recycled terra cotta

Terra cotta revival: Luigi Rosselli’s Beehive facade

The relatively new Beehive façade of Luigi Rosselli’s reimagined headquarters in Surry Hills Sydney is not only an eye-catching installation, but leads the way in terms of recycling & care for the environment, as well as ingenious, relevant streetscape architecture.

From day one this project was fated to transform the architecture of Surry Hills. Since its inception, the project has generated interest and excitment because it is predicated upon unique 21st century values and unconventional aesthetics: it reflects a combination of pragmatism with innovation and art.  And perhaps most significantly – the architects embraced the courage of their convictions in the decision to use discarded terra cotta tiles, rather than consign them to landfill.

Utilising recycled materials from the start rather than an afterthought, the terracotta tile was chosen as it is a ubiquitous material without an established reuse market.

Up until now, Luigi Rosselli has been identified with distinctive and sculptural residential architecture.  However, that has changed: in collaboration with architect Raffaello Rosselli the reimagined streetscape in Surry Hills adds an additional three-dimensional language to an already impressive output.

Terra cotta means baked earth, a base material easily transformed and long lasting due to its inherent durability. Luigi Rosselli is Italian so it comes as no surprise that his firm would engage terra cotta tiles that come with unique sculptural content on one hand and are endemic to the built history of Italy on the other: Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore by Brunelleschi a famous enduring example.

More recently, there has been a revival of terracotta use in the Italian wine industry.

An obvious quality of the material is the fact that it does not suffer ill effects from climatic vicissitudes; the is-what-it-is material will remain relatively unchanged across the decades.

Moreover, the studio

celebrates the layers of filigree and geometric complexity that can be found in the overlooked terracotta tile.

While a poetic rhythm is set up between the various layers and the manner in which the façade curves, an inventive and sculptural brise soleil has been established to counter the effects of the severe western sun. The open-screen effect adds another layer of art (both subtle and obvious) and visual excitement to the scheme as the sun casts interior shadows at certain times of the day.

In the Beehive façade, the architects have improvised on one hand and established a prototype on the other.

Putting aside the tiles commonality, the terracotta tile appealed because of its raw elemental materiality, with no tile exactly alike, cast in clay and fired still by hand.

This project attempts to add value to reused materials and change the public often negative perception of material reuse.

The decision to recycle terra cotta not only demonstrates concern for the environment but as architects and designers, it also displays the ability to think beyond mundane solutions to other forms of architecture.  Most Australians would equate terra cotta with a bygone era from the mid to latter part of the 20th century when it was the flooring of choice for a Mediterranean style in countless homes around Australia.

If the architects had applied the terra cotta tiles conventionally, in 2018 the concept and impact would have lacked vision.

The unusual usage indicates a nod to strong European traditions as well as the ability to see the inherent beauty and practicality in the material and forms within a unique creative vision.

The project is a celebration of the immediacy and the unpredictability of creation using what is discarded or found rather than new materials, by creating a new bricolage that demonstrate how waste products can be reimagined and reused with minimal energy.

The façade is indeed a celebration; it is at once powerful, exotic and pleasingly provocative.  It is a façade that spells inventiveness and leading-edge design.  It is as much a quasi-spontaneous art installation as it is a filtering device; this perspective is enhanced given the design process involved full scale tests and prototypes, effectively designing through making.

terra cotta revivalInside the building the same terracotta forms have been used in ingenious ways to solve problems: a stacked terra cotta module becomes a bookcase partly enclosing the conference table.

This was a conscious attempt to re-contextualise the value of reusing materials, advocating for more sustainable solutions

and showing clients and the wider public that it is possible to reuse the waste products of the construction process, with all their intrinsic beauty.

Finally, the Beehive is a homage to recycling and terracotta: the terra cotta shows itself to be as flexible and as beautiful as any external cladding when placed in the hands of this studio.

Luigi Rosselli have transformed both the application of materials and the nature of architecture in Surry Hills and Sydney. 

By applying broad aesthetics which incorporate design, streetscape transformation, sustainability and environmental sensitivity a truly unique solution has been uncovered.

In addition to Luigi Rosselli defying the status quo with vision and energy, the Beehive effectively proclaims Surry Hills as a creative hub, thus revolutionising the area’s sense of place and history.

The Beehive stands alone and will remain invigorating and timeless for as long as required because it presents as a one-off hand-made object of art.

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