October 9 2020

Behind The Scenes: Cushwa Brick Tour

When working with an existing building or within a historic context, architects regularly find themselves searching for bricks that are a close match to the existing building(s).  Our team had the unique privilege to go straight to the source and tour Brickworks’ Cushwa Plant in Williamsport, MD to better understand the process of brick making and a take a deeper dive into understanding this legacy in Williamsport.

Here are a few things we learned on the tour:

  • Cushwa bricks are hand molded and can be found in buildings all over the region dating back to 1814
  • Every brick was made from the same clay found in the adjacent Cushwa Basin
  • Color variations are created from adding varieties of sand and the brick’s positioning (in relation to the flame) while baking
  • An appeal to hand molded bricks is that no two are identical, they are often synonymous with Colonial America and offer a rich texture

Naturally, when our team began work on the National Parks Service C&O Canal Headquarters project it seemed overwhelmingly obvious to use the local handmade bricks derived from the clay in the neighboring basin to leverage the rich history of Williamsport within the new design.  “Buildings tell a story” is a common expression used by Steve Ziger when discussing our projects, and it would actually be irregular for you to walk into the studio and not hear someone talking about “the story” of a project.  The process of discovering a building’s unique story and then working to define how to best contribute to the next chapter is both the challenge and the reward in the design process.  Utilizing local materials and drawing inspiration from the surrounding community are key elements to this story and to our practice.

Unfortunately due to low brick demand, the Cushwa plant has since closed. In its lifetime the Cushwa plant had shipped more than 1.7 billion bricks across North America. We have found their bricks in many of our projects, and since touring can’t help feel a sense of unity when seeing them throughout the region.

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