The March of the Big Brown Brick

In reviewing the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) agenda on Wednesday, I noticed the proliferation of the Big Brown Brick in almost every proposal. In a City that is known for its colorful buildings and creative and varied architecture, it baffles my mind that somehow the Big Brown Brick is enjoying its own renaissance.  Keep in mind, all of these buildings are designed by very talented architects, but it seems they must be collaborating to create dark and demonic corridors of Big Brown Bricks, no matter where we go.

Let’s take a look at the new Hyatt Hotel for preliminary contrast. While certainly it’s big and got brick, it’s bright, light and white, reflecting the sunshine of our Carolina Blue Skies. Yes, I know part of that is because it’s their official ‘look’, but still, it’s not half bad.

Now onto the Big Brown Bricks which seem to be multiplying on Meeting Street, following their enthusiastic placement at the new Burris Package Store, Elan Midtown Apartments, the 400 Meeting Street Apartments, and the Holiday Inn.

Here we have 511 Meeting Street proposed.

511 Meeting Screenshot from BAR Presentation

511 Meeting Screenshot from BAR Presentation


And here we have Meeting Street and Lee Street proposed.

Meeting Street Apartments Screenshot from the BAR presentation

Meeting Street Apartments Screenshot from the BAR presentation


And then just blocks away, we have 601 Meeting Street proposed wrapping around another Big Brown Brick building.

601 Meeting

601 Meeting St screenshot from the BAR presentation


And then what do you know…across the street – more Big Brown Bricks in the form of a hotel. This one has already been approved.

The Hotel - View from Huger Street

The Hotel – View from Huger Street


Please keep in mind this little list does not include the immense Courier Square project, because while I know Big Brown Bricks are being used, I can’t remember whether or not they are going on the facade facing Meeting Street. Nor does this list include the proposed apartments on Woolfe Street, because frankly, I can’t remember what’s going on with them, though I am 100% sure it will be Big Brown Bricks. Nor does this list include the myriad other Big Brown Bricks proposed around town – on Calhoun by the Aquarium, in the middle of MUSC, on the other side of both bridges….

Now I realize that brown bricks have been a significant part of Charleston’s building blocks for much of its history. But for some reason, the old handmade bricks with their hand scored joints, creating elegant homes or useful buildings with fine architectural detail, just look nothing like what’s going on today. The application of a veneer of new, machine made, perfectly angled, Big Brown Bricks does not a historic look make.

And unfortunately the sameness of these Big Brown Brick Buildings is astonishing.

7 Responses to “The March of the Big Brown Brick

  • Tom Grubisich
    9 years ago

    Very observant critique of new commercial architecture in the city. The “Big Brown Brick” trend is puzzling because it flies in the face of consultant Andres Duany’s forthright recommendations to Mayor Riley’s planning team. Duany’s own designs pick up and project Florida’s sunshine. The sun also shines in Charleston (except when it rains).

    • Thanks Tom!! That’s why I wrote about it. It is so puzzling when there are so many other styles and materials they could use.

      • Tom Grubisich
        9 years ago

        Whoever wins the mayoral race, I hope you alert him/her to this design issue. What about Duany? Is he still consulting the city, and can you alert him as well?

  • Gene Crim
    9 years ago

    Maybe it is the potential Hurricanes that influence the building strategy?

    • Perhaps, though there are lots of other materials or facades that would be hurricane resistant right? Most of these are just brick veneer versus a solid brick.

  • Kate Cone
    9 years ago

    This is happening at an alarming rate in our city of Portland, Maine. It’s so depressing! Adding insult to injury is that our “bricks” are multi-colored, as in part brick part green, gray or brown.

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