Back to the future with Terracotta
Meaning ‘burnt earth’ in Latin, terracotta was first used by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians as an architectural material. However, this historic clay product is now showing off its sustainable credentials with a number of recent UK remediation projects. James Butler, commercial director of natural cladding specialist Pura Facades, highlights the positive role this often-overlooked product is playing.
The last couple of years have been characterised by a growing number of cladding remediation projects. While the government’s Building Safety Programme has had its detractors, mainly based on the slow progress in kick-starting vital repair work, things are now starting to move.
One surprising trend we have seen in the last year or so is a number of mainly residential or municipal high-rise buildings clad in terracotta requiring remediation. This appears odd, as terracotta is not only a totally natural product used since the nineteenth century as a façade material, but is also A1 rated in terms of its totally non-flammable nature. On further investigation, it becomes apparent that there are a growing number of tall buildings that have been correctly examined during the post-Grenfell era, and found to contain defective materials underneath the protective terracotta skin.
Currently, we are working on a couple of major projects – including Bailey Tower and Harrison House in London E1, as well as Luma Apartments (part of the Central Middlesex Hospital development) in Park Royal, west London. Both buildings have been discovered to contain ineffective fire barriers, poor quality insulation or inappropriate use of timber beneath the terracotta façade – all of which needs to be replaced with appropriate, tested and safe alternative materials. Hence, while terracotta itself is blameless as a cladding material, we are seeing a number of refurbishment projects involving this material, in our case, TONALITY® Terracotta, which is manufactured in Weroth, Germany, home to the highest quality grade of clay for making such tiles.
The Luma Apartment complex in Park Royal is clad in a 26mm thick glazed TONALITY® in eye-catching green. This project uses stand-out terracotta on both the main tower block of the building as well as on every balcony, providing punches of colour to the exterior.
Bailey Tower and Harrison House, a stone’s throw from St Katharine’s and Wapping, uses smooth TONALITY® ceramic façade tiles in Umbra Grey to create a strong urban look to this modern block. A significant project comprising 833m2 of cladding, this work involved Pura delivering ‘kits of parts’ on pallets to site, which contained not only the replacement terracotta tiles, but also high quality replacement fixings and aluminium framework from Nvelope.
Made from the world famous Westerwald clay, which is renowned for its purity and consistency, TONALITY® has really proven its sustainable credentials during these (and numerous other) remediation projects. Indeed, while it has been hugely satisfying to witness the tiles being removed, stored and then re-installed once the offending insulation, timber or fire breaks have been replaced.
What is even more impressive is the manufacturer’s ability and ‘can do’ attitude when it comes to dealing with broken, cracked or lost terracotta tiles. Understandably, some tiles may have been damaged during the remediation work, however the business is committed to reducing its carbon footprint wherever possible. As the chief operating officer of TONALITY®, Wolfgang Haeussler, commented: “Due to the single-skin format of our tiles, Tonality façade cladding is lighter than that of our competitors. This means we need fewer pallets and save CO2 when it comes to transportation In addition, the façade system is wholly sustainable and can be reused at any time.”
In the case of both of the London residential projects, it was impressive to see the TONALITY® team (based south of Bonn), living up to their sustainable credentials and their mantra, ‘clay is our passion’. While obtaining replacement clay tiles was not a problem, the guys from Tonality took customer service to a whole new level; working with us and their in-house ‘colourist’ Anna Runkel, to manufacture replacement terracotta tiles that matched exactly the existing aged façade.
This meant that the finished homes in E1 and Park Royal will look exactly the same as they did before the cladding was removed to make them safe. These are two great examples that show how versatile and truly sustainable terracotta is as a safe and beautiful cladding material.
Even when the hidden elements of rainscreen cladding fail or have been poorly specified, terracotta shows that unlike many other façade materials, it can easily be re-used to create beautiful homes. And working with a manufacturing partner such as TONALITY®, who walk the talk when it comes to the environment, shows what can be done with a good quality material and a team committed to the planet.