Adding Charm to Dignity: Battle Hall as Exemplary Type

Atlantic Terra Cotta V, no. 4 (1922): insert.

While searching for Ayres & Ayres, Architects volumes, I came across this issue of Atlantic Terra Cotta, a trade publication illustrating historical and contemporary terra cotta use, typically in Europe, and featuring buildings employing materials garnered from Atlantic Terra Cotta. The fifth volume highlights Bologna’s Chiesa del Corpus Domini, a renaissance church erected in 1456 and remodeled extensively in 1481 utilizing terra cotta to express various architectural details including the church’s entrance. But that is not what interested me most about this specific issue. While the building was beautiful and its cultural and design history intriguing, it was the issue’s insert that captured my attention.

As I opened the issue and was once again frustrated when I failed to locate the signature Ayres & Ayres stamp, I noticed a familiar building–UT’s very own Battle Hall. A scant decade after its original construction, Battle Hall’s inimitable terra cotta features earned the building a spot in Atlantic Terra Cotta’s advertising portfolio. The simple spread–a single black-and-white photo, pithy headline (“Adding Charm to Dignity”) and three sentence blurb–celebrate the material as a contrasting affectation, enlivening Cass Gilbert’s “severely plain design” for the University’s original library. The narrative here is striking. By coupling the rhetoric of dignity with charm, Atlantic Terra Cotta establishes itself within an emergent modernist idiom rendering the idiom itself accessible while preserving the relevance of a material oft employed for additive components–a discreet message that trades editorial for future profit.

For more on the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company, check out this Alexander Architectural Archive finding aid.

Library of Congress call number: NA 3700 A853

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