The Lafayette Building is a perfect architectural translation of the Roaring 20s — a fun-loving, ostentatious bauble of a building that looks like a birthday cake. But don’t try taking a bite out of it; the building’s exterior is covered with rock-hard terra cotta!
Terra cotta, in this case manufactured by the American Terra Cotta and Ceramic Company, translates from Latin as “baked earth,” and that’s exactly what it is — fine-milled clay that’s molded and fired at one thousand degrees Fahrenheit. The colors aren’t painted on; they’re baked in, so as tiny particles are weathered away by sun, wind, and rain, the material underneath retains the bright color of the building’s original 1922 facade.
Architects Ernest Croft and Francis Boerner designed the Lafayette in Renaissance Revival style typical of the 20s. The door facing Nicollet Mall is crested with an ornate Baroque split pediment and flanked by fluted Doric pilasters (low-relief non-structural elements made to look like classical columns). The rest of the exterior is covered with an exuberant variety of classical and non-classical motifs: twisted columns, cherubs, angels, garlands, urns, cornucopias, dragons, and snakes.
In keeping with the Lafayette’s whimsical image, the owners (who also operate Brit’s Pub, the building’s major tenant), planted a large manicured greenspace on the rooftop of the adjacent parking ramp that is used for the ancient English game of lawn bowling.