At their August 19, 2008 meeting, the Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review endorsed brick size recommendations for next year’s renovation of the Charlottesville Downtown Mall.  The mall surface will feature new four by twelve inch bricks set in sand in a herringbone pattern.  The brick size matches the existing 1974 design by Lawrence Halprin.  Smaller bricks will be used at the vehicular crossings.

Jim Tolbert, Charlottesville’s Director of Neighborhood Services, said that their recent research had determined that Halprin never intended for the bricks to be mortared in place.  UVA Architecture Professor Bill Moorish worked for Halprin in the 1970s on the Mall’s architectural drawings and shared with City staff the background on the decision to deviate from Halprin’s plan.

“That was a change order,” said Tolbert.  “Some folks in the City said if you don’t put mortar in, women will trip and fall because of high heels.”

Ironically, it is those failed mortar joints that are grabbing heels and tripping pedestrians today.  Tolbert said bricks on the vehicular crossings and side streets will be four inches by eight inches to withstand the weight of traffic.

According to Joe Schinstock of MMM Design, one of the brick specialists he has been talking with warned him strongly against using four by twelve inch bricks at the crossings. The specialist told MMM if they used large bricks on these roads, then they should expect to replace the bricks each year.

Schinstock also offered a couple of new options for where to purchase the four inch by twelve inch bricks. He said originally only one company in Nebraska would manufacture bricks that size, but when he asked companies if there was an order volume at which they would produce them, two other companies volunteered, one in North Carolina and the other in Pennsylvania.

While three companies have now been identified as sources for brick material, Schinstock said all new bricks will be manufactured in the same place with the same raw materials to keep the bricks consistent. They did not have any samples to show the board. ARB members raised concerns about color differences between new and old bricks but Schinstock reassured the council that the bricks should be extremely close to the color of the original bricks. He did mention that there is a slight difference in color between bricks sized four by eight inches and bricks sized four by twelve inches, because manufacturers have to fire the four by twelve inch bricks for a slightly longer period of time.

The board came to the consensus that they would continue to use and maintain the existing water drainage runnels. Schinstock suggested any loose runnels should be cleaned, tucked, pointed and set in mortar.

With the Board’s approval, Tolbert said he is ready to start buying materials almost immediately and wants to start repairing the runnels next month in order to meet the project’s deadline of May 2009.

Jessie Abrams & Brian Wheeler


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