The material, also known in Great Britain as faience and sometimes referred to as "architectural ceramics", was closely associated with the work of Cass Gilbert, Louis Sullivan, and Daniel H. Burnham, among other architects. Buildings incorporating glazed terra-cotta include the Woolworth Building in New York City and the Wrigley Building in Chicago.
Glazed architectural terra-cotta offered a modular, varied and relatively inexpensive approach to wall and floor construction. It was particularly adaptable to vigorous and rich ornamental detailing. Terra-cotta is an enriched molded clay brick or block. It was usually hollow cast in blocks which were open in the back, with internal stiffeners called webbing. Webbing substantially strengthened the hollow blocks with minimal weight increase. The blocks were finished with a glaze, with a clay wash or an aqueous solution of metal salts, before firing. Late 19th century advertising for the material promoted the durable, impervious and adaptable nature of glazed architectural terra-cotta. It could accommodate subtle nuances of modeling, texture and color. Compared to stone, it was easier to handle, quickly set and lower cost. The cost of producing the blocks, when compared to carving stone, was a considerable savings, especially when casts were used in a modular fashion—that is, used repeatedly. It never needed paint, and periodic washings restored its appearance.
Variations in the color and pattern of the glaze could make it look like granite or limestone; this flexibility helped make it attractive for architects.
Four major types of terra-cotta were widely used
The American Terra Cotta Corporation, founded in 1881, operated for eighty-five years in the little town of Terra Cotta in the heart of Illinois dairy country (near Crystal Lake, Illinois), the company fabricated architectural terra cotta for more than 8,000 buildings throughout the US and Canada. It was the last exclusive manufacturer of architectural terra cotta by the time it ceased production in 1966. From its founding in time to rebuild the fire-ravished city of Chicago until its closing, it was the major producer of architectural glazed terra cotta in North America.
Guastavino tile was used in many places, including the Bridgemarket under the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge.
13042 S. Western Ave., The Woolworth Building, for Teresa Klein, 1915, Blue Island, IL
Although glazed terra-cotta was much more common in the US, it was used in central Canada starting around 1900, on many of the area's first skyscrapers. The glazed terra-cotta used in central Canada was usually imported from the US or England.
From around 1890 unglazed terra-cotta was supplanted by the glazed version - faience, and glazed brick - which were easily cleaned, and not blackened by city smoke.
Faience was popularised in Melbourne in the 1920s by architects such as Harry Norris. One of the leading commercial architects of the time in the city, Norris was strongly influenced by trends in American architecture and used faience on projects such as the Nicholas Building and the Kellow Falkiner Showrooms (a 1928 car showroom) in South Yarra. In Sydney, it featured on notable buildings such as BMA House, designed by Joseph Charles Fowell. Australian-made tiles were available from Wunderlich Tiles, a company founded by London-born Frederick Wunderlich.