The Making Of: Development and building under supervision

15 December 2013

For every stone that is moved in the City of London, official bodies keep a critical eye open. Even the prototypes for the building elements for the rear façade at 5-7 St Helen’s Place were subject to intensive inspection and testing under the watchful eye of the inspectors at the Planning Department, which watches over planning in the city on behalf of the City Council. The actual production of the handmade glazed building elements was preceded by a long and meticulous preparatory stage.

This started with a tight schedule of sampling so as to select the ideal material and forms. For this project Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum opted to carry out the full development and production of the new façade elements itself, rather than buying in semi-manufactured goods and glazing them. The method used is slip-casting. Plaster moulds are filled with liquid clay, which thickens because the plaster absorbs the water from the clay. The desired solid material thus forms inside the mould. The clay mixture is strengthened with various additives to be able to achieve the substantial thicknesses of from 25 to 40 mm. The quality of each step in the production process is meticulously recorded and assessed in our laboratory.

The initial experiments were with two glazes: blue-red and red-white. The blue-red one was chosen on the basis of several mock-ups. The glaze has two components. A total of at least ten thousand ceramic building elements in 60 different models were made by slip-casting and then fired in our own kilns. The finished modules were delivered to Szerelmey Ltd. in London, who are responsible for building the façade. The building modules are mounted in stainless steel frames. The resulting three-dimensional façade is then pointed.

The production of complete ‘building blocks’ of this thickness and this degree of finish is unprecedented for our company. In this way we become a co-creator and producer of unique, authentic façade materials for international architects and property developers. This work has not gone unnoticed. The showcase we have been able to set up in the City of London has already led to several interesting requests and studies, even before actual building has commenced. Eric Parry Architects have indicated that they would again like to make use of our expertise: we are currently engaged on another, similar project in London and another in Qatar. More to come.

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