Glazed architectural terra-cotta
is a ceramic
A ceramic is an inorganic, nonmetallic solid prepared by the action of heat and subsequent cooling. Ceramic materials may have a crystalline or partly crystalline structure, or may be amorphous...
Masonry is the building of structures from individual units laid in and bound together by mortar; the term masonry can also refer to the units themselves. The common materials of masonry construction are brick, stone, marble, granite, travertine, limestone; concrete block, glass block, stucco, and...
Building material is any material which is used for a construction purpose. Many naturally occurring substances, such as clay, sand, wood and rocks, even twigs and leaves have been used to construct buildings. Apart from naturally occurring materials, many man-made products are in use, some more...
popular in the United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
from the late 19th century until the 1930s, and still one of the most common building materials found in U.S. urban environments. It is the glazed
Glaze is a layer or coating of a vitreous substance which has been fired to fuse to a ceramic object to color, decorate, strengthen or waterproof it.-Use:...
version of architectural terra-cotta
Terracotta, in its unglazed form, became fashionable as an architectural ceramic construction material in England in the 1860s, and in the United States in the 1870s. It was generally used to supplement brick and tiles of similar colour in late Victorian buildings.It had been used before this in...
; the material in both its glazed and unglazed versions is sturdy and relatively inexpensive, and can be molded into richly ornamented detail. Glazed terra-cotta played a significant role in architectural style
Architectural styles classify architecture in terms of the use of form, techniques, materials, time period, region and other stylistic influences. It overlaps with, and emerges from the study of the evolution and history of architecture...
s such as the Chicago School
Chicago's architecture is famous throughout the world and one style is referred to as the Chicago School. The style is also known as Commercial style. In the history of architecture, the Chicago School was a school of architects active in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century...
and Beaux-Arts architecture
The material, also known in Great Britain as faience
and sometimes referred to as "architectural ceramics", was closely associated with the work of Cass Gilbert
- Historical impact :Gilbert is considered a skyscraper pioneer; when designing the Woolworth Building he moved into unproven ground — though he certainly was aware of the ground-breaking work done by Chicago architects on skyscrapers and once discussed merging firms with the legendary Daniel...
, Louis Sullivan
Louis Henri Sullivan was an American architect, and has been called the "father of skyscrapers" and "father of modernism" He is considered by many as the creator of the modern skyscraper, was an influential architect and critic of the Chicago School, was a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, and an...
, and Daniel H. Burnham, among other architects. Buildings incorporating glazed terra-cotta include the Woolworth Building
The Woolworth Building is one of the oldest skyscrapers in New York City. More than a century after the start of its construction, it remains, at 57 stories, one of the fifty tallest buildings in the United States as well as one of the twenty tallest buildings in New York City...
in New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...
and the Wrigley Building
The Wrigley Building is a skyscraper located directly across Michigan Avenue from the Tribune Tower on the Magnificent Mile...
Glazed architectural terra-cotta offered a modular, varied and relatively inexpensive approach to wall and floor construction. It was particularly adaptable to vigorous and rich ornamental detailing. Terra-cotta is an enriched molded clay brick or block. It was usually hollow cast in blocks which were open in the back, with internal stiffeners called webbing. Webbing substantially strengthened the hollow blocks with minimal weight increase. The blocks were finished with a glaze, with a clay wash or an aqueous solution of metal salts, before firing. Late 19th century advertising for the material promoted the durable, impervious and adaptable nature of glazed architectural terra-cotta. It could accommodate subtle nuances of modeling, texture and color. Compared to stone, it was easier to handle, quickly set and lower cost. The cost of producing the blocks, when compared to carving stone, was a considerable savings, especially when casts were used in a modular fashion—that is, used repeatedly. It never needed paint, and periodic washings restored its appearance.
Variations in the color and pattern of the glaze made it possible for buildings constructed with the material to look like they were finished with granite or limestone; this flexibility was part of the reason the material was so attractive to architects.
In wide use, there were four major types of terra-cotta used
- 1) Brownstone was the earliest type. A dark red or brown block which was not necessarily glazed. It was used as imitation sandstone, brick or real brownstone and associated with the architectural styles of Richard Upjohn, James Renwick, H. H. Richardson.
- 2) Fireproof was developed as a direct result of the growth of the high rise building in America. Cheap, light and fireproof, the rough-finished hollow blocks were ideally suited to span the I-beam members in floor, wall and ceiling construction. Certain varieties are still in production today.
- 3) Veneer was developed during the 1930's and is still used today. Unlike traditional architectural terra-cotta, ceramic veneer is not hollow cast. It is a veneer of glazed ceramic tile which is ribbed the back like bathroom tile and usually attached to a grid of metal ties which have been anchored to the building.
- 4) Glazed architectural terra-cotta was the most complex building material developed. The hollow units were hand cast in molds or carved in clay and heavily glazed, then fired. This is the terra-cotta associated with the architecture of Cass Gilbert, Louis Sullivan and Daniel H. Burnham.
Use in America
The American Terra Cotta Corporation, founded in 1881, operated for eighty-five years in the little town of Terra Cotta in the heart of Illinois dairy country (near Crystal Lake, Illinois
Crystal Lake is a city located in southeastern McHenry County in northeastern Illinois, in the Chicago suburbs. It is named after Crystal Lake, a lake located west-southwest of downtown. Crystal Lake is also a suburb of the city of Chicago. The population was 38,000 at the 2000 census, but as of...
), the company fabricated architectural terra cotta for more than 8,000 buildings throughout the US and Canada. It was the last exclusive manufacturer of architectural terra cotta by the time it ceased production in 1966. From its founding in time to rebuild the fire-ravished city of Chicago until its closing, it was the major producer of architectural glazed terra cotta in North America.
Guastavino tile is the "Tile Arch System" patented in the US in 1885 by Valencian architect and builder Rafael Guastavino...
was used in many places, including the Bridgemarket under the Manhattan
Manhattan is the oldest and the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City. Located primarily on the island of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River, the boundaries of the borough are identical to those of New York County, an original county of the state of New York...
side of the Queensboro Bridge
The Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, also known as the 59th Street Bridge – because its Manhattan end is located between 59th and 60th Streets – or simply the Queensboro Bridge, is a cantilever bridge over the East River in New York City that was completed in 1909...
Use in Canada
Although glazed terra-cotta was much more common in the US, it was used in central Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...
starting around 1900, on many of the area's first skyscrapers. The glazed terra-cotta used in central Canada was usually imported from the US or England.
Use in Great Britain
From around 1890 unglazed terra-cotta was supplanted by the glazed version - faience, and glazed brick - which were easily cleaned, and not blackened by city smoke.
Brick - A World History
, James W P Campbell & Will Pryce, 2003, ISBN 0-500-34195-8
External links and sources