Deborah Andrews speaks during the dedication of the brick learning wall.

Masterful masonry

University dedicates brick learning wall showcase near bookstore

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8:48 a.m., April 17, 2012--The University of Delaware’s newest teaching tool, literally a bricks and mortar device, received its public unveiling during a dedication held Friday, April 13, on the plaza connecting Main and Academy streets near the UD Bookstore.

The brick learning wall, which showcases 35 different kinds of brick patterns, or bonds, graces the lower level of the west side of the Newark Opera House.

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Deborah C. Andrews, professor of English and director of UD's Center for Material Culture Studies, invited members of the campus and local communities, and also bricklayers from Diamond State Masonry of New Castle, to the celebration.

“I think this is an amazing event, and I’m really happy that we are doing this,” Andrews said. “The Center for Material Culture Studies is about examining the relationship between people and things, and this will be an important tool for emerging scholars to study.”

The idea of creating the brick learning wall emerged as a solution to a situation discovered during the demolition of the Modernist bank building that adjoined the Newark Opera House.

Contractors found that the concrete wall of the bank building, constructed in 1915, was embedded in the Opera House and could not be removed without destroying the structural integrity of the Opera House wall.

David Ames, director of UD’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design, said that the unique problem gave both scholars and representatives from UD’s Facilities team the opportunity to incorporate the physical part of architecture into a design that also invites research and learning.

“Those of us in material culture, art history and preservation also teach about historic architecture by using buildings on campus,” Ames said. “We need examples of historic practices such as brick and brick bond, so the more people use the wall as a research tool, the more it will give back.”

David Singleton, vice president for facilities and auxiliary services, said the wall is “a really a great thing to have on the UD campus and is a classic case of making lemonade out of lemons.”

Speakers also lauded the craftsmanship of bricklayers from Diamond State Masonry attending the unveiling, including Joseph Woolman, Gerald Giammatteo, George Hall, Chris Brown and Keith Gainey.

“We use most of these patterns all of the time, and you find the same styles on homes and buildings all over Newark and New Castle,” Giammatteo said. “The designers did a great job in laying it out, and we loved doing it.”

Mark Sanderson, lead architect for DIGSAU of Philadelphia, said the project involved some creative problem solving between the design team and the University to create something that complements the Opera House and the plaza area.

“At first, we discussed having a painted mural, but eventually decided on a mural dedicated to the craft of masonry and bricklaying,” Sanderson said. “What was particularly gratifying is that the masons really seemed to personally invest themselves in what they were doing.”

Larry McGuire, senior project manager in UD Facilities Planning and Construction, said Sanderson had seen similar things done elsewhere and decided to incorporated these patterns into the wall’s design.

“Everyone thought it was a great idea,” McGuire said. “The masons really embraced the building of this wall because they got to work on patterns that they rarely use, as well as the more commonly used bonds.”

The brick learning wall also complements the new west entrance to Grassroots, and has brought more customers to the store, said Kristin Short, manager. 

“We have heard a lot of positive comments about the wall,” Short said. “It looks great and we are really pleased with how it turned out.”

A history of the brick bond styles incorporated in the wall is featured in a brochure designed by Molly Chappell, senior art director in the UD Office of Communications and Marketing.

Ritchie Garrison, director of the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, said the wall is a useful primer on a very important group of building materials with a long history.

“David Ames and I talked about including the brick bonds   most often used on 18th and 19th century buildings,” Garrison said. “The architect also added others that are common now, and I think the result is really great.”

Jules Bruck, assistant professor of landscape design, said students in her landscape design and landscape construction classes have visited the wall to sketch and identify brick bond patterns.

“As an instructor, the wall is useful as a resource to study and teach students the names of the historical brick bond patterns,” Bruck said. “I think the students also enjoyed getting out of the classroom and being on campus and looking at the unique bonds in the wall.” 

Article by Jerry Rhodes

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

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