Thursday, July 09, 2009

Brick, stone and quoins

click photo to enlarge
Many people believe that a stone building will always outlast one made of brick. Well, to quote George and Ira Gershwin's great song from Porgy and Bess, "It ain't necessarily so." Well-made brickwork that is properly maintained will often last longer than poor building stone, especially in a dry climate. In fact clay, in general, is a very long-lasting building material as is shown by the Sumerian work that still stands today. In Britain it is not uncommon to find Roman tiles and bricks, re-used in the walls of Saxon and Gothic churches, still performing their structural duty almost 2,000 years later. Furthermore, a popular and inexpensive way of repairing the crumbling stones in those very same old English churches is to replace them with bands of clay tiles interleaved with courses of mortar.

However, it is true that stone will often endure longer than brick, and it is usually the case that stone is the more expensive material too. In the past, and still today, architects often combined stone and brick, taking advantage of the durability of the former and the cheapness and convenience of the latter. In such buildings large areas of flat walling are constructed of brick, with the decorative details, string courses, cornice, plinth, window and door surrounds fashioned out of stone. Architecture of this sort often has an additional and important part made of stone, namely the quoins. These structural and decorative features are the alternating long and short pieces of stone that anchor and protect the corners of buildings. The name derives from the French word, "coin", meaning corner.

A couple of days ago, when shopping in the Lincolnshire town of Boston, I stood outside a bank waiting for my wife. The building is Victorian, built in 1864, made of brick with dressed stone detailing, and includes vermiculated rusticated quoins. I've photographed this rustication before emphasising the three dimensional qualities of the blocks. Looking at them anew, with the sunlight raking across the heavily cut surfaces, I decided to try for a shot that gave more weight to their graphic features. Once again I tilted the camera to give a more dynamic feel to the shot, and this time I converted the colour image to straightforward black and white to emphasise the qualities I was seeking.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 20mm (40mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5
Shutter Speed: 1/250 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On