BAR approves brick size, runnel work, newspaper corrals, for Mall project

Last Tuesday, the Board of Architectural Review approved the plan to use new 4" x 12" brick pavers to replace the existing 4" x 12" bricks as as part of the recently approved $7.5 million Downtown Mall renovation.

Just two months ago, the MMM Design Group, the Norfolk-based design firm contracted to guide the work, as well as chief city planner Jim Tolbert, had been arguing strongly against using the 4" x 12" bricks, saying they would not be stable when set in sand, the preferred method for laying them. Besides, said Tolbert, the 4"x 12" bricks were uncommon, made only in a factory in Nebraska, and would be prohibitively expensive.

Tolbert and MMM recommended using 5" x 10" bricks, which they said would be more stable and were available locally from Old Virginia Brick, a Roanoke Valley-based company acquired in 2006 by "a private Charlottesville-based investment group that also has holdings in banking, real estate development and building materials," according to a 2006 article in Virginia Business Magazine. Even after Mall designer Lawrence Halprin urged the City not to change the brick size, saying that the ground level pattern the bricks created established the character of the Mall, Tolbert said he'd choose the 5" x 10" over the 4" x 12" if it meant they would be stronger, more functional, and less expensive.

However, following a ground swell of criticism from preservationists and Halprin enthusiasts, who argued that this was no way to "preserve the original Halprin design," as City Manager Gary O'Connell had promised when the project was announced earlier this year, suddenly three manufactures of the 4" x 12" bricks were found, one of which had even been mentioned in the Master Plan for the project as a source for the bricks.

Before the BAR Tuesday, MMM's Joe Schinstock said they had made a mistake by "asking the wrong question" when approaching brick manufactures the first time, which he said should have been 'Can you make the 4"x 12" brick?' instead of 'Do you have the 4" x 12" brick?' However, that appears to contradict comments made by MMM's Chris McKnight before the BAR in May, when he lobbied for using the 5" x 10" bricks by saying, in part, that Old Virginia Brick wasn't "willing" to make the 4' x 12" bricks.

On Tuesday, the BAR also reviewed MMM's plan to use 4" x 8" bricks for the vehicle crossings at Fourth and Second Streets, the plan to tuck point and re-mortar the existing drainage runnels and soldier courses (which the BAR approved), modify the lighting, install concrete truncated domes as visual and tactile reminders of the transition between the Mall and the crossings, which would also satisfy ADA requirements, and special "corrals" that would hide newspaper boxes from view.

BAR members had concerns that the the transition from 4" x 12" bricks on the main Mall to 4" x 8" bricks on the crossings could be jarring. "Sometimes when there's a subtle transition, when its close but not exact, it can look like a mistake," said BAR vice chair Syd Knight. But he also felt he could accept the transition if there were no better solution. Some members also had reservations about the truncated domes bordering the crossings, concerning how big they would be and what color they would be painted.

Oddly enough, the plan for the newspaper corrals was approved without discussion. In July, when City Council approved the Mall project, there was some argument about the corrals, with Councilor Satyendra Huja calling the existing arrangement "hideous," vice mayor Julian Taliaferro calling them "tacky," and Councilor David Brown saying he didn't have a problem with them. Brown did, however, say he could support the corrals as long as the various newspaper companies were involved in the discussion. So far, no such discussion has occurred. And as Tolbert informed the board, following their approvals the City would start "buying stuff pretty quick."

Related articles:

Waste not, want not: should Mall bricks be re-used?
published August 14, 2008

Bricks and mortar? Council approves $7.5 mil Mall project
published July 24, 2008

Sand bagged? Foes toss brickbats at Mall plan

published July 3, 2008

Huja speaks: Mall project can be done for 'a lot less'
published June 12, 2008

Huja speaks: Mall project can be done for 'a lot less'
published June 12, 2008

Mauling the Mall? Don't change the bricks: Halprin
published June 5, 2008

Downtown Mall: City works sideways on side streets
published April 10, 2008

Mall renovations: Downtown businesses not reassured
published January 24, 2008

3 comments

So, when Tolbert said there is only one source for the 4x12 bricks, is he guilty of incompetence for not actually researching the matter that involves a significant public expenditure or of dishonesty for not providing accurate information in hopes of getting his way?

Pick one.

He actually implied if you look at the video online that the closest place that made the bricks that the city could find was Nebraska. The ones being mentioned now are places that could make the bricks if the price offered made it practical for their business to design their machinery to do so. That is a big difference from what is being implied in the article and Music Lover's comment. Before vilifying someone publicly do the research to justify your "incompetence" claims.

Actually, some of the ones being mentioned now had been indentified as a source three years ago...

In the 2005 Master Plan for this project completed by WRT, which has served as a guide to the project and recommended keeping the 4" x 12" brick size, Law Engineering says that the "4”x 12” (bricks)can be sourced from Webster (General Shale) Brick Co.(Virginia),or Watsontown Brick Co.(Pennsylvania)." Following the outcry from preservationists and Halprin enthusiasts over the proposal to use the 5" x 10" bricks instead, as well as indications from the CC and the BAR that they preffered the 4" x 12", Watsontown Brick Co. was indentified by city planning staff as one of the places that could supply the bricks.