Tuskegee’s Historic Brick Walls

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Tuskegee University is renowned for its historic brick buildings constructed by students and faculty. These buildings are built of brick made by students, who used clay they mined on the campus. Students also learned brickworking and built the foundations and walls of the campus buildings.

Today, these weathered, roughhewn walls give the campus a singular character. Many types of bricks and brick bonds were used. No two bricks are the same, no two walls are the same.

The following is a sampling of that rich heritage . . .

 Figure 1

Figure 1


 Figure 2

Figure 2


 Figure 3

Figure 3


Figure 4

Figure 4


 Figure 5

Figure 5


 Figure 6

Figure 6


 Figure 7

Figure 7


To learn more about brick making at the Tuskegee Institute, read my post “Tuskegee Institute and the Politics of Bricolage.”


© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013






49 thoughts on “Tuskegee’s Historic Brick Walls

  1. Tuskegee University is known for its historic brick buildings. They were made by hand by previous students and faculty. Why is it that none of the bricks are the same?

    • I think it’s because of the brick making methods that were used. The first bricks were formed by hand and burned in clamps (kilns made by stacking the brick into a hive-shaped structure and lighting fires inside).
      These rough methods have less “quality control” than modern methods, but this is what gives the bricks their beautiful character!

  2. Some bricks have more of a reddish color of the clay than others. Is this due to weathering ie, darker bricks on the south facing facades, or where they fired at different lengths of time after tempering and molding?

    • Probably less to do with weathering than:
      1. Different colors of clay used
      2. How they clay was tempered, mixed to a uniform consistency, variations in this could effect the color of the individual batches of tempered clay
      3. As you mention, how they were fired – where a brick is in the kiln effects it coloration

  3. Brickwork by the students started on the campus of Tuskegee in 1883 and lasted up until the 1930s. So its safe to say buildings on this campus constructed during that period are 100 years old or near to 100 years old. Do you think the exterior brick walls of these 100+ year old buildings are still structurally sound after all this time?

    • Hmm – good question. Different batches of mortar used on different buildings would vary somewhat in color. In some cases, the University may have added pigment to the mortar, or even tinted it later, for an aesthetic effect.

  4. The city of Tuskegee alone has massive amounts of history and I learn a lot more about it as I read your blogs. The history makes me proud to be a Tuskegee student. Keep the information flowing. If you could go back in time, what particular aspects of the birth of this prestigious university’s campus would you have done differently and why?

    • Wouldn’t change anything – except to have created an endowment dedicated to preserving the buildings, tied to using good practices for historic preservation. Thanks for the kind remarks –

    • Same basic methods were used to make the bricks and build the walls. The differences are subtle, have to look close. I didn’t have time to search my records for the buildings, might do that in the future.

    • Clay was available on campus to make the bricks from, and local brick makers volunteered to help, and provide equipment and tools, like brick molds. Brick was traditionally used for academic buildings at that time (still is). Its also more fire resistant than wood structures and requires less maintenance (no painting). Good choice for affordability, safety and symbolism.

  5. I have noticed with the given examples on campus that a lot of the buildings are common bond, was that presumed (in that time period) to be the best way to lay bricks?

  6. It was a nice gesture of the university to allow students to pay for room and board through their work on the buildings they occupy. Do you see room for this to be practiced at Tuskegee in the present day? If so how could it be applied?

    • Great in theory, but hard in practice. Buildings today are much more complex and require more specialized construction skills and advanced tools and equipment. Plus, we no longer teach building trades like masonry, students learned by doing.

    • Some of the early campus buildings were wood frame and heavy timber. Many of these burned down, and all buildings started to be made of brick – more fire resistant.

  7. Still a treat to know that majority of our campus was built by students who made the bricks. Why is the Common Bond the most used method?

  8. Its amazing how the students came to Tuskegee without any skill at brick making , and along there their time here made bricks , and built buildings that are still being used till this day. since every brick was different did the student who made that certain type of brick only know how to make that kind ?

    • No, but but different generations of students learned on different types of machines as the campus developed, and so would have different skills. The differences in bricks from one building to another were effected by this because they were built in different time periods.

  9. Tuskegee buildings are built of brick made by students, who used clay they mined on the campus. How the students learned brickworking, building foundations and walls of the campus buildings?

    • One of the first departments at the Institute was building trades, where they taught brick making, wood milling, masonry, carpentry, etc. This department also taught architectural drawing and students were involved in making the designs and drawings used to create the buildings. These are the roots of today’s TSACS.

    • I’m not aware of that. For early buildings with really rough bricks, it might have made laying up the brick courses harder, because of the different sizes and shape of the bricks. But, this was compensated for by varying the mortar joints, to accommodate the bricks.

  10. When the students put the bricks in order did they already have a template wall according to each building or did the process come together as the building was constructed? I ask this because each brick is different but it seems as though they were categorized in some way by general size.

  11. It’s very interesting to see that with only slightly skilled labor a whole college community can be formed. Furthermore, how each wall although inherently from the same material forms its own identity through its constituent bricks which in turn offer their own uniqueness. Given the campus legacy with brick use why is that architecture students are not versed in the design techniques of our campus buildings?

    • Some are – you guys are learning about it! Right now it happens if an individual faculty makes a point to teach it. If enough students showed an interest, the Department might consider a regular course on this history. Sounds like a great idea!

    • 1. Because they came out this way, methods only allowed a limited amount of control over the size, shape and coloration of the bricks – this was a good thing!
      2. In some cases, a specific style of brick was planned – White Hall for example, brick has white aggregate added for decorative effect.

  12. There are a lot of historic buildings on campus that have different color bricks and brick bonds. Why was the common bond technique used the most and do aged bricks lose there strength?

    • See above for bond. Weathering has definitely effected the Tuskegee bricks, and more critically, the mortar joints in the walls. I more aware of problems with moisture penetration, thorough deteriorated mortar joints, than the bricks themselves having problems. A good brick is like a rock, made to last long time under harsh conditions.

  13. The Tuskegee University brick images are very similar to each other. Do you know if the is a certain reason to why the brick patterns are alike?

    • The common bond was a simple and economical way to go, to make load-bearing walls. The variety came more from the different batches of bricks themselves.

    • No. Wood is organic. The ingredients of brick, like clay, are inorganic – not as prone to deterioration, or being damaged by bugs like termites.

  14. Tuskegee is very resourceful for it’s availability of materials in the area for bricks. What other natural resources can be utilized in the area to help make brick?

    • Other local materials included water, aggregate (like small stones), and wood to fire kilns. Of course, the labor was also at hand – student muscle power.

  15. I like the idea that students could pay for some school by making bricks. Is there any way that architect students could help with some of the building around campus that are being built so that we could experience hands on.

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