Developers Turn to Materials of Old to Stand Out in Modern Era
Developer Scott Shnay wanted his new condominium building to pay homage to the industrial roots of its NoHo neighborhood in Manhattan while also standing out among the city’s forest of glass-sheathed towers.
He found his solution when his architect, Annabelle Selldorf, showed him a small piece of pumpkin-colored terra cotta that had been lying around her office. That was five years ago, and Mr. Shnay eventually used the terra cotta for the façade of his new building, known as 10 Bond Street, which sold out earlier this year.
“It’s not a glass sort of ethereal building, it has a gravitas to it,” said Mr. Shnay, a SK Development principal. “I think a lot of that comes back to the materials.”
Throughout the city, some developers are increasingly relying on terra cotta and other materials used extensively in the construction of buildings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For apartment buyers and developers, the old materials can evoke a certain authenticity and appeal to sustainability, especially in an era of shimmering contemporary towers made of aluminum and glass.
The old materials can already be seen in historic buildings across the city. The decorative exterior of the Woolworth building is fashioned in terra cotta, and the material outlines the brick façade of the De Vinne Press Building in Manhattan. The Puck Building in the Nolita neighborhood of Manhattan was constructed in 1885 with terra cotta—along with granite, brick and sandstone.
New projects under way using old materials include SK Development’s 301 East 50th Street, a 30-story tower with a limestone facade. JDS Development’s American Copper Buildings on the Upper East Side opens its doors later this year. Its founder, Michael Stern, said the firm was developing the 10-story Fitzroy in Chelsea, with a terra-cotta façade and copper-framed windows, because customers appreciate materials that look better—and change color—as they age.
1 Great Jones Alley will have a facade of terra-cotta pilasters. PHOTO: MARCH
Christine Jetten, whose studio specializes in natural materials, said she was conscious of the future when she designed 1 Great Jones Alley in NoHo with a facade of terra-cotta pilasters.
“We consider the lifespan of a building again with more and more close attention,” Ms. Jetten said in a phone call from the Netherlands. “Clay, ceramics, is really an environmental-friendly material that lasts for centuries and ages beautiful. So now we’re thinking about what footprint we make on the Earth.”
Ms. Jetten has gotten busier over the past decade. In 2011, she said, her studio had six projects at most. She now has 19 developments or restorations planned around the world.
A similar rise in demand has been seen at Boston Valley Terra Cotta in Orchard Park, N.Y., near Buffalo, according to international sales manager Bill Pottle. Mr. Pottle said before 2000 the company only worked on restorations. But now half of its work is supplying materials for modern developments. Mr. Pottle said half of the company’s’ U.S. sales are for projects in New York City.
Finial units are carved with intricate leaf ornamentation at Boston Valley Terra Cotta in Orchard Park, N.Y. The company has seen a rise in demand. Photo: Joe Cascio
Mr. Stern of JDS Development said pricing of materials differs depending on the project, but terra cotta can be as much as $100 more per square foot than glass. “It’s clearly cheaper and more efficient to mass produce something that comes off a factory line instead of craft something by hand and have masons install,” he said.
But he said that is part of the appeal: something handmade and installed by artisans.
An irony in the trend is that some types of glass—the kind that filters out sun rays—have for years been touted as promoting sustainability because they can help to lower energy costs. But Carol Loewenson, president of the New York chapter of American Institute of Architects, said developers are seeing that “sustainability is not just achieved through glass” and they are “responding to the values of humans.”
A facade with a layer of terra cotta can be environmentally beneficial because the thicker exterior can block out heat, thus reducing the amount of energy it takes to cool a building.
Most important, she said, is that people like living in contemporary-style homes that don’t look like their neighbors.
“People love diversity,” Ms. Loewenson said. “What do people love about the city? It’s a mix of buildings from different times and a mix of materials.”
By Zolan Kanno-Youngs, The Wall Street Journal
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