Clinkers and Romans
The Arts and Crafts and Prairie
styles used brick in distinct ways, but both shared a love of
natural hues and unusual shapes.
Click here for a list of brick
Click here for a list of mortars: cements
By Jay Warren Bright, AIA
This bungalow embodies the canons
of brick use in an Arts and Crafts context – rough texture,
sloping walls growing from the earth and brilliant color.
Photo: courtesy of Douglas Keister
In the late 19th
century, the Arts and Crafts movement emerged in England and
soon after in the U.S., rejecting the High Victorian style.
In the early 20th century, the Prairie style branched out
from this movement. In light of their historical proximity
and especially with many professional designers and
craftspeople working within both styles, it is not
surprising that they share many common values, as well as
some interesting distinctions. Analyzing how each of the
styles used brick, which practitioners of both movements
consciously chose for some of their best exteriors, provides
us with a basis for the discussion of the two architectural
Architects of both the
Arts and Crafts movement and the Prairie style had a
reverence for the “honest” use of natural material and
craftsmanship – especially the use of brick and the work of
skillful masons. Using natural hues and soil, which embodied
and evoked the earth, to make building materials expressed
aesthetic integrity to practitioners of these styles. Both
styles fitted houses to their landscapes and often extended
the house architecture outward with building elements that
enhanced and organized the site. Interesting bricks – iron
spot, different colors than the often-used red and special
proportions – were chosen.
The Arts and Crafts house brick
extended into the landscape through walks, walls, steps and
raised corner blocks. The emphatic, extended brick caps are
not only texture makers, but also shadow makers.
Photo: courtesy of Douglas Keister
The Arts and Crafts
Within these concordant aesthetic ideals, there exist
important differences in practice, especially in the use of
brick. Although there are a variety of Arts and Crafts house
prototypes, the early 20th-century Bungalow variations show
some of the best examples of the rugged, textured brickwork
that epitomizes Arts and Crafts hand-built values.
The Arts and Crafts movement preferred comb-scored, rough
and patterned brickwork. Thick, dark, chunky bricks stamped
with designs and distressed bricks with cracks, warps and
splits were prized. Sometimes bricks were skittled or laid
at odd angles in a regular wall or even protruded to create
more shadow. Plaques and tiles were often set within brick
fields, which themselves might contain borders, basket weave,
soldier courses and other displays. In the extreme, natural
fieldstone was introduced. Sometimes, strict horizontal
coursing was abandoned in favor of expressive waviness.
Battering (sloping) brick foundation walls rose to support
first floors and porches, indicating affinity with the
earth, as well as suggesting that the building was born of
the soil. The use of “thickish” brickwork could result in
dark, lumpy house masses that architectural historians
describe as mass-positive objects with more interest in the
thing than the space around it.
These unusual bricks with stamped
diamonds are outstanding examples of the Arts and Crafts
style’s love of surface texture.
This early transitional Frank Lloyd Wright house in Hyde
Park, IL, illustrates unusual two-tone brick banding and the
signature wide overhangs, which would become even more
pronounced in the Prairie Style.
Photo: courtesy of Emmy Bright
The Prairie Style
Prairie Style practitioners saw a chance to improve upon the
ideas of the earlier Arts and Crafts style. The Prairie
aesthetic moved even further away from common red-orange
brick in favor of earth tones, such as yellows, tans, browns
and even gray. Brick aesthetics, both in choice of material
and installation, changed significantly to emphasize the
Prairie Style’s signature cubic precision and horizontality.
Extending walls from inside to out, with windows ganged
midway to evoke spatial continuity, resulted in substantial
increases in daylight and crispness. Spacially, there was
more interplay between solid and void than in the earlier
Arts and Crafts style’s focus on the building as an object
or a silhouette.
Straight, low site
walls stretched out through the landscape to anchor the
house to the “prairie” – more of an idea than an
acknowledgement of the usual suburban lot where most of
these houses were situated. Masonry terraces, walks and low
steps extended from the house geometrically to emphasize
harmony with, and impose order upon, the landscape.
Limestone or concrete planters and urns punctuated the
corners and wall terminations and also drew attention to
entries and steps. Cubic buttresses bookended long, low,
very flat brick walls, strengthening the ideas of unity and solidity.
Horizontality was evoked in many ways beyond the obvious
overhangs and bands of windows. Brick massing from
low-perimeter site walls topped with long cap stones or
concrete led to terraces and porches that screened building
walls and shafts, which held up roofs that pinwheeled around
impressive central chimney masses.
architects chose thin, long Roman bricks with precise,
unscarred faces to achieve blocky masses and length.
Horizontal gray or tan mortar joints were raked back from
the brick to create shadow lines. In contrast, vertical
joints were struck flush and sometimes even colored to match
Although this is handsome
and appropriate for interior uses such as the hearth,
fireplace and inglenook, it usually wasn't the best practice when
used outside, because it allowed water or ice to sit on the
upper surface edge of the brick and erode both the mortar
and the brick. This deficiency was somewhat offset by
choosing hig- quality, dense, non-absorbent, hard brick.
Neither the raked nor flush joint is as weather proof as the
tooled, compressed, concave joint, which was used routinely
throughout history and is now used to restore some Prarie-style
horizontal joints. Nevertheless, the craftspeople were
instructed to emphasize the horizontal, ribbon coursing
lines that were so important to the aesthetic. The best
example of careful brickwork is found in the quintessential
Prairie-style home, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in
Chicago. Reddish-brown vertical mortar matched the adjacent
brick and finished flush to create continuous stripes of
horizontal color. Although the careful use of two mortar
colors was not common, many Prairie-style architects made
similar aesthetic choices, using browns, tans and beiges in
masonry work to link more strongly with the visual
appearance of the earth. This allowed them to avoid the
dark, fortress-like feel of earlier styles to further
announce their new, distinguished look.
Both the Arts and
Crafts movement and the Prairie Style used bricks and their
expressive potential to achieve both aesthetic and
conceptual goals. From a common source, each style pushed in
different directions through their choices of materials and
Jay Warren Bright,
AIA, provides historic building architectural services,
addressing issues through technical analysis of chronic
problems, historical research and adaptive reuse. He is
registered in the state of Connecticut and is a certified
historic architect by the state's historical commission.
Click here for List of Brick
Click here for a List of Mortars -- Cements