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Terracotta Exteriors: Strong & Sustainable Option

Posted by
on November 28, 2015 at 07:44 PM

It’s hardly a surprise that from the earth must come one of the strongest, climate friendly, sustainable, timeless and long lasting building material solutions. For, what better than the earth itself to sustain life on it? ‘Terracotta’, a word of Italian origin meaning ‘baked earth’, is the term used globally today to describe items made out of baked clay, also known as ‘ceramics’ according to degree of baking and finishing. Having originated in China around six thousand years ago, this time transcending material is used in the building industry as tiles, panels and other elements, with the first roofing tiles having been made by the Chinese in 2700 B.C. Given its qualities of heat and climate resistance, strength, longevity, eco-sustainability and ease of manufacturing, terracotta is not only a popular choice even today, but is poised to be a material of the future. Manufacturers of terracotta tiles, panels and other building applications are innovating and producing a mind boggling range, out of which we look at some exterior applications here.

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Exterior Wall Panels in Large and Medium formats

While terracotta tiles for cladding on walls, referred to as small format, have always been around, the recent development has been in the area of wall cladding panels of terracotta in large and medium formats. Terracotta, being resistant to heat absorption, strong, durable and aesthetically appealing, lends itself beautifully to exterior wall cladding. With highly competent research and innovation invested in the field, led by world renowned brands like NBK’s Terrart, Terraclad and ArGeTon and followed by local ones, this has also become a technologically sophisticated option. 

Manufactured to project specifications, terracotta panels in medium sizes are available in a variety of textures, finishes and colours (cover pic, image 2,4). These are extremely popular choices while renovating and reconstructing facades, with innovative new techniques available for quick and hassle-free installation. 

The large format panels (cover pic & image 2, 4), manufactured only to project specifications, are even more visually impactful (image 1, 5) and ideally suited to commercial and institutional projects where high visual impact is of prime importance or in cases where the wind or structural load supports this format.  

Another option available is of precast panels, i.e. terracotta panels made to fit into a precast concrete framework, resulting in a precast façade. Image 3 shows Mario Botta’s building with intrinsically ventilated Terracotta cladding.

Exterior Wall Panels as Shingles and Baguettes

Small format panels are also available in a variety of forms like tiles, shingles and baguettes. Tiles are produced in standard shapes and sizes by most manufacturers, specific shapes and sizes are also manufactured to project specifications. Shingles are made to order by some manufacturers to create certain textural effects on the wall surface, like the ones by NBK’s Terrart (image 5) which are installed by overlapping the horizontal joints to create a clapboard effect. Baguettes (image 6,7,8), also manufactured by NBK and others to project specifications, are basically ceramic pipes which are circular, oblong or rectangular in a range of imaginative colours and finishes. These are easy to install with a rear fixing system and additional inserts if required, ideal for open facades, balconies or window areas due to their sun shading ability.

Ventilation systems

All, or at least most, terracotta curtain walls have a system of natural ventilation integrated into the tile and installation design (image 9,10), consequently making them energy efficient, sustainable and eco-friendly. Terracotta façade manufacturers also produce some specific vents for artificial ventilation systems. An airbrick (image 11) being the most common one, it can be integrated into the terracotta façade and attached to the vent pipe from the rear/ inner side. An alternative cowl-and-louvres (image 12) system is also available with similar installation details.

Rain Screens

Terracotta curtain walls make excellent rain screens, and are often installed expressly as such (image 13). In the rain screen system, the rainwater gets drained out of the installation system behind vertical joints, but does not enter the cavity. Instead, it gets diverted to the exterior surface due to the overlapping installation.

Roof Tiles

The business of using terracotta in construction started with roof tiles, as mentioned in the introduction, with the best example being the ubiquitous 'Mangalore tiles' used inIndia since ages. Terracotta takes a long time to absorb heat, and the installation design allows for internal hot air to escape keeping the interiors cool. Other than being an easily renewable material, terracotta roof tiles are affordable, strong, durable and easy to install and replace in parts. They lend themselves aesthetically to a range of applications.

Photovoltaic Roof Tiles

As terracotta evolves into a new age material, it is being integrated with consummate applications. The best example of this is the integration of photovoltaic panels into ceramic roof tiles. These solar panelled tiles (image 14,15) can also be availed in many variants of shape, size and application area, i.e. PV panels can be laid over a part of the roof or the entire roof as required.

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