Keys to Architectural Terra Cotta Restoration

July 23, 2013

Terra Cotta Restoration

Keys to Architectural Terra Cotta Restoration

Architectural terra cotta graces so many classic and beautiful buildings throughout the United States and the world. It is a stunning architectural style that offers an elegant look while also providing strength and durability to withstand the elements. While terra cotta is considered to be a long-lasting architectural product, it does eventually begin to wear over time because of the weather or is damaged due to other natural forces and then must undergo historical restoration processes.

However, restoring historic terra cotta is not a simple process. It requires a number of experts who specialize in terra cotta restoration as well as the right resources, materials, and strategies to ensure that the architectural terra cotta is restored to its original beauty. Then, there is the range of tones and colors that have been used on buildings that can be a challenge when it comes to matching any original structures to obtain a unified look.

This blog post provides a benchmark approach to the roles, resources, strategy and materials for this type of building restoration.

Roles in Restoring Terra Cotta

Restoring terra cotta is a team effort and requires a number of specialists in the field and behind the scenes to ensure that the building restoration maintains the original design and the terra cotta restoration process follows stringent standards and uses the best materials and resources available. Each member of the team adds a specific skill or knowledge base for restoring terra cotta:

  • Architect: The architect provides expertise and knowledge about the building’s architectural style to help keep the restoration process historically and architecturally accurate.
  • Building owner: The building owner must be involved to approve the restoration techniques and ensure that the process follows strict regulatory guidelines for restoration in the area where the building is located.
  • Contractor: The contractor must be adept at implementing the terra cotta restoration processes, having the skill to undertake all types of restoration to the terra cotta, including composite patching, crack repair, thin and deep terra cotta repair, the rebonding of masonry units, or glaze replication.
  • Historical consultant or restoration specialist: If an architect is not as familiar with the historical period but serves the purpose of structural and architectural expert, a historical consultant or terra cotta specialist may be necessary to make decisions about restoration to the façade of the building or in terms of color matching. They may be especially critical to the success of the historical restoration if there are no drawings or photos of how the building originally looked before its façade features had deteriorated.
  • Terra cotta replacement supplier: A terra cotta replacement supplier like TerraGlas will often be the go-to person on the team because they have the technical knowledge about terra cotta in terms of product composition, fabrication, colors and finishes.

The team must work together to communicate their knowledge, implement their skills, and share ideas when problems arise in the architectural terra cotta process.

Resources for Architectural Terra Cotta

Resources are an essential part of any restoration project, including terra cotta restoration, because these resources can fill in the missing pieces in terms of providing stock patterns, color matching, and molds or even recreating a terra cotta product from a drawing when the existing product is missing or has deteriorated. Here’s what these resources can do for your architectural terra cotta building restoration project:

  • Replicate the original terra cotta texture, using replication options like GFRC, GFRP, and TerraGlas.
  • For detailed work, use silicone rubber molds that ensure all the details are replicated to create an exact match for the historical building’s façade.
  • Create new models from drawings when there is no existing terra cotta left to create an exact match.
  • Determine the appropriate finish for the terra cotta, including whether it is smooth, tooled, special-rugged or another type of finish.
  • Recognize and replicate the glaze finish, including whether it is lustrous or mat.
  • Create replication castings to match the color and tone, which can often be considered an endless variation.

Plus experts at Terra Glass can provide expertise on installation processes of restored or replicated architectural terra cotta, including the tools and instructions for attaching the terra cotta. This may require flex anchors, straps, wires, inserts and bolts, depending on the size of the terra cotta units being used for the historical restoration.

With so many aspects to think about when it comes to restoring terra cotta, it is important to have a strong team and an experienced supplier, like TerraGlas, that can offer all this knowledge not to mention manufacturing and design facilities, an extensive library of existing historical terra cotta patterns, custom fabrication capabilities and the experience of working on some of the country’s most prestigious buildings and historical restoration projects.

Site Survey for Historical Restoration

Having the team and resources is one part of the historic terra cotta restoration project. The next component is undertaking a site survey to understand what needs to be done and what type of materials and processes are required. Here is a strategy to follow during a site survey for historical restoration:

  • Conduct a visual inspection to determine what is still there and what is missing from the original terra cotta pieces.
  • Use photo documentation to keep track of every aspect of the building that requires historical terra cotta restoration as well as pictures of those areas that are still intact. Close up images of any texture, coloring, or variations in the architectural terra cotta also provide a way to match the original terra cotta as closely as possible during the restoration process.
  • Inspect the interior and exterior of the building to identify all existing conditions with the terra cotta. This will help determine what caused the deterioration, which is important to the replication process in terms of deciding on the best materials and anchoring system to use when it is restored.

The findings from the site survey should help a partner like TerraGlas determine what is needed in terms of materials and resources to complete the architectural terra cotta restoration project.

Materials for Terra Cotta Restoration

Technology has led to the development of high-quality materials that offer a long-term repair solution for terra cotta rather than the previous materials that were temporary and not really compatible with the existing terra cotta. There are a number of materials now available for terra cotta restorations, which are offered by TerraGlas, described below to provide some highlights on their differences and advantages:

  • Glass Fiber Reinforced Plastic (GFRP): This is a commonly used material because fiberglass is a very flexible material to work with and be used for various shapes. It has been used for decades for both construction and restoration projects.
  • Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete (GFRC):  This is a material comprised of concrete that has been reinforced with glass fibers to create a thin and lightweight material that delivers durability over the longer term.  It can replicate a number of surface types like granite and terra cotta.
  • TerraGlas®: This is a molded architectural terra cotta composite that is reinforced with fiberglass. The advantage is that it can be molded into any shape and replicate historical terra cotta elements, including texture, and be sued for flat or glazed colors. Plus, this lighter weight material reduces the load on the historical building, which then leads to lower installation costs.

This is where a terra cotta replacement supplier can help you determine which type of terra cotta material is right for your particular architectural terra cotta restoration project:

Your Partner in Building Restoration

As an integral part of your historical restoration team, Stromberg Architectural Products and TerraGlas can deliver the resources, materials, and strategies to ensure that your terra cotta restoration project uses the most appropriate materials and the terra cotta products we supply match the building’s original design elements and façade. Contact us now at 903.454.0904 or email us at [email protected] to get started with a trusted, experienced architectural terra cotta materials and products partner.

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