Architectural facades are continuing to become more and more advanced and complex. And with that comes increasing innovation and development in building products, including glass and glazing products, among others. That was the focus of the most recent Façade Tectonics Institute (FTI) dialogue series, which took place virtually on Friday, March 26, moderated by Mic Patterson, ambassador of innovation and collaboration for FTI. The discussion focused primarily on the innovation of materials, products, and processes from industry suppliers, manufacturers, fabricators, and contractors.

Sameer Kumar has been the director of enclosure design at SHoP Architects in New York for almost eight years. He began the discussion with a look at how his firm has worked with terracotta on various architectural projects, including one tall tower that also features glass as a design element.

Kumar opened with some background on SHoP Architects, which was once named one of the world’s top innovative companies in architecture by an architectural publication due to the firm’s efforts to push the boundaries of architecture, such as the firm’s work on solar harvesting cells for windows. Kumar then turned the meeting around to discuss terracotta and how it can be used as an ornamental fixture on the facade.

“[Terracotta] is a material we have engaged with for several years now, and we keep exploring new possibilities,” he said, explaining his firm has wanted to continue incorporating terracotta into the New York City skyline but with a contemporary aesthetic. Kumar said his firm first worked with terracotta on the 111 W. 57 Street tower in New York. The tower stands 1,428 feet and is one of the tallest buildings in the city. Elicc Group was the contract glazier, and the facade incorporates glass from SYP in China alongside terracotta and bronze to create a staggered, wavy aesthetic.

In working on the project, Kumar says they were inspired by many of the tall towers in New York, which are also terracotta.

SHoP collaborated on the building with NBK Architectural Terracotta, a Hunter Douglas Company, in Germany. He said they conducted visual mock-ups to see exactly how the façade would look once installed. He added that the partnership was so successful that the two groups came together again in 2017 to create a sculpture for Milan Design Week.

SHoP was also invited to the Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop in 2018 and 2019 by Boston Valley Terra Cotta. The first year, SHoP explored a way to incorporate water and terracotta by using pieces that resembled an upside-down roof tile to create a “self-supporting shell structure using these terracotta tiles that would also filter and divert water,” Kumar said. “It was all based on ram pressing as a technique, which Boston Valley was very familiar with…it was unfamiliar territory for us.”

In an effort to continue pushing boundaries, in 2019, SHoP created a reciprocal structure made from interlocking terracotta pieces that resembled a double-headed hammerhead shark. “We thought that at the end of this, we had truly found a new expression and a new application of architectural terracotta that has taken us beyond where we had been before,” Kumar said.

The latest FTI series included a number of other sessions focusing on various façade technologies and innovations. Stay tuned to USGNN™ for additional news and updates on those sessions.