The Preservation of Historic Glazed Architectural Terra-Cotta


The Preservation of Historic Glazed Architectural Terra-Cotta

de Teel Patterson Tiller

U.S. Department of the Interior
National Park Service
National Center for Cultural Stewardship and Partnerships
Heritage Preservation Services Division
Technical Preservation Services

Table of Contents

Glazed architectural terracotta was significant in the development of important architectural idioms in this country--specifically, the "Chicago School," the High Rise and the Historic or Beaux Arts styles. In fact, glazed architectural terracotta is one of the most prevalent masonry building materials found in the urban environment today (Fig. 1). Popular between the late 19th century and the 1930s, glazed architectural terracotta offered a modular, varied and relatively inexpensive approach to wall and floor construction. It was particularly adaptable to vigorous and rich ornamental detailing. However, with changing vogues in materials and architectural styles and rising production costs, glazed architectural terracotta fell into disfavor and disuse by the mid 20th century.

Today, information on the maintenance, rehabilitation and replacement of glazed architectural terracotta is limited, as are sources of new glazed architectural terracotta. This report, then, will discuss some of the major deterioration problems that commonly occur in historic glazed architectural terracotta, methods of determining the extent of that deterioration and recommendations for the maintenance, repair and replacement of the deteriorated historic material.

What is TerraCotta?

Generically, the broadest definition of terracotta refers to a high grade of weathered or aged clay which, when mixed with sand or with pulverized fired clay, can be molded and fired at high temperatures to a hardness and compactness not obtainable with brick. Simply put, terracotta is an enriched molded clay brick or block. The word terracotta is derived from the Latin word terracotta--literally, "cooked earth." Terracotta clays vary widely in color according to geography and types, ranging from red and brown to white.

Terracotta was usually hollow cast in blocks which were open to the back, like boxes, with internal compartmentlike stiffeners called webbing (Fig. 2). Webbing substantially strengthened the loadbearing capacity of the hollow terra-cotta block without greatly increasing its weight.

Terracotta blocks were often finished with a glaze; that is, a slip glaze (clay wash) or an aqueous solution of metal salts was brushed or sprayed on the airdried block before firing.

Glazing changed the color, imitated different finishes, and produced a relatively impervious surface on the weather face of the final product. The glaze on the terracotta unit possessed excellent weathering properties when properly maintained. It had rich color and provided a hard surface that was not easily chipped off. Glazing offered unlimited and faderesistant colors to the designer. Even today, few building materials can match the glazes on terracotta for the range and, most importantly, the durability of colors.

Types of TerraCotta

Historically there are four types or categories of terracotta which have enjoyed wide use in the history of the American building arts: 1) brownstone, 2) fireproof construction, 3) ceramic veneer, and 4) glazed architectural.

Brownstone terracotta is the variety of this masonry material used earliest in American buildings (mid to late 19th century). The brownstone type is a dark red or brown block either glazed (usually a slip glaze) or unglazed. It was hollow cast and was generally used in conjunction with other masonry in imitation of sandstone, brick or real brownstone. It is often found in the architecture of Richard Upjohn, James Renwick, H. H. Richardson and is associated with the Gothic and Romanesque Revival movements through such ornamental detailing as moldings, finials and capitals.

Fireproof construction terracotta was extensively developed as a direct result of the growth of the High Rise building in America. Inexpensive, lightweight and fireproof, these rough-finished hollow building blocks were ideally suited to span the lbeam members in floor, wall and ceiling construction (Fig. 3). Certain varieties are still in production today, although fireproof construction terracotta is no longer widely employed in the building industry.

Ceramic veneer was developed during the 1930s and is still used extensively in buildingconstruction today. Unlike traditional architectural terracotta, ceramic veneer is not hollow cast, but is as its name implies: a veneer of glazed ceramic tile which is ribbed on the back in much the same fashion as bathroom tile. Ceramic veneer is frequently attached to a grid of metal ties which has been anchored to the building.

Glazed architectural terracotta was the most complex development of terracotta as a masonry building material in this country. The hollow units were hand cast in molds or carved in clay and heavily glazed (often in imitation of stone) and fired. Sometimes called "architectural ceramics," glazed architectural terracotta was developed and refined throughout the first third of the 20th century and has been closely associated with the architecture of Cass Gilbert, Louis Sullivan, and Daniel H. Burnham, among others. Significant examples in this country include the Woolworth Building (1913) in New York City and the Wrigley Building (1921) in Chicago.

Late 19th and early 20th century advertising promoted the durable, impervious and adaptable nature of glazed architectural terracotta. It provided for crisp, vigorous modeling of architectural details as the molds were cast directly from clay prototypes without loss of refinement. Glazed architectural terracotta could accommodate subtle nuances of modeling, texture and color. Compared to stone, it was easier to handle, quickly set and more affordable to use. Thought to be fireproof and waterproof, it was readily adaptable to structures of almost any height. The cost of molding the clay, glazing and firing the blocks, when compared to carving stone, represented a considerable savings, especially when casts were used in a modular fashion--that is, repeated over and over again. Maintenance of the fired and glazed surface was easy; it never needed paint and periodic washings restored its original appearance.

With the passage of time, many of the phenomenal claims of the early proponents of glazed architectural terracotta have proven true. There are many examples throughout this country that attest to the durability and permanence of this material. Yet presentday deterioration of other significant glazed architectural terracotta resources ultimately belie those claims. Why? Historically, the lack of foresight or understanding about the nature and limitations of the material has, in many instances, allowed serious deterioration problems to occur that are only now becoming apparent.

Characteristics of Glazed Architectural TerraCotta as a Building Material

Glazed architectural terracotta has many material properties similar to brick or stone. It also has many material properties radically different from those traditional masonry materials. It is those differences which must be considered for a better understanding of some of the material characteristics of glazed architectural terracotta when it is used as a building material.

Difficult to identify: Glazed architectural terracotta probably comprises one of the largest if not the largest constituent material in some of our urban environments today. However, the infinite varieties of glazing have hidden this fact from the casual observer. One of the attractive features of glazed architectural terracotta in its time was that it could be finished (glazed) in exact imitation of stone. In fact, many building owners and architects alike are often surprised to discover that what they presumed to be a granite or limestone building is glazed architectural terracotta instead.

Two separate systems: Historically, glazed architectural terra-cotta has been used in association with two specific and very different types of building systems: as part of a traditional loadbearing masonry wall in buildings of modest height, and as a cladding material in High Rise construction. As cladding, glazed architectural terracotta often utilized an extensive metal anchoring system to attach it or to "hang it" onto a wall framing system or superstructure (Fig. 4). In the first instance the anchoring was limited; in the second, the anchoring was often extensive and complex. Likewise, in the first instance, deterioration has generally been limited. However, where glazed architectural terracotta was used as cladding, particularly in high rise construction, presentday deterioration and failure are often severe.

Complexity of deterioration: Deterioration is, by nature of the design, infinitely complex--particularly when glazed architectural terracotta has been used as a cladding material.

Deterioration creates a "domino"like breakdown of the whole system: glazed units, mortar, metal anchors, and masonry backfill. In no other masonry system is material failure potentially so complicated.

Poor original design: The root of deterioration in glazed architectural terracotta systems often lies in a misapplication of the material. Historically, glazed architectural terracotta was viewed as a highly waterproof system needing neither flashing, weep holes nor drips. This supposition, however, has proved to be untrue, as serious waterrelated failure was evident early in the life of many glazed architectural terra-cotta clad or detailed buildings.

Common Deterioration Problems

No one case of deterioration in glazed architectural terra-cotta is ever identical to another owing to the infinite number of variations with the material: original manufacture, original installation inconsistencies, number of component parts, ongoing repairs or the various types and sources of deterioration. However, certain general statements may be made on the nature of glazed architectural terracotta deterioration.

Material failure can most commonly be attributed to water-related problems. However, less frequent though no less severe causes may include: faulty original craftsmanship, which is often cited but hard to determine; stressrelated deterioration; damage caused by later alterations and additions; or inappropriate repairs.

Water-related deterioration: As with most building conservation and rehabilitation problems, water is a principal source of deterioration in glazed architectural terracotta. Terra-cotta systems are highly susceptible to such complex water-related deterioration problems as glaze crazing, glaze spalling and material loss, missing masonry units and deteriorated metal anchoring, among others.

Crazing, or the formation of small random cracks in the glaze, is a common form of waterrelated deterioration in glazed architectural terracotta. When the new terracotta unit first comes from the kiln after firing, it has shrunken (dried) to its smallest possible size. With the passage of time, however, it expands as it absorbs moisture from the air, a process which may continue for many years. The glaze then goes into tension because it has a lesser capacity for expansion than the porous tile body; it no longer "fits" the expanding unit onto which it was originally fired. If the strength of the glaze is exceeded, it will crack (craze) (Fig. 5). Crazing is a process not unlike the random hairline cracking on the surface of an old oil painting. Both may occur as a normal process in the aging of the material. Unless the cracks visibly extend into the porous tile body beneath the glaze, crazing should not be regarded as highly serious material failure. It does, however, tend to increase the water absorption capability of the glazed architectural terracotta unit.

Spalling, the partial loss of the masonry material itself, is, like crazing, caused by water and is usually a result not only of airborne water but more commonly of water trapped within the masonry system itself. Trapped water is often caused by poor water detailing in the original design, insufficient maintenance, rising damp or a leaking roof. In most cases, trapped water tends to migrate outward through masonry walls where it eventually evaporates. In glazed architectural terracotta, the water is impeded in its journey by the relatively impervious glaze on the surface of the unit which acts as a water barrier. The water is stopped at the glaze until it builds up sufficient pressure (particularly in the presence of widely fluctuating temperatures) to pop off sections of the glaze (glaze spalling) or to cause the wholesale destruction of portions of the glazed architectural terracotta unit itself (material spalling).

Glaze spalling may appear as small coinsize blisters where the glaze has ruptured and exposed the porous tile body beneath (Fig. 6). This may occur as several spots on the surface or, in more advanced cases of deterioration, it may result in the wholesale disappearance of the glaze. Spalling of the glaze may also be symptomatic of deterioration (rusting) of the internal metal anchoring system which holds the terracotta units together and to the larger building structure. The increase in volume of the metal created by rusting creates increased internal pressures in the terracotta unit which, in turn, may spall the glaze, or in more extreme cases, cause material spalling.

Material spalling is a particularly severe situation. Not only is the visual integrity of the detailing impaired, but a large area of the porous underbody, webbing and metal anchoring is exposed to the destructive effects of further water entry and deterioration (Fig. 7). Both glaze and material spalling must be dealt with as soon as possible.

Missing units is a serious situation which particularly plagues architectural terracotta systems. Unlike brick or stone, damaged glazed architectural terracotta is exceedingly difficult to replace. New production is extremely limited. Missing units create gaps which increase the structural load on the remaining pieces and also permit water to enter the system. Exposed or freestanding glazed architectural terracotta detailing (balusters, urns, parapet walls, etc.) are particularly susceptible to extensive loss of material (Fig. 8). These elements face the most severe vicissitudes of water and temperaturerelated deterioration in direct proportion to the extent of their exposure. The replacement of missing units should be a high priority work item in the rehabilitation of glazed architectural terracotta.

Deterioration of metal anchoring: Deteriorated anchoring systems are perhaps the most difficult form of glazed architectural terracotta deterioration to locate or diagnose. Often, the damage must be severe and irreparable before it is noticed on even the most intense "prima facie" examination. Water which enters the glazed architectural terracotta system can rust the anchoring system and substantially weaken or completely disintegrate those elements. Where water has been permitted to enter the system, some deterioration has more than likely taken place. Partial deterioration results in staining and material spalling. Total deterioration and the lack of any anchoring system may result in the loosening of the units themselves, threatening the architectural or structural integrity of the building. Recently, falling glazed architectural terracotta units have become a serious safety concern to many building owners and municipal governments (Fig. 9). Early detection of failing anchoring systems is exceedingly difficult.

Deterioration of mortar and other adjacent materials: Deteriorated mortar has always been a key to the survival or failure of any masonry system. This is particularly true with glazed architectural terracotta. In recognition of the fragile nature of the system, the need for insuring a relatively dry internal system is important. Sound mortar is the "first line" of defense in terracotta systems. It is a maintenance must. Deteriorated mortar joints are a singularly culpable source of water and, therefore, of deterioration. Mortar deterioration may result from improper original craftsmanship or air- and waterborne pollution. More often, however, lack of ongoing maintenance is mainly responsible. Deteriorated mortar should not be overlooked as a major source of glazed architectural terracotta failure.

The deterioration of materials adjoining the glazed architectural terracotta (flashing, capping, roofing, caulking around windows and doors) bears significant responsibility in its deterioration. When these adjoining materials fail, largely as a result of lack of maintenance, waterrelated deterioration results. For instance, it is not uncommon to find wholesale terracotta spalling in close proximity to a window or doorway where the caulking has deteriorated.

Stressrelated deterioration: Stressrelated deterioration of glazed architectural terracotta frequently occurs in high rise buildings. The evolution of stress relieving details (flexible joints, shelf angles, etc.) occurred late in the development of American building construction. Consequently, most early continuously clad High Rise buildings (c.1900-1920s) had little or no provisions for normal material and building movement in their original design. The development of large stress-related cracks or wholesale material deterioration is often caused by unaccommodated buildingframe shortening under load, thermal expansion and contraction of the facade and moisture expansion of the glazed architectural terracotta units themselves (Fig. 10). Cracks running through many units or stories or large areas of material deterioration often indicate stressrelated problems. This sort of deterioration, in turn, permits significant water entry into the terracotta system.

Inappropriate repairs: Inappropriate repairs result because using new terracotta for replacement of deteriorated or missing glazed architectural terracotta has generally been impractical. Repairs, therefore, have traditionally been made in brick or cementitious build ups of numerous materials such as stucco or fiberglass. Some materials are appropriate temporary or permanent replacements, while others are not. (These issues are discussed at a later point in this report.) However, improper anchoring or bonding of the repair work or visual incompatibility of repairs have themselves, with the passage of time, become rehabilitation problems: replacement brick that is pulling free, cement stucco that is cracking and spalling, or a cement or bituminous repairs that are not visually compatible with the original material.

Alteration damage: Alteration damage has occurred as a result of the installation of such building additions as signs, screens, marquees or bird proofing. These installations often necessitated the boring of holes or cutting of the glazed architectural terracotta to anchor these additions to the building frame beneath. As the anchoring or caulking deteriorated, or as these elements were removed in subsequent renovation work, these holes have become significant sources of water-related damage to the glazed architectural terracotta system.

Deterioration Inspection and Analysis

Certain deterioration in glazed architectural terracotta may be on the building surface and patently obvious to the casual observer--crazing, spalling, deterioration of mortar joints. Other deterioration may be internal or within the masonry system and hard to determine--deterioration of anchoring, deterioration behind the glaze, crumbling of internal webbing. Prima facie, "first inspection," examination may indicate surface deterioration problems while not revealing others. This demonstrates one of the most frustrating aspects of dealing with deteriorated glazed architectural terracotta: that there are two systems or levels of deterioration, one which is visible and the other which is not.

Material failure in glazed architectural terracotta is necessarily complex. For this reason, it is generally advised that the examination and repair of this material should be the responsibility of an experienced professional. Few restorationists have experience in the inspection, repair and replacement of glazed architectural terracotta. This is certainly never the province of the amateur or the most wellintentioned but inexperienced architect or engineer. There are some methods of internal and external inspection and analysis which are relatively simple to the trained professional. Other methods, however, are expensive, time consuming, and only in the experimental stage at this writing. These all generally preclude the use of anyone but an experienced professional.

Preliminary cleaning: Before a terracotta building is analyzed for deterioration, it is often advisable, but not always necessary, to clean the surface of the material. This is particularly true when the material has been exposed to the vicissitudes of heavy urban pollution. While most building materials are cleaned for "cosmetic" purposes, the cleaning of glazed architectural terracotta for the purpose of inspection and analysis may be advised. Dirt on glazed architectural terracotta often hides a multitude of problems. It is only with cleaning that these problems become obvious. Recommended cleaning procedures are covered later in the report.

Methods of inspection:

Prima facie analysis is the unit by unit, firsthand, external inspection of the glazed architectural terracotta building surface. Special note of all visible surface deterioration (staining, crazing, spalling, cracking, etc.) should be made on elevation drawings. Binoculars are often used where cost, height, or inaccessibility prevent easy inspection. However, much deterioration may go unnoticed unless scaffolding or window-washing apparatus is used in a true "hands on" inspection of each unit of the facade.

Tapping, a somewhat inexact method of detection of internal deterioration is, nevertheless, the most reliable inspection procedure presently available. Quite simply, tapping is the striking of each unit with a wooden mallet. When struck, an undamaged glazed architectural terracotta unit gives a pronounced ring, indicating its sound internal condition. Conversely, deteriorated units (i.e., units which are failing internally) produce a flat, hollow sound. Metal hammers are never to be used, as they may damage the glazed surface of the unit. Extensive experience is the best teacher with this inspection method.

Infrared scanning is only in the experimental stage at this time, but its use seems to hold great promise in locating deteriorated internal material in terracotta. All materials emit heat--heat which can be measured in terms of infrared light. While infrared light cannot be seen by the human eye, it can be measured by infrared scanning. Infrared photography, a kind of infrared scanning, has been of particular use in detecting sources of heat loss in buildings in recent years. Broken or loose internal terracotta pieces have a less firm attachment to the surrounding firm or attached pieces and, therefore, have different thermal properties, i.e., temperatures. These temperature differences become evident on the infrared scan and may serve as a fair indication of internal material deterioration in terracotta.

Sonic testing has been successfully used for some time to detect internal cracking of concrete members. In the hands of an experienced operator, there are conditions where it can detect internal failure in glazed architectural terracotta. Sonic testing registers the internal configuration of materials by penetrating the material with sound waves and reading the patterns that "bounce back" from the originating source of the sound. Readings at variance with those from undeteriorated material might indicate collapsed webbing or pools of water in the interior of the terra-cotta unit.

Metal detection is a nondestructive and generally useful way of locating the position of internal metal anchoring. Metal detectors indicate the presence of metals by electromagnetic impulses. These impulses are transmitted onto an oscilloscope where they may he seen or they are converted to sound patterns which may be heard by the operator. Original drawings are eminently useful in predicting where internal metal anchoring should be. Metal detectors can confirm that indeed they are still there. Without original drawings, the contractor or architect can still locate the metal anchoring, however. No reading where an anchor would be expected could indicate a missing anchor or one that has seriously deteriorated. The information produced by metal detection is, at best, only rough. However, it is the most viable way of locating the internal metal anchoring without physically removing, thus irreparably damaging, the glazed architectural terracotta units themselves.

Laboratory analysis may be carried out on samples of removed original material to find glaze absorption, permeability or glaze adhesion, or to evaluate material for porosity. These tests are useful in determining the present material characteristics of the historic glazed architectural terracotta and how they may be expected to perform in the future.

Maintenance, Repair and Replacement

Deterioration in glazed architectural terracotta is, by definition, insidious in that the outward signs of decay do not always indicate the more serious problems within. It is, therefore, of paramount importance that the repair and replacement of deteriorated glazed architectural terracotta not be undertaken unless the causes of that deterioration have been determined and repaired. As mentioned before, one of the primary agents of deterioration in glazed architectural terra-cotta is water. Therefore, waterrelated damage can be repaired only when the sources of that water have been eliminated. Repointing, caulking and replacement of missing masonry pieces are also of primary concern. Where detailing to conduct water in the original design has been insufficient, the installation of new flashing or weep holes might be considered.

Where stressrelated or structural problems have caused the deterioration of glazed architectural terracotta, the services of a structural engineer should be sought to mitigate these problems. This may include the installation of relieving joints, shelf angles or flexible joints. In any case, stressrelated and structural deterioration, like waterrelated deterioration, must be stopped before effective consolidation or replacement efforts may begin.

Cleaning: The successful cleaning of glazed architectural terracotta removes excessive soil from the glazed surface without damaging the masonry unit itself. Of the many cleaning materials available, the most widely recommended are water, detergent, and a natural or nylon bristle brush. More stubborn pollution or firerelated dirt or bird droppings can be cleaned with steam or weak solutions of muriatic or oxalic acid.

A note of caution: Any acids, when used in strong enough solutions, may themselves deteriorate mortar and "liberate" salts within the masonry system, producing a situation called efflorescence. For further information on this situation, refer to: "Preservation Briefs 1: The Cleaning and Waterproof Coating of Masonry Buildings," Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

Commercial cleaning solutions may be appropriate but probably are not necessary when water and detergent will suffice. There are, however, certain cleaning techniques for glazed terra-cotta which are definitely not recommended and which would damage the surface of the material. These include: all abrasive cleaning measures (especially sandblasting), the use of strong acids, (particularly fluoride-based acids), high-pressure water cleaning and the use of metal bristle brushes. All of these techniques will irreparably harm the glaze in one fashion or another and subsequently expose the porous tile body to the damaging effects of water.

It is important to remember that glazed architectural terra-cotta was designed to be cleaned cheaply and easily. This, in fact, was one of its major assets and was much advertised in the selling of the material early in this century.

Waterproofing: The covering of crazed glazing (see Fig. 5) with waterproof coatings is the subject of an ongoing controversy today. The question involves whether or not the microcracks conduct substantial amounts of water into the porous tile body. Tests indicate that the glaze on new unexposed terracotta is itself not completely waterproof. Some testing also indicates that most crazing on historic glazed terracotta does not substantially increase the flow of moisture into the porous tile body when compared to new material. Excessive and serious crazing is, however, an exception and the coating of those areas on a limited scale may be wholly appropriate.

In an effort to stem waterrelated deterioration, architects and building owners often erroneously attribute waterrelated damage to glaze crazing when the source of the deterioration is, in fact, elsewhere: deteriorated caulking, flashing, etc. The waterproof coating of glazed architectural terracotta walls may cause problems on its own. Outward migration of water vapor normally occurs through the mortar joints in these systems. The inadvertent sealing of these joints in the wholesale coating of the wall may exacerbate an already serious situation. Spalling of the glaze, mortar, or porous body will, more than likely, result.

Repointing: Repoin

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