Gregory Delaney, clinical assistant professor of architecture (left), and Erkin Ozay, assistant professor of architecture, along with 2016 master of architecture graduate Nicholas Traverse (not pictured), designed the winning entry in the Hayes Hall faculty mailbox competition. Photographer: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki
The blocks were fabricated at Boston Valley Terra Cotta in Boston, New York, which also made the 28,000 terra cotta panels that comprise the facade of UB's new Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences building. The School of Architecture and Planning has partnered with Boston Valley on a number of projects. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki
The winning entry, titled "Bibelot" — a French word meaning trinket — was designed to extend beyond the Boston Valley Terra Cotta Faculty Lounge in Hayes Hall, bringing a splash of color to the first-floor corridor. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki
New terra cotta mailboxes for faculty and staff in Hayes Hall, home of UB's School of Architecture and Planning. The mailbox project is the first in a series of design-build competitions intended to beautify the recently renovated Hayes Hall, while encouraging faculty and student teams to collaborate with some of the school's industry partners. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki
UB architecture and planning faculty members and students tour Boston Valley Terra Cotta's facility in Boston, N.Y.
Each terra cotta block is shaped like the number 7, its long side set at an angle to better perform as a masonry block. "By nature of their geometry, each block locks with its neighbor to produce a system that doesn’t require any mortar or hardware screws between the units and the shelves,” explains Gregory Delaney, clinical assistant professor of architecture. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki
Each of the 120 terra cotta blocks that make up the new faculty mailboxes in Hayes Hall is etched with one of the 42 words that appeared, in sets of three, on the panels of the uppermost floor of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, which was demolished in 1950. This one reads, "Simplicity." Photographer: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki
Material investigations in architecture often exclude practice implications by narrowly determining the scope and limitations of research. Such limitations are necessary and warranted for open-ended inquiries undertaken in controlled conditions. Working with commercial outfits in the context of a prescribed project, on the other hand, requires a clear attitude that accounts for the agency of the manufacturer. A small design-build intervention, completed with an in-kind donation from a terra cotta manufacturer in Buffalo, New York, gave the opportunity to take on a collaborative investigation.
In order to explore the potentials of terra cotta as a building material to the greatest extent, the team strategically increased the complexity of the endeavor, challenging the design and manufacturing team to address production problems in a timely manner to meet the project goals. In doing so, they relied on conceptual constructs that address specific material and institutional histories of terra cotta and the cultural context, registered as form, color, and ornamentation in the project.
In the age of ubiquitous digital media, faculty mailboxes remain one of the most central features of academic settings, characterized by slow change and persistence of institutional memory. As such, the project has provided an opening for the design team to delve into notions of communicability and referentiality and explore the ability of complex material constructs to operate on a plane of institutional culture and memory. The medium of terra cotta further enhances this framework. As others have observed, the ability of terra cotta to register the imprints of manufacturing processes and bridge crafts and industrial applications renders it uniquely rich, inviting the designer to engage with the embedded histories of the material (Charles, 2018). Embracing the multiplicity of histories has helped to expand the scope of the project laterally, while the specific condition of the competition and time constraints introduced certain limitations.