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Roving Rube

Terra Cotta

July 1, 2003

Woolworth Building, 230 Broadway












1910-13, Cass Gilbert; New York City Landmark.*
Atlantic Terra Cotta Company. White terra-cotta cladding with glazed, colored terra-cotta ornament.
(Source: "Terra-Cotta Skyline", by Susan Tunick).

July is Terra Cotta Month at NYCJPG! In four weeks, we will expect most of you, as well as the Rube, to know much more about terra cotta then you do now!

Our bible for this series is the aforementioned "Terra-Cotta Skyline" (the author is graciously allowing us to quote from it as desired) and the first thing the Rube realized after reading it is that there's a LOT more terra cotta in NYC then he thought. It turns out to be the key ingredient in most of his favorite buildings. Take the Woolworth Building, above. The WHOLE THING is terra cotta! ... Well, almost all of it that you can see, anyway. It was for a long time the tallest building in the world, and it is still the tallest terra-cotta clad building in the world.

"The overall appearance of the Woolworth Building is of a uniformly white surface [see 2-jpg]. Although Cass Gilbert introduced blue, green, tan, and yellow glazes into many architectural details [see 3-jpg], his intention was to heighten the surface articulation rather than to create a colorful facade. Following the completion of the Woolworth, the popularity of monochromatic cladding increased greatly." ("Terra-Cotta Skyline", p. 69)

One of the regrets expressed in the book is that so few architects chose to explore the color potential of glazed terra cotta -- which, like its textural and sculptural possibilities, are practically limitless.

Note on usage of "terra cotta": as in "Terra-Cotta Skyline", we will use a hyphen when it is an adjective, but not when it is a noun. Some of the other books we quote don't follow this rule.


*Buildings designated as "New York City Landmark" include those "within a historic landmark district, as well as interior and exterior designation."































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