Historic Preservation

  • O. W. Ketchum, Frontispiece. The Story of the House, Being Some Suggestions in Brickwork from the Catalogue of Orman Wessley Ketchum

  • Broad Street Station, Philadelphia (Furness, Evans & Co.; 1892-94)

  • Guild House, Philadelphia (Venturi & Rauch; 1959-65)

Feats of Clay: Philadelphia Brick & Terra Cotta

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 5:30pmFriday, October 9, 2015 5:00pm
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Harvey and Irwin Kroiz Gallery
The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania
220 South 34th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

An exhibition on the legacy of Philadelphia’s brick and terra cotta industry curated by Professor Frank Matero 

Opening reception & remarks Wednesday, April 29 | 5:30 pm

On View April 29 - August 29, 2015 (extended through October 9, 2015).

Harvey and Irwin Kroiz Gallery
The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania

Of the major building traditions since the earliest times, few display the persistence and geographical spread of fired brick. Born of clay, water, and fire, brick and its kin—terra cotta and structural, roof, and ornamental tile—have been employed to construct and ornament buildings in an unbroken tradition stretching from the towers of the Old Testament to the innovative rain screens of contemporary design. Archaeological excavation reveals an ancient and continuous global narrative of invention and re-invention.

In each case, the remarkable adaptability of this modest material, hand-shaped, molded, pressed, poured, or extruded in a myriad of sizes, shapes, colors, and textures has produced structural designs of complex form and pattern, as well as incredible durability. Despite its repetitive production, brick can be deceptively variable, allowing functional and aesthetic vitality even in its most common usage. Regular by definition, brick finds its voice in legion, the result being a wall, arch or vault of any dimension or shape. Its close relative, terra cotta, possesses all the benefits of durability and reproducibility as brick but with the enviable advantages of the artist’s hand and even greater diversity of color and detail. Although brick is a traditional material, constructing in brick is far from being obsolete and it is in fact the material’s versatility and near perfect durability that accounts for its continuous and universal popularity. 

From its earliest origins, Philadelphia has been a city of brick. Swedish, then English masonry traditions shaped the young settlement. Philadelphia’s brick masons passed some of the first brick laws in the colonies and were among the first to organize as a trade union. If eighteenth century Philadelphia was America’s brick city without equal, so it was in the nineteenth century as well, as the city’s manufactories, architects, and their industrial clients capitalized on the vast rich clay beds and easy market access employing brick and terra cotta in ways that were both practical and aesthetically distinctive in defining a modern architecture that referenced the region’s long tradition of ceramic architecture. By 1880 brick was the dominant building material in urban America and compared to Boston and New York, Philadelphia possessed the highest concentration of brick buildings in the country. Again in the post war years of the twentieth century, Philadelphia architects reinvented and distinguished brick construction in the work of Kahn, Giurgola and other members of the so named “Philadelphia School.”

Given this unique context, this exhibit will trace the rise of the brick and terra cotta industry in Philadelphia and its far reaching influences on American architecture and building technology. The exhibit also seeks to raise the awareness and appreciation of the region’s wealth of historic brick and terra cotta architecture and long craft tradition, as well as their relevance to contemporary sustainable design.

This exhibition has been made possible through the generous support of the International Masonry Institute, Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 PA/DE, the Association for Preservation Technology - Delaware Valley Chapter, the Georgia Hencken Perkins Endowment, and the Friends of the Architectural Archives.