Drexel Banishes the Brick!

Orange brick is out in favor of glass curtain walls and limestone rain-screens.

Drexel University

It used to be that if you were lost in West Philadelphia and near red brick buildings you were on Penn’s campus and if you were around orange brick buildings it meant that you were on Drexel’s campus.  But that is changing on both sides of Chestnut Street.  With the creation of Drexel’s master plan dating from 2011 and the construction of new buildings including the LeBow College of Business the university is going decidedly upscale.

The new materials  include glass curtain walls, metal panels and limestone rain screens with nary a brick insight. The extent to which Drexel wants to banish the brick, as a vestige of its pedestrian past, can be seen in its commissioning of a Color Master Plan.  Drexel is not content with only building new structures, or renovating existing facades by adding glass and new materials, they actually want to eliminate orange entirely. Drexel has embarked on a quest to repaint the orange brick to a decidedly more upscale reddish variegated brick, making it – dare we say – Ivy league looking.

Why would Drexel spend all this money on painting brick? Because color matters. And quite frankly color is the least expensive way to re-brand. Orange symbolizes energy and vitality, but it also connotes cheapness. How many orange plastic laminate benches have you sat in while eating at  fast food restaurants? While orange was considered “groovy” in the 1970’s, when the majority of the campus was built, it also suggests a lack of intellectual rigor and bad taste. Red on the other hand symbolizes passion and power.  Red is the color of royalty and is the color of good luck, its  one of people’s favorite colors and is used on corporate logos throughout the world.

Drexel Orange Brick

Bottom Line: The compelling aspect of Drexel’s new buildings is that they are more in keeping with the Universities original 1891 Main Building than with the international style buildings from the 1970’s.  The Main building, innovative in its day with its central court, blond/beige brick,  limestone trim and terra-cotta ornament, was the architectural representation of Anthony Drexel’s emphasis on preparing students for an industrial age.  In a sense the re-branding of Drexel is returning the campus back to its roots, an authentic re-imagined  twenty-first century style adaptation while preparing students for the new cloud based interconnected information age.  And while Drexel and Penn’s campuses may be merging into one big University-alopolis, students no longer need to navigate West Philadelphia by school colors, they have an App for that.

3 thoughts

    1. Yes the brick saying is one of my favorite Louis Kahn quotes….that a brick wants to be an arch. Considering today’s collegite facility budgets and capital expenditures perhaps that most cost effective way to upgrade the entire campus would be to paint the brick on some of the exisitng buildings.

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