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.

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.