Face value – innovations in cladding

October 30, 2015

While a true appreciation of a building lies in its operational and experiential value, first impressions still count.

Above image: Nan Tien Institute and Cultural Centre building. Image courtesy Axolotl.

While a true appreciation of a building lies in its operational and experiential value, first impressions still count. At a basic level, cladding is used to form an external barrier for shelter against the elements, providing a safe shell for those within compliance with building standards. However, cladding also performs beyond its function, imbuing structures with aesthetic properties unique to the material, and giving a tactile face to public buildings.

Made from fired clay, terracotta is one of the oldest, most basic building materials, used extensively in early civilisations and throughout ancient Greece and Rome. Given its historic use and traditionally rudimental production methods – in many cultures it has been hand formed and left to set in the sun – the material has an inherently warm, human quality.

In a modern context, Sydney-based cladding specialist group Axolotl have pioneered a way to coat building materials in terracotta, making it more versatile than ever for contemporary use. Apart from bonding to structural materials, Axolotl’s terracotta can be fabricated to suit a range of sizes and specification, and the malleability of the material enables it to be etched and carved.

The Nan Tien Institute and Cultural Centre building is an exemplar of the new material. Designed by Woods Bagot for the Taiwanese Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order, the centre is the first building in what is proposed as an extensive new university campus precinct in Wollongong, New South Wales. Its curved form is a reference to the Buddhist lotus flower motif,

In consideration of its cultural significance, Woods Bagot sought a way to visually link the new centre with the existing Buddhist temple. Developed by Axolotl in conjunction with building company Hi-Tec, and taking inspiration from the temple’s terracotta roof tiles, the new building features terracotta-coated louvres, appearing as delicate fins on its eastern and western aspects. While these are primarily in place to provide necessary sun shading and meet environmental requirements, the louvres also introduce a rippling textural counterpoint to the building’s streamlined concrete expanses, and the terracotta echoes the rusty earthen hues of its surroundings.

As demonstrated at Nan Tien and a myriad other projects across the country, innovations in materials now make for more expressive sculptural buildings, and a more texturally engaging urban fabric.


To speak to experts on cladding and construction, as well as connect with new suppliers and products, visit DesignBUILD at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, 4 – 6 May 2016.

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