Germany, Koninklijke Tichelaar and De Porceleyne Fles (Royal Delft) in the Netherlands and il Palagio in Italy. 


"I have gradually developed since the 1980s," Christine said, "from someone who made architectural ceramic sculptures with glazes I had mixed myself to a glaze designer for large-scale applications in architecture like façade cladding, façade ornamentation and the cladding of domed structures and interiors in such settings as railway stations. I see glaze as much more than a coloured coating on a building or other structure. I pay attention to its specific properties such as the effect of depth it creates, how it reacts to the sunlight and lighting conditions and its texture. I grew up in the sixties and seventies when builders were throwing up one new housing development after another all over the country. They all used the same boring bricks, the same materials, the same uninspiring flat façades. That's a disaster for someone who is visually oriented like me; I used to get lost all the time. I got the feeling at that time that we were starving our senses, but it didn't occur to me that there was anything we could do about it. And then I thought that it should be possible to do things differently, that architecture could do more to stimulate people's senses, to make them more aware of their surroundings. I want to make glazes that would determine the aura of a building. I give buildings new skins that react to climatic conditions and the incidence of the light."     

"Architects like my visual approach"

Christine started to experiment with the properties of glazes, to make their effect depend on the distance you viewed them from and the state of the weather. Used in this way, glazes could give buildings more character, make them more exciting. "Architects like my visual approach," she said. "They appreciate having someone to discuss design matters with, who can exchange ideas with them about how the rhythm and proportion of ceramic panels, and the properties of a glaze applied to a given material, can influence the look of a building. Most industrial ceramicists have a chemical background, and have little or no appreciation  of visual effects."      



Sensual ceramic designs 

 "Ceramics are experiencing a revival in architectural circles. After decades of abstract, conceptual building, an increasing number of architects are going for more sensual designs, building offices, theatres, houses and museums of flesh and blood and with a distinct identity. They are rediscovering the special charms of ceramic materials - their sexy colours and glazes, but also their seductive skin, mysterious shadow effect and ornamental potential. In fact, ceramics are turning out to be rich, unexpected sources of inspiration." (Source: design consultant and art historian Peter van Kester).   



Christine got her first glaze design commission in 2000, from KPF in London. Her task was to design ceramic glazes for the façade of the European headquarters of AIG, an American insurance company. "I had learned what the visual properties of buildings meant to their surroundings, how they determined the interaction between an individual building and the built environment. I was approached by one of the architects from KPF, who asked me whether I could make use of the characteristics of the glazed bricks used for the cladding of Holland House back in 1911 as a basis for a new, more appropriate design of the façade of the AIG building. The original design, based entirely on use of glass and steel, was turned down by the City of London's planning department because it did not fit in with the architectural style traditionally used in the City."    


Extending the scope of glazing techniques
"I accepted the commission, and worked with Richard Taylor of KPF on creating a new face for the AIG building. This went much further than choosing the colour of the glaze. By studying such factors as the response of the visual effect of the glaze to the angle of incidence of the light, we were able to achieve much more with the glaze than had been possible in 1911, when the irregularities in the glaze were an inevitable consequence of the production process. The architect was delighted with the range of possibilities offered by the glaze and with the results achieved.  While the building as constructed still has quite a lot of glass and steel, the imaginative use of glaze significantly modifies the overall impression it makes, allowing it to fit much better with its historic  surroundings." The AIG building has won many awards, including the 2003 New York City Architecture Award.           


The terracotta colour of these ceramic panels for the CNOOC headquarters in Beijing was carefully chosen to match that of the historic palaces in the Forbidden City 

Creating a look to match the palaces in Beijing's Forbidden City 
Another prestigious commission Christine Jetten won was for the design of a special glaze for ceramic panels and lamellae in the new headquarters of the China Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). "The special requirement here was to match the colour of these elements with the terracotta colour and overall impression of the walls of the palaces in the Forbidden City," said Christine.     













Layered glazes created by Christine Jetten  

Fascinated by the world around her  

Christine's fascination with the beauty of the world around her allows her to view things in a very natural way. She responds to the things she sees each day as if she were seeing them for the very first time - a pack of fresh snow on a privet hedge in winter, for example, or the beauty of the paint on a motor car. "I am inspired by the things I observe," Christine enthuses. "If I am surprised by the form of an object, the way the light falls on it and its colour, I often wish I could make a glaze to reproduce the feeling it gives me. One commission I received for an office building in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which looks out over the ocean, was to design a glaze that looked like waves, with the sun reflected in the deep blue of the ocean and the white foam on their crests. That's  the kind of challenge I like!."    





"My line of work really developed because architects were unable to get the materials they wanted from normal industrial suppliers. All that was on offer was a limited range of monotonous colours in a glossy or matt finish. Any requirements more specific than that cold not be met. I filled that gap. I am really surprised how the demand for my services has grown." In fact Chrtistine Jetten has almost imperceptibly created a new profession. "That's right," Christine agreed. "There are plenty of glaze consultants and glaze experts around, but many of them only offer a standard range. I develop completely new glazes. I have gradually come to see it as my task to deliver innovative solutions to improve the quality of the built environment, the urban landscape."      


Realogy headquarters in Madison, New Jersey, USA 


The assignment was to relocate the headquarters of the global real estate company Realogy to 175 Park Avenue, Madison, New Jersey and to transform the appearance of the building. KPF Associates commissioned Christine Jetten to design exciting new glazed elements - pillars and triangular lamellae - to highlight the building's iconic architectural features and Boston  Valley Terra Cotta from Orchard Park, NY, to produce them. The successful collaboration between designer and producer made a big contribution to the quality of the building as a whole. Terracotta red was used to create a tone that matched the green of the surrounding vegetation. Two different glazes were used for the columns: a robust terracotta provided the male voice of the colour harmony, while a rich, refined yellow added the female counterpoint. 




Glazing for underground train system in Qatar 

Christine Jetten is currently working as part of the UNStudio design team in Amsterdam to create the glazes to be used in the revolutionary underground railway system under development in Doha, the capital of Qatar. The Qatar Integrated Railway Project (QWIRP) plans to build 35 stations in phase 1 and to increase this number to 60 in phase 2. "We are halfway through our part of the project at the moment, having completed an extensive design phase," said Christine. "I am working on external and internal cladding  - that is, cladding for the façades and domes of the underground stations. This is a huge job, a most stimulating challenge for all of us. All the stations are given the same décor, so the design team spent months working out the basic terms of reference, the design of the tiles, the kind of surface structure they should be given and the way the glaze responds to the conditions under which  it is used. This is a very interesting, innovative process to be involved in, and highly prestigious. The complexity and thoroughness  of the discussions involved is unique in my experience."   


Museum of Arts & Design, New York

Façade of ceramic and glass panels for the Museum of Arts & Design, New York, designed by Christine Jetten 
Museum of Arts & Design, New York, with Columbus Circle in the foreground  

Another very interesting project was the development of a special glaze for the façade of the Museum of Arts & Design in New York when it moved to a new, larger site on Columbus Circle, Manhattan, in 2008. The preparation for this move occupied  the period 2002-2007. It was decided that the museum building should have a white façade with terracotta panels, and Christine Jetten was engaged as ceramic consultant to give advice on the new façade cladding. She developed a tailor-made glaze for this purpose, which gave the building a completely new look. "This was a fascinating challenge," enthused Christine. "The finished building made quite a different visual impression on passers-by and local residents from close up than it did from a distance, and the weather conditions and the way the light fell also had a strong effect on the building's appearance. The building was designed by Allied Works Architecture (AWA). They wanted to have an iridescent white façade instead of the usual plain white surface, but the ceramic industry was unable to produce the glaze needed for this purpose despite their best efforts. They finally contacted me, and I was able to design the kind of glaze the architect wanted, and to help the manufacturers to make the tiles."          


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Christine currently has projects in the acquisition phase in Chengdu, China; New York (2x); Baku, Azerbaijan and London (2x).