Is terra-cotta rising again?

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Architect magazine has an article called “The Rise, Fall and Rise of Archi- tectural Terra-Cotta” that seems to have come out of nowhere. No, it was sent me by Kristen Richards, of the indispensable ArchNewsNow.com; what I mean is that there seems no rhyme nor reason to such an article’s existence in the mouthpiece of the American Institute of Architects. I may well exag- gerate its loathing for new traditional architecture, but the journal’s prefer- ence for modern architecture is beyond indisputable. After all, the article on terra-cotta is part of a monthly series called “Throw-Back Thursdays.”

But is there a “rise” of terra-cotta afoot? I hope so. The article’s author, Mike Jackson, writes, “While architectural terra-cotta largely disappeared by the mid-20th century, there is now an active market for terra-cotta restoration products to maintain the legacy of landmark terra-cotta buildings.” He has nothing to say, it seems, about the usefulness of terra-cotta in constructing new traditional buildings. And yet most of the New Jersey Terra Cotta Co. pamphlet from which Jackson draws his article’s illustrations is devoted to terra-cotta used as wall construction systems for new buildings. Maybe members of the TradArch list who read this can comment on whether terra-cotta is on the way back.

Either way, backward-looking though it may be, and assuming its editors are not rolling their eyes in dismay that they must put this sort of thing on their pages, Architect merits applause for running the piece. It is accompanied by some very interesting commercial promotions from the archives of the Building Technology Heritage Library, a project of the Association for Preservation Technology. Definitely worth a look.

Gary Brewer, a partner at Robert A.M. Stern Architects, writes of the firm Roman and Williams, leaders in the “slow design” movement specializing in craft interiors, but also branching out into whole buildings:

Roman and Williams’s Fitzroy apartment building which is under construction in the Meatpacking District is clad in terra cotta.  I was invited to their developer’s launch party at the Boom Boom Room (which R&W designed in the Standard Hotel) and if the crowd was any indication terra cotta could join the palette of materials of the hip set once the building is complete.  Building materials are not immune to the shifts of fashion.

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About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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