Skip to main content area Skip to institutional navigation Skip to search Skip to section navigation

Flemish Bond

I have walked by Independence Mall with some frequency this summer on my way to and from The Franklin Fountain. One evening I was sitting outside Carpenters’ Hall enjoying an ice cream cone, and noticed the hall’s interesting patterned brickwork: alternating long bricks with short, and red with black:

Flemish Bond Brickwork

At the recent Penn Law ice cream social—I may have an ice cream problem—I mentioned to Jo-Ann Verrier that Golkin Hall’s brickwork shares the same pattern. She told me the pattern is called Flemish bond. I would have known this already if I’d been following the Golkin Hall blog more closely, as it was mentioned previously in Notes from your Itinerant Architect and A Hint of Bricks and Mortar.

Flemish bond—an intriguing name! My curiosity led me to Google brickwork, where I discovered that there’s more to a brick than I’d ever imagined. Most bricks are laid so that either the long and narrow side is facing out (a stretcher) or the short side is facing out (a header). Flemish bond, which alternates stretchers and headers, “has throughout history been considered the most decorative bond,” (according to Wikipedia). I examined some of the historic buildings around Philadelphia—such as Independence Hall, Pennsylvania Hospital, Free Quakers Meeting House, Physick House, St. Peter’s Church, Holy Trinity—and discovered that they also feature Flemish bond. A walk through Society Hill will definitely turn up more than a few examples of this distinctive pattern.

Some of the examples of Flemish bond feature all red brick, but others the red-and-black pattern shared by Golkin Hall. The darker bricks—sometimes glazed, sometimes not—in the historic buildings were created by placing the headers close to the hottest part of the kiln during firing. It was an art: creating the bricks for a dichromatic pattern required great skill and was reserved for buildings of great prestige.

Two other important Philadelphia edifices also feature Flemish bond: Silverman and Tanenbaum Halls, Golkin Hall’s neighbors. Although Golkin Hall will be very much a 21st century facility, I appreciate that its brickwork will connect it both to the history of Penn Law and Philadelphia.

Posted by Chris Herdt, Web Developer, Information Technology Services, Penn Law School