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Architecture, Features, History

10 of NYC’s most impressive Terra-cotta buildings

By Lucie Levine, Thu, October 4, 2018

Terra-cotta, Latin for “fired earth,” is an ancient building material, made of baked clay, first used throughout early civilizations in Greece, Egypt, China the Indus Valley. In more modern times, architects realized that “fired earth” actually acts as a fire-deterrent. In the age of the skyscraper, terra-cotta became a sought-after fire-proof skin for the steel skeletons of New York’s tallest buildings. In the early part of the 20th century, the City’s most iconic structures were decked out in terracotta.

You’ll find terra-cotta on famous facades from the Flatiron to the Plaza, but the material often flies under the radar of pedestrians and architecture buffs alike because it can mimic other materials, like cast-iron or carved wood. Now, this long-underappreciated material is getting its due. On October 24th, the Historic Districts Council will present its annual Landmarks Lion Award to the terra-cotta firms Boston Valley Terra Cotta and Gladding, McBean, which work to keep terra-cotta alive worldwide, and to the preservation organization Friends of Terra Cotta, which has worked to preserve New York’s architectural terra-cotta since 1981. The ceremony will take place at Grand Central’s Oyster Bar, under the magnificent Guastavino terra-cotta ceiling recently restored by Boston Valley Terra Cotta. Fired up about finding “fired earth” around town? Here are 10 of the most impressive examples of New York terra-cotta!

Learn more about New York’s Terra Cotta Treasures

Financial District, History, Video

Manhattan Municipal Building, McKim Mead and White, Civic Fame statue

The Manhattan Municipal Building toward the end of construction in 1913, via Shorpy

When we think of the city’s early skyscrapers, landmarks like the Woolworth Building and Flatiron Building usually come to mind. But there’s an equally fascinating and beautiful icon that often gets overlooked–the 1914 Manhattan Municipal Building. One of New York’s first skyscrapers, the 580-foot Beaux Arts masterpiece influenced civic construction throughout the country and served as the prototype for Chicago’s Wrigley Building and Cleveland’s Terminal Tower, among others.

A new video from Blueprint NYC (produced by the Office of NYCMedia) takes us into this historic structure, discussing everything from the reason for construction (after the 1898 consolidation of the five boroughs, there was a need for increased governmental office space) to interesting factoids (the building was designed from a rejected sketch of Grand Central Terminal Station) to the turn-of-the-century innovations that made this unique structure possible.

Watch the video

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