On the heels of a post about the amazing masonry of the Mullen Building, designed by Temple Hoyne Buell in 1933, I discovered an even more spectacular brick building that takes masonry construction and design to places I have never quite seen before. The Bryant Webster Elementary School in Denver's North Highlands neighborhood was designed by architect -brothers J. Roger and G. Meredith Musick in 1930.
G. Meredit Musick was a well-connected Denver architect and executed a number of interesting buildings. However, much of the design work of his office was done by his brother James Roger Musick.
The building is a daring and inventive mass of brick, jutting skyward like jagged sandstone pillars and dancing along with abstract motifs of arrows, bison and Native American imagery. Unlike its eclectic contemporaries that can be tossed into strange stylistic categories like Pueblo Deco or Mayan Revival, the Bryant Webster School feels like pure imagination and invention. It is certainly some of the most remarkable manipulation of brick masonry that I have seen, with friezes and patterns interlocking and weaving across the facades. Even the great bulk of the windowless gymnasium is treated with a robust rythym of arrow-shaped brick motifs and undulating wall surfaces.
I think this building is magnificent, if not a bit dark and a bit looming. The real genius here is not in the fantastic patterns and colors of brick however, it is in the careful balance that is struck in the vertical and horizontal massing.
The two entrances are masses of vertical spires split the horizontal long facade of banded windows. The brick at these entrances is equally falling down from the sky as it is stretching up from the earth. The subtle shifts of the brick patterns, slightly projecting and recessing brick units, dematerializes the wall while the changing color of the brick, from deep red to dark bronze, feels like dappled shadows playing across canyon walls.
At the main entrance, the brick goes so far as to break away in pillars from the wall surface, like masonry stalagtites, dripping down from cavern ceilings. It is remarkable to see such a deft play of brick surfaces, from slight, subtle patterns and colors, to massive forms and free-standing pillars of striking plasticity. And this great orgy of brick is not some wild mason's nightmarish vision, rather it is carefully designed and balanced with tension and repose to make the overall composition subtle and powerful, full of robust self-assurance and nuanced presence.
And this is no amber-preserved museum piece. It is a City of Denver Landmark, but it is also an everyday, working elementary school in a mixed neighborhood. That we should make such fantastic buildings now and imbue them with care and craft and pride.
Link to History Colorado's bio sketch of G. Meredith Musick including some references for him working for a number of Denver's most prominent architects like Jacques Benedict, Frank Edbrooke and Eugene Groves.