June 26, 2014
New architecture inspired by a historic building material
New York has a rich architectural terra cotta heritage. This ceramic can be found on a plethora of historic buildings throughout the city, ranging from the iconic like Louis Sullivan’s Bayard-Condict Building and Cass Gilbert’s Woolworth Building to smaller-scale Queen Anne-style rowhouses in Park Slope and vibrantly glazed commercial structures along Coney Island Avenue. Of late, terra cotta has been experiencing a rebirth in contemporary architecture, including that of BKSK, thanks to the material’s inherent properties—specifically its malleability, infinite glazing options, environmental performance, and low toxicity.
In June, as part of a professional education course organized by the Historic Districts Council, Todd Poisson presented four BKSK projects that celebrate terra cotta in a boldly modern way. Our new rowhouse-scaled entrance building for One Madison, located on East 22nd Street, features sculpted vertical fins with a creamy glaze that complements the palette of its neighbors. At One Great Jones Alley in the NoHo Historic District, a new 12-story residential building—the design of which was enthusiastically approved the Landmarks Preservation Commission—also features vertical terra cotta fins but in combination with brick and metalwork. Here, the fins are canted in one of two angles so that the facade’s composition is variegated. For both projects, the depth and materiality of the vertical fins are intended to be experienced from within the building too, so the boundary of inside/outside is blurred.
“Here, traditional fabrication techniques
merge with cutting-edge digital technology
to create a hyper-customized terra cotta
The show-stopper of Todd’s presentation was 529 Broadway, a new 6-story commercial building going up soon on the northwest corner at Spring Street in the SoHo Cast Iron Historic District. Here, traditional fabrication techniques merge with cutting-edge digital technology to create a hyper-customized terra cotta facade. The design team, led by Todd, conceived a terra cotta rain screen and glass curtain wall facade system that transforms a seemingly punched-opening masonry building into a glass curtain wall building reflecting the openness ratio of later cast iron buildings in the district. The terra cotta elements on the Spring Street elevation twist and dematerialize so that the facade culminates in a modern glass curtain wall with terra cotta accents and district-appropriate loft dimensions fronting on Broadway. This boundary-pushing project is the result of a close collaboration between BKSK, digital modeling specialist Parabox, facade engineering consultant Front Inc, and several terra cotta manufacturers. Together, they achieved a design that is simultaneously “of its time” and respectful of its historic context thanks to the versatile nature of terra cotta.