12 February 2010

Armstrong ~ perforated stacked bond brick

Uploaded by Andrew Raimist.
project: Meat Cutter's Medical Clinic.
architect: Harris Armstrong.
date: 1957.
location: 4488 Forest Park Boulevard, Saint Louis, Missouri.
condition: good condition, somewhat modified.

Harris Armstrong's design for the Meat Cutter's Medical Clinic pushed many boundaries. It was apparently the first medical clinic created specifically for the members of a union. Armstrong also took the building as an opportunity to experiment with many materials combined in unorthodox ways.

This photograph of a detail of the north face of the building (now part of the expanding Medical Center at Washington University in Saint Louis) faced onto a playground designed as an integral part of the center, so members children could play in a safe environment while their parents sought medical care.

The combination of the stacked bond red brick wall with the rusticated granite seems almost perverse in it's combination of two load-bearing materials in direct contact where the granite is firmly rooted in the ground while the stacked bricks have a somewhat precarious aura.

The slits and slots cut into the brick plane are sometimes blind, but some of them allow for views from the interior out to the playground. Perhaps the idea was to keep the children on their best behavior in a situation where they couldn't be sure whether or not their parents were spying them through a narrow slot.

The sills of the vertical slots feature slate set into the brick coursing. The cuts seem random, but a certain logic suggests itself. The series of slots at the bottom right suggest a bar graph or scientific reading. The four elements are cut into the brick in a way so that two of them align with the stacked bond and the other two cut into a pair of stacks. Either way, the sense of oddly floating bricks over the openings create a curious condition.


The other types of cuts into the wall represented along the base (where the children would be playing) offer a full void, a half void and another vertical slot centered on a vertical joint. The playful, picturesque organization of the cuts in the wall are riffs on these basic themes.

These cuts undermine the sense of solidity normally associated with brick masonry construction. If studied in any detail, they become a source of wonder and curiosity. Perhaps that was sufficient justification for Armstrong: providing a light-hearted, playful dance of voids for the playground.

The other aspect that likely motivated Armstrong was the sheer technical challenge of constructing, detailing and crafting such a wall. One can only imagine the conversations between the masons and the architect in resolving particular details.

Photographs by Andrew Raimist, October 2006.


  1. Thanks Hilary, so glad you like it.

    I'll be posting more on Armstrong's masonry work around Saint Louis. I'll be giving a talk at the Masonry Institute on Wed 26 May 2010 talking about this subject.

  2. The non-functional stacking pattern on those bricks definitely shows that we've come a long way from brick's traditional role as a structural material.

  3. My Dad was a meatcutter and I can remember going there many times in the 1960s and 1970s to see the doctor or dentist. Even as a kid I can remember it being a cool building. But I was always glad to leave and have the doctor/dentist visit over with!