AUTHOR: Sri Taylor
SOURCE: Bloomberg CityLab
“Look at That Building” is a weekly series by Bloomberg CityLab that explores everyday – and not-so-everyday – architecture in New York City. Their latest story featured the Fitzroy on 514 West 24th street, an Art Deco revival condo designed by Roman and Williams. To evoke 1920s building design and “channel the spirit of Old New York,” the architect chose terra cotta for the façade, which was manufactured by Boston Valley.
Below is an excerpt from the article about the Fitzroy’s opulent terra cotta masonry:
“A mix of clay and water that’s molded and fired in a kiln, terra cotta has been widely used in art and architecture for millennia. Pre-war buildings on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side reflect the material’s turn-of-century heyday. But in the decades after these Art Deco and Beaux-Arts beauties were built, the use of terra cotta began to fade as glass, steel and concrete façades dominated.
Most of these buildings use neutral colors that fall in line with the color palette of the city’s fin de siècle cornices and ornamental detailing. But the terra cotta of the Fitzroy is an opulent jade green. Alesch and Robin Standefer, another lead architect on the Fitzroy, were keen to emphasize the material’s beauty.”
“The façade comprises about 5,600 terra cotta units — bricks, not just tiles — using over 500 different forms. The team of architects and developers at Largo and JDS Development Group joined Buffalo-based manufacturer Boston Valley Terra Cotta in determining both the shape and glaze of the units, which were molded and hand-pressed by Boston Valley artisans. All the window frames are oak and copper, for a rich material contrast.
The margin for error is thin with terra cotta: Once the design is finalized and the pieces are fired, there’s no room for changes or tweaks, as the components can’t just be trimmed if the designers get a measurement wrong. An entirely new piece would need to be molded and fired, causing substantial delays.”
Boston Valley used all four forming methods to efficiently produce the Fitzroy’s elaborate façade. Of the 5,600 masonry units manufactured, 500 used entirely unique molds. Our glaze lab custom-developed a rich jade green glaze with a glossy finish, coating the terra cotta using spray application for the high volume of pieces.
Testing is an important part of both the application and firing processes to maintain quality control – the shape of the units can affect how a glaze looks on the finished product, as can kiln placement, temperature, and duration of firing.
Photo credit: © Jimi Billingsley