Welcome to the New York Architecture Diary, your essential guide to architecture exhibitions and events taking place across the city.
Before New York’s tallest towers were sheathed in glass, they were clad in clay. Terra-Cotta, or “fired earth,” is an ancient building material made of baked clay, that helped make New York a Modern city. At the turn of the 20th century, terra-cotta became a sought-after fire-proof skin for the steel skeletons of the city’s tallest buildings. Though you’ll find it on some of New York’s most iconic structures, including the Flatiron Building, The Woolworth Building, and the Plaza Hotel, terra-cotta often hides in plain sight, mimicking other materials like granite or carved wood. On this tour of Lower Manhattan, we’ll uncover some of city’s earliest terra-cotta structures, and find out how New York got fired up about fired earth. Along the way, we’ll see the tallest terra-cotta structure in the world, find out how the nephews of Samuel Morse commissioned the city’s earliest surviving “fireproof” sky-scraper, and learn how this stunningly versatile material moved from monochrome to multi-colored, and helped shift the city from Beaux-Arts beauty to Art Deco splendor!