Thin Brick & Architectural Terra Cotta in Precast Concrete Panels Enhance Building Facades

January 13, 2022

The use of clay product-faced precast concrete has advanced considerably in the last several years with unlimited aesthetic options for all types of structures. Among the materials that can be embedded in precast concrete are brick and architectural terra cotta panels. These clay product facings may cover the exposed panel surface entirely, or partially, to create accents on building facades. This blog explores the advantages and considerations of embedding thin brick and architectural terra cotta in precast concrete panels.

Benefits & Advantages

Designers experience several system advantages with precast, such as accelerated construction, panel strength and resiliency, and design freedom when incorporating clay products into architectural precast concrete panels or building enclosures. Additionally, the combination of precast concrete and clay products offers several significant benefits and advantages over site-laid-up masonry.

  • During the system maintenance, tuckpointing is eliminated, unlike traditional hand-laid units.
  • Clay products are cast directly into precast concrete panels to create a durable, long-lasting barrier wall system.
  • Precasting techniques allow complex and intricate details, such as arches, radii, ornate corbels, and numerous bonding patterns, to be incorporated into the finished building facade. Freedom of aesthetic expression couldn’t be accommodated economically with site-laid-up masonry.
  • Prefabrication ensures that building skills are transferred to controlled plant conditions and away from the critical path of on-site activities.
  • Precasting allows a high level of dimensional precision and quality control. Concrete mixtures and batching, together with curing conditions, can be tightly controlled, whereas site-laid masonry may have variable curing and mortar qualities.
  • Faster construction cycle by enclosing the structure quicker and allowing interior finish trades to begin sooner.

General Considerations

Structural design, fabrication, handling, and erection considerations for clay product-faced precast concrete units are similar to those of other precast concrete panels, except that consideration must be given to the dimensional layout of thin brick panels or terra cotta panels.

Layout: The layout of these two types of clay-faced precast components is easy. The height and length of the panels should align with nominal masonry coursing to simplify the precast production process and provide a more natural masonry appearance. When nominal masonry coursing is not possible, solid areas of exposed precast or custom masonry detailing can be adapted to align coursing with panel dimensions. See photos below regarding the transition of brick to other building details.

Compatibility: The physical properties of clay products must be compared to the properties of the concrete backup. These properties include the coefficient of thermal expansion, modulus of elasticity, and volume change due to moisture, along with strict adherence to tight dimensional tolerances. PCI’s Thin Brick Standard outlines these properties. Your PCI Mid-Atlantic architectural precast producers and thin brick panel manufacturers are familiar with these requirements and available to help you select the best product for your project.

The PCI Standard for thin brick in precast concrete panels should be specified to ensure size uniformity, long-term durability, and material compatibility. To download PCI’s Clay Product-Faced Precast Concrete Designer’s Notebook and learn more about the PCI Standard for Thin Brick as well as specific material standards and specifications, please click here for a free download in PDF format.


Design Considerations

Casting thin masonry products in precast concrete panels is nothing new. Discounting construction methods of ancient Rome, some of the earliest projects were constructed in the late 1960s, and those projects continue to perform exceptionally. The advancement in formliners, thin brick, and terra cotta panels in conjunction with precast concrete producer innovations has provided architects with endless potential for building facades.

Formliners: Formliners are placed in the bottom of the molds and used to create the brick coursing, hold the clay products in place during casting, and give the appearance of a standard mortar joint. They can be procured to mimic brick coursing patterns, including running bond, stacked bond, herringbone, or custom coursing to provide a hand-laid look.

Thin Brick: Thin brick panels are available in various colors, sizes, and shapes and in flats, corners, and edge caps. Some manufacturers can provide unique shapes like 45-degree corners, sill pieces, half brick, and many other options.

Terra Cotta: Terra cotta’s large format and brilliant colors add an unmatched aesthetic level. The product is typically associated with rain screen systems; however, casting terra cotta into precast concrete panels provides a durable barrier wall system that can meet energy codes, support blast resistance, and provide disaster relief.

Innovation: At the request of design professionals, precast producers continue to develop production-forming techniques to add more complex brick detailing to various components. Examples include integrating stone details, projecting corbels, recessed windows, and deep corner returns. In most cases, the community can’t tell the difference between precast or masonry building facades.

No metal ties are required to attach thin masonry products to precast concrete panels. Masonry products that meet PCI’s standard have less than 6% water absorption; include a dovetail, scored, or roughened back to create a mechanical bond to the concrete; and must pass a 300-cycle freeze/thaw assembly test. The process is outlined in PCI’s Clay Product-Faced Precast Concrete Designer’s Notebook and should be performed by each brick manufacturer before bidding.

In short, the next time you desire a masonry appearance, please call your local precast producer to see how architectural precast can add value—speed, durability, resiliency, R-Value, safety, and so much more—to your next project.


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PCI-Certified Mid-Atlantic Architectural Precast Concrete Producers

  • Architectural Precast Innovations (API)
  • Atlantic Metrocast, Inc.
  • Coastal Precast Systems, LLC
  • Concrete Safety Systems, LLC
  • Conewago Manufacturing, LLC
  • Fabcon Precast
  • High Concrete Group
  • J&R Slaw
  • Metromont Corporation
  • Nitterhouse Concrete Products
  • Northeast Precast
  • PennStress
  • Shockey Precast
  • Smith-Midland Corporation
  • Tindall Corporation
  • Universal Concrete Products

PCI Mid-Atlantic Associate Thin Brick Manufacturers

  • Endicott
  • MetroBrick
  • Summitville

PCI Mid-Atlantic Associate Architectural Terra Cotta Manufacturer

  • Boston Valley Terra Cotta



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