It's crossover week at UrbanToronto, where we've been focussing on one particular construction project that has so much to talk about, that we are running another story about it every day. Yesterday we even added the Daily Photo to the coverage of The Well, and today, The Well has inspired a new addition to our Explainer series.

Our every-Thursday Explainer articles of late have been following the steps involved in constructing a building from the ground up, but we are interrupting that flow for one week to clear up what, for some people, may be a source of confusion about a building material, and a colour; The Well provides the opportunity to talk about both. 

If you're not a construction or architecture geek, your experience with terracotta is likely mostly with the colour. In the original italian, terracotta literally means baked earth, and it refers to earthenware clay material used to make everything from sculptures, to water pipes, roofing tiles, or vessels, particularly including flowerpots. It's the orangish brown colour of clay flowerpots that everyone understands most quickly.

Terracotta flowerpots, source unattributed

If you are a construction or architecture geek, then you'll also run into terra cotta as a cladding material from time to time... it's just that it rarely shows up as anything other than a white tile on building walls. While terra cotta tiles may appear in their original orangish brown colour on rooftops of rustic buildings, maybe mostly associated with traditional Italian and Chinese architecture, another approach is more often taken on walls.

Terracotta-tiled rooftops of Florence, image by Craig White

On walls, terra cotta tiles are most often glazed, and in the modern era the use of the material was popularized especially in a white glazed form, particularly by American architect Louis Sullivan who used it to add ornamentation to such buildings as the famous former Carson Pirie Scott store (now the Sullivan Centre) in Chicago. In Toronto, white glazed terra cotta was used on the exterior of 1913-built 299 Queen Street West, best known in recent years for its turn as the CHUM-City Building, now owned by CTV, and also notably at the 1915-built 284 King Street West on the Anderson Building, the terracotta facade of which will be preserved when the back is torn down to make way for the taller of the two towers in the Frank Gehry-designed Forma project for Dream, Great Gulf, and Westdale Properties.

White-glazed terracotta tiles on the 1915-built Anderson Building on King Street West, image by UrbanToronto Forum contributorRed Mars

The Well comes into all of this as a rare modern development to be adorned with both white-glazed terra cotta tiles on one of the podiums, and by the terracotta coloured aluminium panelling used at the base of other buildings at the site. So, looking at all of the podiums at The Well designed by BDP, we have terra cotta looking white, and terracotta-toned aluminium. Are we all good?!

White-glazed terra cotta tiles being applied to a podium at The Well, image by UrbanToronto Forum contributor Red Mars

Terracotta coloured aluminum panelling applied to a podium at The Well, image by UrbanToronto Forum contributor Red Mars

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From 2015 to 2017, UrbanToronto and its sister publication, SkyriseCities, ran an occasional series of articles under the heading Explainer. Each one took a concept from Urban Planning, Architecture, Construction, or other topics that often wind up in our publications, and presented an in depth look at it. It's time to revisit (and update where necessary) those articles for readers who are unfamiliar with them. While you may already know what some of these terms mean, others may be new to you. We are publishing or updating and republishing Explainer on a weekly basis. This article is a new addition to the series.

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Do you have other planning terms that you would like to see featured on Explainer? Share your comments and questions in the comments section below!

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Want to read other Explainers? Click on the magenta Explainer box at the top of the page.

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UrbanToronto has a research service, UrbanToronto Pro, that provides comprehensive data on construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area—from proposal through to completion. We also offer Instant Reports, downloadable snapshots based on location, and a daily subscription newsletter, New Development Insider, that tracks projects from initial application.

Related Companies:  Adamson Associates Architects, ANTAMEX, architects—Alliance, BDP Quadrangle, BVGlazing Systems, CCxA, Doka Canada Ltd./Ltee, EQ Building Performance Inc., Figure3, Hariri Pontarini Architects, II BY IV DESIGN, Jablonsky, Ast and Partners, Knightsbridge, Kramer Design Associates Limited, LiveRoof Ontario Inc, LRI Engineering Inc., Ontario Panelization, Peter McCann Architectural Models Inc., Precise ParkLink, Rebar Enterprises Inc, RioCan REIT, RWDI Consulting Engineers and Scientists, Tridel, Trillium Architectural Products, Unilux HVAC Industries Inc., Urban Strategies Inc., VDF Vertical, Vortex Fire Consulting Inc.