Close up of terracotta cladding on the new Ravelin Sports Centre

Justin Moorton, architect at FaulknerBrowns, explores the design of Ravelin Sports Centre's terracotta cladding

  • 04 January 2021
  • 3 min read

Variation in architectural materiality matters. The materials which make our built environment are starting to look the same, taking an emotional toll on the people that live in and around them. A growing body of scientific research reveals how dull environs can create stress and how variety improves the quality of life.

But variations of surface textures, shapes and colours help us to navigate our world and create our memories. There is also a bias towards variety in the forms of whole buildings as opposed to the materials used in their construction. The former leads to Instagram-able architecture. The latter improves the richness of experience when navigating that architecture in person

Variations of surface textures, shapes and colours help us to navigate our world and create our memories.

Justin Moorton, Architect at FaulknerBrowns Architects

Typical off-the-shelf finishes are intentionally manufactured to guarantee consistency, often for good commercial reasons. But these materials don't have to reflect uniformity in the way they look and feel. As designers, we need to ask what we lose when our built environment becomes standardised.

Designing Ravelin Sports Centre

We’re currently building a new sports centre and swimming pool. Designed to the highest sustainability credentials by FaulknerBrowns Architects, Ravelin Sports Centre offers superb facilities that complement its historic parkland surroundings.

One of the sports centres' most prominent design features is its striking band of terracotta cladding. This terracotta band is completely bespoke and gives a unique character to the building. It also respects the earthen tones of the surrounding Victorian architecture and parkland.

Wide view of terracotta cladding on Ravelin Sports Centre

The terracotta band creates an endless pattern to compliment the buildings surroundings. Image provided by Richard Chivers, FaulknerBrowns Architects.

Designing with digital technology

The terracotta band consists of 13,948 ‘baguettes’ (hollow clay batons). Each baguette coloured independently allows us to experiment with colour palettes, distribution ratios and relative frequencies. Using digital technology, we have tested over 50 options to assess impact and improve the quality of the design. By ‘pixelating’ the façade in this way, it has made it possible to design an endless pattern. We’re creating the greatest effect of visual variation whilst complimenting the building's surroundings.

Digital technology allows us to re-introduce variation into manufacturing processes with the precision, control and predictability needed to meet performance specification. Ravelin Sports Centre will be an important case study to show that this is possible at an acceptable cost and with no greater risk. We’re confident that health and wellbeing can improve not only through the facilities on offer, but also through the qualities of the chosen architectural materials.

Ravelin Sports Centre will open later this year for students, staff and local residents.


Justin Moorton completed his master's degree in Architecture at Newcastle University in 2017, where he graduated with distinction and was awarded the Northern Architectural Association prize for his dissertation on the specification of variation in architectural materials. He took his final exams to receive chartership in 2018 and has since worked on a number of high profile sports projects at FaulknerBrowns Architects, where he forms an integral part of the design team and continues to develop a specialised knowledge within the sports sector.

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