Meet Me on the Terrazzo

The surfaces we walk on often go unnoticed and uncelebrated. Terrazzo for example. Over the last couple of years I’ve developed an affection for terrazzo, that speckled surface you might associate with government buildings or school locker-rooms of a certain vintage.

Around here the heyday of terrazzo was probably from the 1930s to the early 1970s (Mother’s Pizza did a terrazzo floor just a couple of years ago). Basically it is marble chips (or other stone or glass) in a cement mixture that is ground and polished to a smooth surface.

Recently I blogged pictures of the  floor in the soon to be demolished  Maritime Life Building (1954) on Spring Garden Road,  the finest terrazzo I’m aware of in Halifax. Maybe the compass rose can be reproduced in the lobby of the proposed hotel.


It’s a good example to show how designs are created in terrazzo. Shapes are outlined with thin brass strips and aggregate of different colours  are sprinkled in the elements, then everything is polished flat. Sort of like those sand paintings you bring back from Arizona.


Also super charming is this Barrington Street shop entrance, now to the Freak Lunchbox.


The Arcade shop was there from 1932 -72 and the design feels like it could date back to the 30s . Very French to my eyes.

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The most you can usually expect in the way of terrazzo design are some interesting geometric shapes.  I was pleased to realize that a section of the original 1960 terrazzo diamonds survive in front of the architecturally important Canada Permanent building, Barrington at Sackville. Notice how the large size marble chips change the look of the terrazzo. My memory is this style felt very new at the time.


The entrance to Frank and Oak on Barrington at Blowers offers a large expanse of terrazzo. Some cracks are obvious but this surface is probably 50 years old (the building was constructed about 1960)! The material would seem to offer lots of opportunities for brightening up our outdoor spaces.


The swell monogram is for Peoples Credit Jewelers.


Another monogram is locked away in the old Halifax Memorial Library. Quite a contemporary feeling design from 1949. Wouldn’t that look nice reproduced in the new building?

DSCF9437 Next time you are in the tiny lobby of the Oxford Theatre look down at this zippy pattern.  Perhaps it dates to 1937 when the cinema was built.


The terrazzo in the Beth Israel Synagogue (1954) is perfect with the “punch card” railing design.


A charm of terrazzo is that it is created in place so there are opportunities for little gestures. Rejoice in the change in colour and texture from the stairs  to the landing  in the old Memorial Library.


Look at the elegant profile of risers on these stairs on Birmingham Street! I believe it was built as the office for architects Duffus, Romans, Kundzins, Rounsefell  and is now the office for I.H. Mathers.


If you have not been looking at terrazzo I hope you’ll start and I’d love to hear of other decorative examples that are undoubtedly hiding in plain sight.


  • These days polished concrete is desirable and stylish.  Recently Julie Rosvall showed us this beautiful concrete counter top she and her husband had made  that includes stones from Ross Creek.


  • Equally charming as terrazzo is this design in tiny tiles on Granville Street.  An old location for Halifax Seed.


  • More tiny tile in the entrance hall of the Halifax Club making a bold statement. I don’t know the age but at least 50 years old, maybe twice that.

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  • And what about linoleum? I’m very fond of this  1950s kitchen floor in Halifax, still going strong.


About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.