Brick By Brick

Seattle's old bones: a brick factory building on Columbia Avenue
Seattle’s old bones: a brick factory building on Columbia Avenue
The corner of this brick building shows what the bricks might look like inside: some go twice as far inside the wall as others. (Chicago)

Brick buildings are still popular in many places. For example, their stately presence and warm red coloring almost expected at places like college campuses. Today, however, you can expect that these buildings are not structurally brick buildings. To build a building that is structurally brick not only requires exponentially more bricks, it also inhibits things like the design of interior spaces. The movement towards the world of open floor plans we have today was not just a matter of open-mindedness, it was a matter of technology. Thus “brick buildings” today are built just like any other building and given a brick covering–or facade–to emulate a true brick building.

Can you tell the difference between a true brick building and a brick facade? It’s easier than you think! True brick buildings have more than one layer of brick. Think about it: would one layer of brick be structurally sound? No. Rather than having separate layers of bricks, a brick building weaves the bricks together, somewhat like Jenga blocks. You can see the full length of some bricks and just the short ends of others. This pattern is the give-away: a mixture of what looks like short and long bricks reveals that the bricks go deeper than just one brick width. If you see the long side, that’s called the “stretcher,” and if you see the short side, it’s called the “header.” Another set of bricks (or several, depending on the size of the building) is woven with these from the interior, invisible to the viewer.

This is a Common Bond brick wall, which you can tell from the row of headers in the center of the photo. (Chicago)
This is a Common Bond brick wall, which you can tell from the row of headers in the center of the photo. (Chicago)

Is there are typical pattern of bricks used on brick buildings? You guessed it–there are many, many ways you can stack and layer bricks, all of which come out as a different pattern when you look at the wall. The most common in the United States, however, is “common bond,” which has multiple rows of stretchers (often around seven), one row of headers, and multiple rows of stretchers again. The ultimate non-structural brick bond? “Stack bond” lines up the bricks both horizontally and vertically. This wall is pure aesthetics.

Interested in looking a little further? Archtoolbox has an illustrated list of bond types. But do some looking around, this list is by no means exhaustive!

Stack Bond (Chicago)

An update: I’m in Chicago this week of the Society of Architectural Historians Conference, and am already taking pictures left and right. I must’ve taken pictures of six brick walls on the way back from the grocery store on Saturday. Looking forward to the Conference! I’m also working on updating my site. Standby for some nice changes, and have a great week!


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