There’s nothing better than witnessing the results of an artistic partnership made in heaven. It’s also nice to see our local university teaming up with a local manufacturer. In this case, University at Buffalo partnered with Boston Valley Terra Cotta to create inspirational faculty mailboxes. Typically mundane, the new faculty mailboxes are anything but. The artisan mailboxes are the result of the brilliant contributions of two Department of Architecture faculty members and a recent graduate. The utilitarian works of art are located in Hayes Hall (National Register of Historic Places) within the newly refurbished home of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning.
The mailboxes are the result of a series of design-build competitions, which are taking place on the campus over the next few years. The idea is to create faculty and student teams that work with a variety of campus and regional partners to aesthetically enhance study and workplaces that are typically overlooked during the design process. As for the mailbox project, 14 teams (19 faculty members and 18 students) participated in the exercise.
“This competition series provides a space to reflect upon our deep traditions in research through making,” said Robert G. Shibley, dean of UB’s School of Architecture and Planning. “The mailbox competition, with the visionary partnership of Boston Valley Terra Cotta, is an emphatic opening statement of what’s possible when you combine teaching with practice.”
The installation features 120 individual blocks fashioned from terra cotta clay, each weighing 22 pounds.
The winning mailbox concept was created by Gregory Delaney, clinical assistant professor of architecture; Erkin Özay, assistant professor of architecture; and Nicholas Traverse, a 2016 master of architecture graduate. The name of the project is called “Bibelot”, French for “a small decorative object or trinket”.
“Getting the glaze just how we wanted it took some trial and error. Terra cotta is an interesting material, not only in its finished state but in its workability and process,” says Traverse, who now works as an architectural designer and drafter at CJS Architects in Buffalo.
Boston Valley Terra Cotta dedicated time and materials to create the installation, which is comprised of L-shaped blocks. “We were thinking of the history of terra cotta as masonry block in construction,” Delaney said. “By nature of their geometry, each block locks with its neighbor to produce a system that doesn’t require any mortar or hardware screws between the units and the shelves.”
To add interest to the project, each block is inscribed with one of 42 words. The words have a fascinating significance to Buffalo’s history. The inscribed words are those that were once emblazoned upon sections of the top floors of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Larkin Administration Building. The words were/are meant to instill moral work ethics into the employees. The project pays tribute to the nature of the structure, which was tragically demolished, as well as its influence upon those that walked through its doors. Not to mention those who never got a chance to see the architectural masterpiece before it was destroyed.
“We used the words as a departure point to create objects of curiosity that you often find sitting on a shelf, which is where the name Bibelot and inspiration also came from,” Traverse said.
On the Hayes Hall mailboxes, each word is stretched vertically to blur the line between pattern making and typography, semiotics and cacography.
“The school has a deep connection with the city. In thinking of the colors and the words, we were looking for details that could reconstruct those connections and reveal them,” says Özay.
The mailboxes are located in the Boston Valley Terra Cotta Faculty Lounge. The project was one that Boston Valley Terra Cotta took to heart, as an opportunity to create a work that strays from the company’s typical commissions, which tend to be much larger in scale.
“Boston Valley jumped at the chance to be involved in a project like this where the material we work with every day is required to comply with a completely different set of rules and functionality,” says John Krouse, company president.
“The exciting part about this project is that it highlights the potential of design in our everyday lives,” Delaney said. “The act of getting mail is normally a mundane routine, but when you bring design into that, it is somehow enhanced.”
Adds Özay, “It’s an event now.”
Rounding out the top three
Second place in the competition was awarded to associate professors of architecture Omar Khan and Laura Garófalo for “Stratum,” a structural stack of slotted modular bricks inspired by the geologic formation of clay strata. It was presented to the jury as a scaled terra cotta prototype.
Third-place “Radiant,” a glowing carousel of backlit, blue-glazed terra cotta modules, was developed by students Randy Fernando, Daniel Kleeschulte, Ashwini Karve and Garrett Brown, and Miguel Guitart, visiting associate professor of architecture.
Hat tip – David Hill, University at Bufffalo