Casa Terracota: An Oddity in Villa de Leyva

A ramp leads up the back of Casa Terracota with a decorative clay crocodile form through the middle that leads to an arch.

As you approach Casa Terracota, it’s unusual bubbly shape makes you question why this building exists outside the small town of Villa de Leyva, Colombia. It’s the largest piece of pottery in the world, making the house itself an intriguing masterpiece. But the fascination endures inside Casa Terracota where curved clay walls seamlessly flow from one room to the next.

Everything is made of clay from the furniture to the floors, with various artistic touches forged in metal throughout the home. Most of the metal figures in the house are animal representations. A pendant light in the form of a fish hangs over the kitchen sink. On the stovetop made of clay, each knob depicts a different insect. And the body of a dragon wraps around the dining room table to form a bench. It’s clear that the creator of Casa Terracota had a vision for living as one with nature.

A dragon's face and body forged in metal form a bench around the clay table at Casa Terracota. The dragon's mouth is painted red while the eye is green and the feet of the dragon are the feet of the bench.
A large metal mask frames the top of the main fireplace which is made of clay. To the right of the fireplace is a door to the outside created of metal circles in various sizes.
Through the view of an arched open doorway, a large butterfly sits on the floor in front of a built in bookshelf.

Most travelers to Villa de Leyva will put visiting Casa Terracota on their list of things to do. But it is more deeply appreciated when you know the history of the house, its creator, and its conception. I only learned the story behind Casa Terracota after my visit, but I found it so intriguing I wanted to share it with future visitors.

History of Casa Terracota

The idea behind Casa Terracota was born when Colombian architect, Octavio Mendoza Morales was having a conversation with his niece. She inquired if it was possible to blend his love of pottery and architecture.

After that conversation, he developed a dream to use the four elements – earth, air, water, and fire – to transform the earth into a piece of architecture. He wanted to create an alternative way of living in touch with the surrounding environment.

The building of Casa Terracota took over 15 years to complete, beginning in 1999. 

How was Casa Terracota Built?

All 5,400 square feet of Casa Terracota was built using only clay. There is no rebar, no concrete, no other materials used to reinforce the structure. Just the earth. Even the kitchen counters, the seating areas, the bed, the bathrooms. Everything is made from clay. Powered by solar energy, it is the ultimate sustainable home.

Curved spaces help the flow of Casa Terracota, including these interior openings that act as windows to pass light from room to room.

Many people assume the house was cooked by the sun, but as Morales explains, the sun and air only helped to dry the layers of clay as it was being built. Using the element of fire, he ‘cooked’ the house, room by room by burning coke coal, which he claims is better for the environment than coal from wood.

Each room was burned for 30 days and then allowed to cool for 30 days. The burning of the home helped to strengthen its thick walls. In fact, Morales says the best thing that could happen to Casa Terracota is for it to have a fire, for the house to burn and thus even further fortify the structure.

The best thing that could happen to the house is for it to have a fire. To burn and further fortify the structure.

– Octavio Mendoza Morales, Casa Terracota Architect

Why Did Morales Build Casa Terracota?

As an architect, Morales became frustrated with the traditional man-made building materials when the Earth is rich in natural materials. He built Casa Terracota because he wanted to live in an alternative space more similar to the adobe house his grandmother lived in.

He intended to live in the house, but as its oddity and Villa de Leyva itself became more popular with tourists, he found strangers arriving at his house unannounced. Rather than get angry, he opened the house to inquisitive tourists and built a smaller ‘artist house’ in which to live.

A bed frame and fireplace, both made of clay, in the master bedroom of Casa Terracota. Arched doorways and windows let light into the room.

Today Casa Terracota is used as a space to talk about art and host other lectures about various trades. In addition, the artist house welcomes an artist in residence each year. In exchange for their time and experience in Villa de Leyva, the artist is asked to create something of note of which to remember them.

Through the arched doorways, a view of a seating bench and shelves, both built into the walls of Casa Terracota.
Arched doorways and curved walls of Casa Terracota, give the space flow and separation.
A shower head installed directly into the clay walls of the mosaic-tiled circular bathroom in Casa Terracota.
A domed shower allows for natural light from above to shine on the mosaic-tiled bathroom.

Where is Casa Terracota?

Casa Terracota is located just outside the small town of Villa de Leyva, Colombia. It is easily accessible via a 30 minute walk from town or a short bus ride (look for the sign Casa de Barro in the bus windshield).

The house is open every day from 8:30 am – 5:30 pm with an entrance fee that varies from 23,000-50,000 pesos depending on the season, day of week, and age).

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