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Technical Papers

Terracotta Foundation Block

Sunday, January 15th, 2023 by Aaron Stull

Terracotta foundation blocks have a long history of use in North America, dating back to the late 19th century. These blocks, made from a mixture of clay and other natural materials, were commonly used as a foundation material for buildings and other structures.

Terracotta Foundation Block - Image 1

One of the earliest uses of terracotta foundation blocks in North America was in the construction of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, was a large-scale event that featured many buildings and structures, many of which were built using terracotta foundation blocks.

Terracotta foundation blocks were also commonly used in the construction of industrial buildings and factories in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These blocks were often used because they were strong, durable, and relatively inexpensive. Additionally, they were easy to work with and could be produced in large quantities.

 

As the use of terracotta foundation blocks became more widespread, manufacturers began to develop new and improved versions of the blocks. One of the most notable innovations in this field was the development of the “hollow terracotta block.” These blocks were designed to have a hollow center, which reduced their weight and made them even more cost-effective.

 

Despite the many advantages of terracotta foundation blocks, their use began to decline in the mid-20th century. This was due in part to the development of new building materials, such as concrete and steel, which were seen as more modern and advanced. Additionally, concerns about the potential for water damage and other issues with terracotta blocks led many builders and architects to look for alternative foundation materials.

 

However, in recent years, there has been a renewed interest in terracotta foundation blocks. This is due in part to the growing awareness of the environmental benefits of using natural building materials. Additionally, many architects and builders have come to appreciate the unique aesthetic qualities of terracotta blocks.

 

Today, terracotta foundation blocks are still used in a variety of building projects, particularly in historic preservation and restoration projects. They are also used in the construction of new buildings, particularly those that are designed to have a traditional or “old-world” look.  That being said, they are rarely used for subterranean applications such as foundations.

 

Many experts believe that the use of terracotta foundation blocks will continue to grow in the coming years in above grade applications. This is due in part to the growing awareness of the environmental benefits of using natural building materials, as well as the increasing popularity of traditional and “green” building techniques.  Above grade care will require some of the techniques used for below grade waterproofing and protection.  Keystone Basement Systems specializes in these techniques and can help you if you are experiencing an issue.  

 

In conclusion, terracotta foundation blocks have a long history of use in North America, dating back to the late 19th century. These blocks were commonly used as a foundation material for buildings and other structures due to their strength, durability, and relatively inexpensive cost. Despite the decline in their use in the mid-20th century, there has been a renewed interest in terracotta blocks for above-grade applications in recent years due to the growing awareness of the environmental benefits of using natural building materials, as well as the increasing popularity of traditional and “green” building techniques.

Sources:

  1. "Terracotta in Building Construction" by B.R. Gurjar and P.K. Dhakate
  2. "The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893" by Norman Bolotin and Christine Laing
  3. "The History of Building Materials" by Marcus Whiffen
  4. "Green Building Materials: A Guide to Product Selection and Specification" by Ross Spiegel and Dru Meadows
  5. "Building with Terracotta: Design, Manufacture, and Performance" by Simon Bell and John Fidler
About the author
Aaron Stull is a second generation foundation repair specialist from the greater Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area.

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