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Glazed terra cotta (a clay-based ceramic) became a popular architectural material in the United States between the late 1800’s and 1930’s thanks to being sturdy, relatively inexpensive, fireproof, and easily molded into ornamented detail. Plus, it was easy to make it look like granite or limestone, much more expensive materials.
Terra cotta really took off when some of Chicago and New York’s great architects, Cass Gilbert, Louis Sullivan, and Daniel H. Burnham, incorporated the material in to their most famous works such as the Woolworth Building, Bayard-Condict Building, and Flatiron Building, respectively. Additionally, Rafael Guastavino adorned many of the great Beaux-Arts masterpieces with his famous terra cotta tiled vaults.
There are countless buildings in New York City that owe their elegance to glazed terra cotta, and we’ve put together a list of some of our favorites.