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Team Explores Use of Terra Cotta in High-Performance Facade Design

HOK architects and engineers participated on a team that designed and built a mockup of an innovative structural terra cotta mullion as part of the Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop (ACAW).

ACAW is an industry-academic collaborative workshop hosted by Boston Valley Terra Cotta, with Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture and the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning. The hands-on R&D workshop encourages the use of terra cotta early in the architect’s design process.

With the demands for improved energy performance and reduced embodied carbon in building enclosures, it’s important to seek more sustainable alternatives to conventional aluminum-framed curtain wall. The team set out to explore whether terra cotta—an age-old material—could be a viable solution to this modern problem.

HOK, TriPyramid Structures and Permasteelisa Group (through its subsidiaries Permasteelisa North America and Josef Gartner) collaborated to design the structural terra cotta mullion.

The design gave shape to a vision of John Neary, AIA, LEED AP, an architect and senior facade specialist in HOK’s New York studio, for incorporating the sculptural depth of stone with high thermal performance in a contemporary facade.

Permasteelisa Group developed the custom-made curtain wall system and assembled the mockup—17 feet high and 12 feet wide—from components made by Boston Valley and TriPyramid. The mockup shows the true aesthetic and technical potential of the structural terra cotta mullion concept.

Here’s a look at the mockup’s fabrication and assembly process:

For more information and an image gallery showing the structural terra cotta mullion concept, visit ACAW’s website.


HOK – Terra cotta mullion: John Neary, senior facade specialist; Victoria Ereskina, facade specialist; Blake Kurasek, facade specialist; Francesca Meola, structural engineer; Marie Achalabun, architect; Michael Miller, architect

HOK – Design explorations of the theme: John MacCallum, design principal; Sha Li, designer; Francisco Moreno, designer; Ritika Kapoor, designer

TriPyramid – Michael Mulhern, president; Jeff Anderson, design manager; Nate White, head of engineering; Matt Bull, project manager

Permasteelisa/Josef Gartner – Roberto Bicchiarelli, design manager; Bernhard Rudolf, director of engineering; Leonardo Flores, project manager; Khalil Rahmani, project manager; Andrew McBride, designer/draftsman

Photos in top image by

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