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An Option

That’s a small commercial building in downtown Stamford, Connecticut. I was not trying for an arty photo, just angling so that the glaze on the architectural terra cotta could be seen. To be clear: the first floor storefront is black marble veneer, probably with brick behind it; the second, third, and fourth floors have terra cotta veneer, also probably with brick behind; and the cornice is sheet metal, probably over a wood frame. The storefront is newer than the building and doesn’t match the mostly-classical style facade above.

I took the picture because it occurred to me there is no ordinary way to create a facade like this today. The style is dead – we may preserve buildings in this style and make repairs in kind, but no one is designing new small commercial buildings using bastardized classical ornament – but the flexibility that the molded terra cotta gave in design and its appearance really are unique. The cast products used today, where molded ornament like this can be created, are things like EIFS, architectural precast concrete, and GFRC. The last, thin-shell precast concrete with fiber reinforcing, comes the closest in appearance, but in my experience can’t match that beautiful smooth glazed appearance, particularly after it’s been in service and weathering for a few years.

I doubt that architectural terra cotta is going to make a full-scale come-back – although I would not be shocked if it did – but it would be nice if there was an option available to create this kind of facade.