Laraway School wins national Brick in Architecture Award
Unanticipated materials swap and unconventional brick arrangement at Laraway School lead to Brick Industry Association award for excellence in design
Laraway School (Joliet, IL), like many schools, is a long, horizontal brick building. However, a closer look at the preK-8 school’s brick walls reveals something uncommon: whereas most schools have horizontal bricks, Laraway’s bricks are vertical . . . or at least they appear to be.
It was its striking (and cost-effective) use of brick that earned the 119,000-square-foot facility, designed by Legat Architects, a Bronze award from the 2019 Brick in Architecture Awards. The program, sponsored by the Brick Industry Association, is the nation’s most prestigious competition focused on genuine clay brick. And with more than 120 submissions, this year’s competition was particularly fierce.
Ironically, the original design for Laraway School did not include brick . . .
From Concrete to Brick
In the initial design, the Legat team specified precast concrete for Laraway School’s exterior walls. Construction was all set to start, then the marketplace demand for precast peaked.
Rob Wroble, project manager with Legat, said, “the concern was that precasters were so busy with other projects that they wouldn’t be able to meet our schedule.”
Wroble and his team worked with Illinois Brick Company to convert the original precast design to masonry. The swap not only enabled the project to finish on time, but also allowed the team to pay tribute to the City of Joliet’s farming heritage.
The Impression of Verticality
Already, the concept of farming had influenced the design. For instance, the tall classroom windows with green metal returns create a vertical feel reminiscent of rows of corn.
When he learned about the switch to masonry, design team member Bryan Archibald saw an opportunity to further reinforce that verticality with the bricks . . . by positioning them vertically.
Wroble, concerned about the structural viability of this move, brought the issue to Endicott Clay Products, which offered a solution: use eight-inch by eight-inch bricks with false joints. Thus, what looks like two or three vertical bricks is actually one square brick—this offered both the vertical feel and the structural strength. According to Wroble, the eight by eight pattern also enabled the design team to “turn the corners” more efficiently and affordably.
The graphic above illustrates the three types of brick modules that were created for Laraway School. To ensure randomness in the placement, Endicott randomly sorted the bricks as they came out of the kiln.
Initially, the design team considered putting mortar in the fake joints, but ultimately opted against it to save costs. “It turned out to be a good decision,” said Wroble. “The real mortar between the square units matches the color of the bricks, so the dark shadow created by the fake lines really shows well. What you see is the randomness of the false joints, not the regularity of the real ones.”
The building’s base has two “soldier courses” of dark gray bricks, meaning the bricks are standing up vertically. The darker color creates a transition between the land and the building.
Jewel of the Community
The use of brick at Laraway School also proves useful in terms of its surroundings. Not only does the material complement many homes in surrounding neighborhoods, but it also sets the school apart from nearby industrial buildings.
“During planning, we asked that it not look like a warehouse,” said Laraway Community Consolidate School District 70C Board Vice President Saul Brass. “We have a masonry exterior, unlike the preformed concrete that many of the buildings surrounding us have. It’s going to be a jewel of the community.”
Wroble said that he has always liked brick for its durability, warmth, and familiarity. “If you come across one white warehouse after another, then see this rich, textured wall, it’s inviting.”
Brick Manufacturer: Endicott Clay Products
Brick Distributor: Illinois Brick Company
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