A closer look reveals the rich yellow glaze and ridged texture of Pelli Clarke's ceramic seating

ACAW 2022 in the Friends of Terra Cotta Newsletter

The Friends of Terra Cotta, Inc. is a national, non-profit organization founded to promote education and research in the preservation of architectural terra cotta and related ceramic materials. The organization seeks to educate the general public and construction industry professionals about architectural terra cotta’s value and history as a building material.

In their fall newsletter, FOTC published an article on the 2022 ACAWorkshop, discussing the importance of solar performance in façade design.


Excerpt from the Friends of Terra Cotta – Fall Newsletter

“Terra cotta’s return as a material of choice in contemporary architecture has to do with its capacity to be molded into any form, colorfully glazed, and richly textured. These properties align with architecture’s focus today on expressive form, unique structures, and a more expansive palette. In addition, new techniques for manufacturing terra cotta and adapting them to contemporary construction have made it a competitive alternative to concrete and aluminum. While terra cotta’s formal capacities will continue to be drivers of design, new technological options need to be investigated to make it a material of necessity in the architect’s repertoire.

“ACAW was developed in 2016 by John Krouse and support staff from Boston Valley Terra Cotta. The goal was to explore the challenges of what terra cotta will be able to offer architects in the near future. The 2022 workshop, the 7th to be held, had eight participating groups of architects and collaborators: BKSK, BNIM, FXCollaborative, NADAAA, Pelli Clark & Partners, Steven Holl Architects, WJE, and Woods Bagot.

“This year’s prototypes continued research into façade designs that integrate fenestration, photovoltaic panels, shading and screening devices to develop more performative assemblies. Also, how the rainscreen system can be integrated into historic preservation projects. Finally, there were projects testing the sculptural possibilities of the material as architectural surface, exhibition display, and urban furniture.

“The focus on using terra cotta to reflect light or to be integrated with various photovoltaic panels may stem from a 2019 New York City law. Local Law 97, enacted by the City Council as part of a pioneering legislative package, is aimed at reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. The law zeros in on large buildings, limiting their emissions. The city’s one million buildings generate nearly 70% of its carbon emissions – much of the energy for their heating, cooling, and lighting comes from burning fossil fuels.

“Now, with just 16 months until the deadline to meet the law’s first thresholds – and with the threat of fines that could climb to millions of dollars a year for buildings that do not – landlords are on high alert. Emissions thresholds fall significantly for the second deadline, in 2030, which likely means that many more buildings will need to make major changes, including replacing building systems, to avoid paying hefty fines. Architects are, of course, well aware of this law and know that it is important for new construction to address these emissions guidelines. This is certainly one of the reasons that there was an emphasis on solar solutions in this year’s ACAW.”

Of the 8 projects at ACAW 2022, three were picked to share with FOTC members:


FX Collaborative
“Although this hexagonal wall is tricky to describe, it seems to have real potential for bringing sunlight into a building. The back of each hexagon has a cone like shape that has been partially cut, to allow light to enter the hexes and move further into the building.”

View Presentation >


The back view of the hexagon wall system shows how light enters the facade. Photo ©Dan Cappellazzo


The FX Collaborative team with their facade prototype. Photo ©Dan Cappellazzo


Pelli Clark & Partners
“Although this seems like a straightforward task, the development of terra cotta furniture of various types have been tested, most do not seem promising. However, this team developed a handsome and comfortable glazed terra-cotta seating arrangement.”

View Presentation >


Pelli Clarke’s terra cotta seating can be moved into a variety of arrangements. Photo ©Dan Cappellazzo


A closer look reveals the ridged texture of the ceramic seating. Photo ©Dan Cappellazzo


Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates (WJE)
“This very simple idea could really be useful in restorations where the cornice must be replaced. Rainscreen sections can be used to replicate certain cornice styles. This results in a lighter weight cornice, an easier installation (once the details are worked out), and a quicker turn-around time.”

View Presentation >


WJE’s terra cotta rainscreen system replicates a historic cornice using thin-walled extrusions and modular attachments. Photo ©Dan Cappellazzo


A profile view of the extruded rainscreen assembly. Photo ©Dan Cappellazzo

A rendering of what the Buro Happold / COOKFOX facade prototype applied to a building

Designboom and Dezeen cover the details of a living façade collaboration

COOKFOX and Buro Happold team up to design bird and bee-friendly terra cotta façade

AUTHOR: Myrto Katsikopoulou
DATE: 09.22.2022

During the Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop (ACAW) hosted by Boston Valley Terra Cotta, COOKFOX Architects teamed up with façade engineers from Buro Happold to explore ceramics as a high-performance biophilic façade. The team was inspired to push the boundaries of architectural terra cotta by creating a screen wall that can incorporate microhabitats for bees, plants, and birds. The result sees a standardized stacking module that filters sunlight and provides the framework for a customizable series of terra cotta units.


One pod houses tubes in different sizes and materials where dozens of native solitary bees can nest. Photo courtesy of Buro Happold/COOKFOX.


Through months of design, experimentation, and fabrication, the team of architects and engineers created a modular structure composed of customizable terra cotta pods that provide shelter for different species.

The bigger base modules into which the micro-habitat pots are fitted are made of a high-fired and high-grogged terra cotta that is slip-cast or press-molded for large-scale, cost-effective production. This clay body is designed to withstand freeze-thaw cycles, shrinkage during manufacturing, and the rigors of façade applications. The micro-habitat pods themselves are slip-cast, low-fired terra cotta, which provides for water permeability to sustain each pod’s program.


The team works to assemble their prototype. Photo courtesy of Buro Happold/COOKFOX.


During the design process, the team collaborated with Boston Valley fabricators to create unique glazes and coloured clays known as ‘engobe.’ The team was able to explore the many qualities of color, opacity, and sheen; how a glaze can pool in valleys or ‘break’ over peaks; and how glaze interacts with engobe, thanks to this progressive experimentation. The procedure also examined the advantages and disadvantages of high-volume industrial production.

Read the full article here.


Buro Happold and Cookfox Architects develop living facade for birds and insects

AUTHOR: James Parkes
DATE: 09.16.2022

British engineering company Buro Happold and American architecture studio COOKFOX Architects have designed a terra cotta façade system that can house small wildlife, insects, birds and plants. The prototype was created for the 2021 ACAWorkshop by Andre Parnther and Spring Wu of Buro Happold, and Spencer Lapp of COOKFOX.

“The terra cotta screen wall is made with standardized stacking modules that create a framework for customizable terra cotta units, with micro-habitat pods inserted to suit the type of native fauna or flora: bees and birds, for example, and different kinds of plants,” Parnther told Dezeen.

Each individual module has a sculptural, arrow-like shape comprised of three prongs and circular openings that can be fitted with nesting pods, providing wildlife with habitable space beneath the surface of the façade.


Photo courtesy of Buro Happold/COOKFOX.


Pods dedicated to birds have approximately 2 cm-wide openings, with a rounded interior and ample depth to provide birds with comfortable nesting space. Four vent holes punctuate the sides of the pod to provide airflow to the interior of the nest.

Reeds were packed inside pods with 7 cm-wide openings, designed to house pollinating bees and create spaces for numerous species to nest and populate.

Plant pod prototypes feature a socket for planting as well as a reservoir set below the soil pocket, which are connected by a wick that allows greenery to self-water. The pod was designed with a glazed finish due to its high water content, to ensure that water is not absorbed by the material.


Three different terra cotta pod attachments can be bolted to the underside of the assembly. Photo courtesy of Buro Happold/COOKFOX.


“The use of buildings, rooftops and grounds as wildlife habitat is an essential part of long-term health for people and their ecosystems. It is a part of LEED and Living Building certifications, among others,” said Parnther. “We’re finding there is much more we can do in terms of ecological restoration in our cities and built environments generally.”

Read the full article here.

2021 ACAW Team Receives Recognition for Collaborative Project, V-Soleil

TITLE: Award: V-Soleil
SOURCE: Architect Magazine
AUTHOR: Murrye Bernard
DATE: 08.18.2022
IMAGES: Architecture Research Office

In 2021,  Architecture Research Office (ARO), Heintges Consulting, and fabricator TriPyramid Structures teamed up to participate in the 6th annual Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop (ACAW), to explore the exterior envelope applications of terra cotta with the goal to create an abstraction of a natural screen on large-scale facades. That collaboration resulted in V-Soleil, a curtain-like brise soleil inspired by organic forms of leaf and vine structures as well as the geometry of traditional diamond-patterned espalier trees. The system was recognized by ARCHITECT magazine with a 2022 R+D Award. Now in its 16th year, the R+D Awards program honors research and technologies at every scale that have advanced the profession—from design strategies and building products to fabrication methods, installations, software, and materials.

V-Soleil is made up of a single V-shaped glazed terra cotta module that interlocks with adjacent modules to create a diamond-shaped screen. Depending on the orientation of the façade, the module’s orientation and overlap with its adjacent module changes in order to optimize its shading capacity.

“The deep research and iterative prototyping development behind V-Soleil is so thoughtful and unique. The form and array of the modules are strikingly beautiful, and the analysis of how the terra-cotta forms can be aggregated, altered based on façade orientation, and replaced if needed, perfectly demonstrates the rigor and creativity of the team behind this project.” —Juror Kat Schneider


V-Soleil’s curtain-like terra-cotta brise soleil provides shade from the sun. Image courtesy Architecture Research Office


The V-Soleil system comprises interlocking V-shaped glazed terra-cotta modules that are supported on a double-layer tension net structure. Image courtesy Architecture Research Office


At ACAW, the team explored slip-cast and ram-pressed methods for producing the units at the Boston Valley facility, learning from the glaze specialists about the aesthetic and manufacturing implications of through-body and glaze options. Another area of exploration was the connection between the terra cotta unit and the cable, including ways to allow units to be replaced without disassembly of the system. 

ACAW is a hands-on research and development workshop for architects and façade engineers to explore the use of terra cotta in high-performance façade design. The workshop’s objective is to introduce and consider the properties of terra cotta earlier in the architect’s design process and to develop research and design models between manufacturing and architectural industries useful for the efficient production of high-performance façade solutions.

Read the full ARCHITECT magazine article here.

You can watch the team’s 2021 presentation here.

If you’re interested in learning more about ACAW or participating in a future workshop, visit archceramicworkshop.com

The biophilic facade design created at ACAWorkshop 2021 consists of separate modules for bird, bee, and plant habitats.

Buro Happold and COOKFOX explore biophilic façades at ACAW 2021

TITLE: COOKFOX and Buro Happold design living facade for the birds and the bees
SOURCE: The Architect’s Newspaper
AUTHOR: Chris Walton
DATE: 05.25.2022


The Architect’s Newspaper has published a recap detailing the collaboration between COOKFOX’s Spencer Lapp and Buro Happold’s Andre Parnther that took place at the ACAWorkshop in 2021. The team aimed to reimagine the exterior façade as much-needed habitat space for birds, bees, and plants in the urban environment.

Both COOKFOX and Buro Happold have prior experience working with terra cotta in NYC, taking part in past Boston Valley fabrication projects The Fitzroy and 512 West 22nd Street.


A planter module to the left; bee habitat and bird nest modules to the right. Photo courtesy of Buro Happold/COOKFOX.


Through extensive process and pattern studies, Lapp and Parnther developed a biophilic design consisting of a modular system of slip cast pods. Each module is shaped to occupy a specific function in the local ecosystem: as bird nests, with proper air flow and drainage; as bee habitats, protected from the elements; and as planters, with a bottom-watering system and overflow drain.

Lapp and Parnther considered a number of color palettes for the assembly’s exterior glazing, working with Boston Valley’s glaze lab to eventually settle on a study of luster, blue, and white. Subtle variations often emerge during the glazing process due to factors such as the color being used, differences in firing temperature, and how the glaze pools along the profile.


Variations in color and distribution emerge in the glazing process.


The team had to address a number of questions over the course of their prototype development, resulting in a few changes to the design. One of the benefits of ACAW is it provides a valuable “sandbox” space where architects and engineers can explore and refine experimental concepts such as this one. In several instances, prototypes conceived at ACAW have gone on to become real, built projects, including the new Orange County Museum of Art’s curved panel façade.

Read the full article here.


COOKFOX’s Spencer Lapp and Zach Grzybowski work with Buro Happold’s Andre Parnther to assemble the prototype.


Green Building & Design interviews John Krouse about the impact ACAW has on modern architecture

Green Building & Design (gb&d) magazine wrote an article about the use of Architectural Terra Cotta for modern buildings in response to the changing needs of new buildings. They also dive into Boston Valley’s Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop (ACAW) and the possibilities, limitations, and design flexibility of architectural terra-cotta.

Change—exploring the possibilities, limitations, and additional research required of architectural terra-cotta—requires creativity and experimentation. This is why the ACAW was born in 2016.
In the months preceding the live event in late summer, teams are assembled to address a hypothetical project involving ATC. “It’s like an open charette,” Krouse says. “The teams spend several months learning how the material can be used. It’s fun and competitive, and what comes out of each team is amazing.”

The Goody Clancy Architects team at ACAW 2021. Photo courtesy of Boston Valley Terra Cotta

Click here to read the full article.

TITLE: Architectural Terra-Cotta is Tough, Lightweight, Versatile, and Green
SOURCE: gb&d
AUTHOR: Russ Klettke
DATE: 08.16.2021

UB teams with Alfred University to advance stackable ceramic façade prototype

A team of UB architecture faculty and students has developed a stackable ceramic facade system that opens new possibilities in user-generated architecture and sculptural geometries in terra cotta.

Architectural Terra-Cotta is Tough, Lightweight, Versatile, and Green

Why do so many companies of size and prominence take part in ACAW? Perhaps the question should be: “Why wouldn’t they?”

Permasteelisa Group at the Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop 2021

Permasteelisa Group developed the bespoke curtain wall system and assembled the mock-up – 5.2m/17′ high by 3.7m/12′ wide – from components made by Boston Valley and TriPyramid.

LMN Architects at the 2020 ACAWorkshop

As one of the 2020 participants, the LMN team has developed a slip cast ceramic module that aggregates to create a permeable partition.

Fifth Annual Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop Pushes the Envelope of Architectural Design

BUFFALO, NY – For a fifth year, Architects, Façade Engineers, and Ceramic Artists will gather via webinar for the Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop (ACAW) being held Wednesday, August 12 through Thursday, August 13.