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Architectural Record Covers the 2023 ACAWorkshop

The Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop Returns to Probe the Future of Terra Cotta

SOURCE: Architectural Record
Matthew Marani
DATE: 08.24.23

The 2023 ACAWorkshop took place in Buffalo, NY last month from August 14-17th. Participants and attendees gathered in the Marriott at LECOM Harborcenter for the public Symposium event on Thursday, where each team presented the results of their months-long prototype development. The day was rounded out with a closing keynote speech by Orel Samson, Senior Manager at Allied Properties REIT.

In attendance during ACAW week was Matthew Marani, editor for Architectural Record. Below are excerpted passages from Marani’s article recounting his experience.

The professional teams present at this year’s ACAW were, for the most part, composed of paired-up architects and engineers, and featured familiar faces and new attendees. Notably, the workshop featured six academic teams, a significant expansion from years past, which, according to Carnegie Melon University Head of Architecture and workshop organizer Omar Khan, is a result of growing interest in ceramics within architectural programs, especially in the area of 3D printing.[…] “Maintaining six academic programs every year would be ideal as their work brings a fresh perspective that is a bit more experimental and also provides us with an opportunity to support emerging pedagogies at these institutions,” noted Khan.

The prototypes were conceptually developed in the months leading up to the workshop and featured exciting applications of the material. For example, New Haven, Connecticut–based Pickard Chilton and Seattle’s Magnusson Klemencic Associates drew upon a series of precedents, such as the work of Rafael Guastavino, to develop a terra cotta stairwell supported by a post-tensioned spine, that, in its glazing and finish, resembles something of a mix between a scrimshaw whalebone and cellular structure.


Lila Sferlazza, associate at Pickard Chilton, led the team with Magnusson Klemencic Associates to create a feature stair for their assembly. ©Dan Cappellazzo


Or take the rainscreen designed by Selldorf Architects and façade consultant Socotec, that, using parabolic strengthening and other measures, saw an approximately 60 percent reduction in typical panel weight. The prototype also experimented with the use of industrial waste such as slag as a recycled material for both terra cotta and glazing.

ZGF Architects’ New York office, in collaboration with LERA Consulting Structural Engineers, worked on a modular system, suitable for rainscreen or sunshade use, or even as a decorative display, of glazed and ribbed uniform terra cotta units mounted on a rod system that is configurable at a full 360 degrees.

Los Angeles-based CO Architects held an internal design competition for their prototype, and ultimately looked towards origami’s multifaceted folds as inspiration. The result is a system of glazed and plain surfaces suspended over vertically oriented tension rods.

HGA worked with Denver-based facade engineering firm Studio NYL to design a rainscreen system of terra cotta planks, that, in their finish, resemble something of a high-design bush-hammered façade.


Stan Su returned to ACAW for a third time to lead the RIOS team’s modular wall concept. ©Dan Cappellazzo


Henning Larsen, Thornton Tomasetti, and Innovation Glass teamed up to explore the use of moss on a unitized terra cotta curtain wall system. ©Dan Cappellazzo


The prompt for this year’s workshop was biophilic design, and several participating firms incorporated plantings within their prototypes. L.A.-based RIOS, with the support of engineer ARUP, unveiled a hybrid block-and-rainscreen system that can be fitted with a series of planter trays.

The New York office of Danish architecture firm Henning Larsen, in a pairing with engineer Thornton Tomasetti and façade fabricator Innovation Glass, explored a crackle-glazed sunscreen with alluvial grooves capable of supporting moss growth.

And Eric Parry Architects, with collaborating façade engineer FMDC, developed a fish scale-like rain screen of extruded terra cotta finials, as well as high-gloss glazed soffit panels, for an ongoing project in London’s Salisbury Square.

Let’s see what the future has in store for this industrious corner of New York.


Orel Samson of Allied Properties REIT and Seldorf Architects’ Anne Lewison discuss ACAW 2023 teams assemblies on display. ©Dan Cappellazzo