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Diversified Customization

Date:2013-08-30 0comments Click:8287

Text by & Picture Courtesy of Clyde Wang

As an emerging architectural product, architectural terracotta has won the favor of all concerned parties over the past decades and has gradually become a mainstream decorative curtain wall material. The unexpected rise of architectural terracotta should be attributed to the fact that the public has developed diversified aesthetic concepts of architecture in recent years. In addition to modern building materials like reinforced concrete, metal and glass curtain wall, architects are paying more and more attention to new materials that have a natural touch. The appearance of terracotta products corresponds exactly with these needs. More important, as a highly flexible material, the surface and shape of architectural terracotta can be custom made according to design schemes, which is incomparable for stone, metal and other curtain wall materials. With dozens of years of R&D and innovation expertise, NBK is the pioneer of the terracotta industry. Its product and system customization ability always leads the industry and is inevitably followed by its counterparts.

NBK was founded in the 1930s as a handcraft workshop of terracotta located in the lower Rhine, mainly producing ceramic wares and decorative architectural components. Till the 1970s, NBK successfully developed the extrusion techniques to replace the original handwork and started R&D and production of architectural curtain wall products. However, the years of handcraft experience were not abandoned, but were incorporated into the new production techniques of architectural terracotta panels. After dozens of years of development and revolution, NBK has developed unique customization techniques and has thus become a contributor who has helped architects create many classic terracotta architectural projects.

The Potsdam Plaza, which was the biggest architectural project at that time, is the first project contracted by NBK that uses a large amount of terracotta panels. Among the three zones of the entire Plaza, NBK contracted most of the buildings in the Benz Zone developed by Debis, a subsidiary of the Benz Group. The design team led by Italian master architect Renzo Piano designed this zone. During the project, the demanding design team brought forward many new ideas for NBK® architectural terracotta, which urged the R&D and production team of NBK to develop a variety of new products and technologies during project implementation.

One of the inventions was the appearance of NBK® curved terracotta panels. To ensure the aesthetics and functions of the local parts of the building, it was necessary to use curved curtain wall products in certain areas. For example, the curtain wall in the parking area can improve traffic flow. Different from the metal curtain wall products, the arcing technique of a terracotta panel is much more complex. According to different radii, NBK developed two different arcing techniques. In the Potsdam Plaza project, NBK successfully applied terracotta panels with large curves to a real project. The curved panels and flat panels, which are of the same surface texture and size, correspond with each other. At the same time, the installation effect is guaranteed via precise control of radius tolerance. As one of the corner solutions of NBK, terracotta panels with a small curve, which are mainly used at corners of a building to replace the traditional splicing or jointing technology, have a totally different processing technique with large-curve products. Most of the small-curve and special-shaped panels are formed by using handmade moulds. For example, the interior wall of a shopping mall in the Potsdam Plaza included details of terracotta Baguettes. However, architects didn’t want to use the standard Baguette system, which had exposed installation components, but hoped to hide the metal installation components and carriers behind the terracotta elements. Challenged by this requirement, NBK produced many special-shaped terracotta elements by way of handmade mould extrusion, which worked perfectly with Baguettes and its installation system, so the design idea of the architects was realized. The Potsdam Plaza project covers the application of a large number of custom-made products; it has therefore laid a solid foundation for NBK as a customization expert in the industry.

Different shapes of NBK products meet the diversified needs of customers

Speaking of custom-made products, NBK had come up with the idea as early as in the 1960s – 1970s. However, NBK stayed with the adjustment of terracotta panel sections but didn’t involve innovation of techniques and materials. In 1997, NBK optimized its firing techniques and replaced the tunnel kiln of the early 1990s with roller kiln, which was more suitable for mass production. However, most custom-made sections are too thick and have complicated cavities, and the roller kiln could not meet the drying and firing requirements of such products. Later, the tunnel kiln was used to produce special-sectioned terracotta panels. It is these special-sectioned panels that accomplished NBK’s first generation of custom-made products. The difficulty of section adjustment does not lie in the shape of moulds, but in the processing and control of the products which have different sections. The accurate control of drying and firing technique curves allows NBK to produce stably high quality products while enriching section variations.

NBK® Architectural Terracotta products are diversified along with the increasing variations of sections. In the basic Baguette series, some special-sectioned products are redefined as a brand new variety: Terracotta Louvers. These products have bigger size sections, diversified shapes and special installation systems. The difficulty in the customization of terracotta Louvers is the complicated visible surface. A conventional terracotta panel has only one visible surface, but terracotta Louvers have more or even a continuous visible curvy surface, imposing higher requirements on the production techniques. For the products that need to be glazed, the processing difficulty and complexity of this variety of products are much greater than conventional terracotta products. At Edificio Recoletos project in Madrid Spain, NBK supplied conventional flat panels and 2.4-meter-long terracotta Louvers of the same grey color, among which the Louvers had to have two visible surfaces. This was a great challenge to customization techniques at that time because Louvers that had two visible surfaces couldn’t be oversized. NBK finally accomplished the task via special surface treatment. Starting from Baguettes of different sections, NBK keeps increasing the section variations of its products, and at the same time accumulated experience of processing such products. It is no exaggeration that NBK® Terracotta Louvers are a highly customizable product variety that fits different parts of a building and different installation systems.

Central Saint Giles London / NBK® Architectural Terracotta

The Central Saint Giles London project of NBK was completed in 2010. The designers of this project did a lot of research in the curtain wall planning stage, including color, texture and the connectivity between the main buildings. One of these concepts was that the terracotta products should constitute a 3D grill effect. Different from a conventional curtain wall, the terracotta panels cannot stay on one elevation, but should also go into the dimension of depth. In the end, NBK provided a perfect solution by combining the horizontal installation of custom-made terracotta panels with the vertical installation of Baguette. This signifies that the customization level of NBK has reached a new high. From the customization of a single product to that of a group of products, NBK has broken a new path for the future application of architectural terracotta.

Among all the projects contracted by NBK, customized schemes account for two thirds, adequately proving NBK’s leading position in the industry. The positive attitude and strong power NBK demonstrates when dealing with creative designs and customization requirements help this outstanding enterprise maintain a good long-term cooperation with many high-profile architects. Their inexhaustible creative designs motivate NBK to continuously innovate the techniques of terracotta production over the past decades. As a result, the NBK® Architectural Terracotta series - ranging from flat panels to baguettes, louvers and special shapes - are created. The author comes from HDCHC

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