AUTHOR: Myrto Katsikopoulou
During the Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop (ACAW) hosted by Boston Valley Terra Cotta, COOKFOX Architects teamed up with façade engineers from Buro Happold to explore ceramics as a high-performance biophilic façade. The team was inspired to push the boundaries of architectural terra cotta by creating a screen wall that can incorporate microhabitats for bees, plants, and birds. The result sees a standardized stacking module that filters sunlight and provides the framework for a customizable series of terra cotta units.
Through months of design, experimentation, and fabrication, the team of architects and engineers created a modular structure composed of customizable terra cotta pods that provide shelter for different species.
The bigger base modules into which the micro-habitat pots are fitted are made of a high-fired and high-grogged terra cotta that is slip-cast or press-molded for large-scale, cost-effective production. This clay body is designed to withstand freeze-thaw cycles, shrinkage during manufacturing, and the rigors of façade applications. The micro-habitat pods themselves are slip-cast, low-fired terra cotta, which provides for water permeability to sustain each pod’s program.
During the design process, the team collaborated with Boston Valley fabricators to create unique glazes and coloured clays known as ‘engobe.’ The team was able to explore the many qualities of color, opacity, and sheen; how a glaze can pool in valleys or ‘break’ over peaks; and how glaze interacts with engobe, thanks to this progressive experimentation. The procedure also examined the advantages and disadvantages of high-volume industrial production.
AUTHOR: James Parkes
British engineering company Buro Happold and American architecture studio COOKFOX Architects have designed a terra cotta façade system that can house small wildlife, insects, birds and plants. The prototype was created for the 2021 ACAWorkshop by Andre Parnther and Spring Wu of Buro Happold, and Spencer Lapp of COOKFOX.
“The terra cotta screen wall is made with standardized stacking modules that create a framework for customizable terra cotta units, with micro-habitat pods inserted to suit the type of native fauna or flora: bees and birds, for example, and different kinds of plants,” Parnther told Dezeen.
Each individual module has a sculptural, arrow-like shape comprised of three prongs and circular openings that can be fitted with nesting pods, providing wildlife with habitable space beneath the surface of the façade.
Pods dedicated to birds have approximately 2 cm-wide openings, with a rounded interior and ample depth to provide birds with comfortable nesting space. Four vent holes punctuate the sides of the pod to provide airflow to the interior of the nest.
Reeds were packed inside pods with 7 cm-wide openings, designed to house pollinating bees and create spaces for numerous species to nest and populate.
Plant pod prototypes feature a socket for planting as well as a reservoir set below the soil pocket, which are connected by a wick that allows greenery to self-water. The pod was designed with a glazed finish due to its high water content, to ensure that water is not absorbed by the material.
“The use of buildings, rooftops and grounds as wildlife habitat is an essential part of long-term health for people and their ecosystems. It is a part of LEED and Living Building certifications, among others,” said Parnther. “We’re finding there is much more we can do in terms of ecological restoration in our cities and built environments generally.”