This modest sized courtyard house is wrapped almost entirely in brick. Chicago “Common” brick, as it is known, was chosen because they look different from typical red bricks - a result of the geological composition of the indigenous Lake Michigan clay and the way in which it is fired. It’s variegations and irregularities made “Common” bricks unattractive, cheap and an abundant resource—a prosaic building material used in places generally obscured from the street such as side and back walls, chimney flues, and structural support behind facades.
By using the familiar in an unfamiliar location and application, the material become perceptually both old and new at the same time. This makes one more aware of, not just the building, but also our sense of place. There is a sense of discovery, something spontaneous and unexpected. The object is important but it’s the experience that has a profound impact and leaves something that lasts well beyond the mere physical and visual existence of the building. This gives us the opportunity to not only learn about design but also, about ourselves, our collective cultures and our place in society. The philosopher John Dewey described this idea as the transformation and conversion of memories from our subconscious into a tangible and unified whole. Buildings need this context to be understood and to be relevant to society. It gives historical perspective, connecting buildings to people and our collective cultures. Without such context, buildings are simply objects to look at, and not places that bring vitality and meaning to people.