A friend recently asked me why people paint brick buildings. There are numerous factors and most of them are pretty logical. He also asked whether it is good or bad to paint brick. That’s another issue altogether – something I will write about next week, so check back for that post. Let’s focus now on why we see so much painted brick.
First of all, people paint their brick buildings for aesthetic reasons. Who doesn’t want their house to look unique? After all, paint comes in a thousand colors so everyone can individualize their house. You see a lot of painted houses in some of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods, like Curtis Park / Five Points, Baker, Capitol Hill, and Highland, amongst others.
Along the same lines, sometimes people paint their building because they think it’s easier to paint a heavily soiled brick building than it is to clean it. The same thing happens when buildings are tagged with graffiti, especially buildings that are heavily or frequently tagged. This brick below was painted, tagged, and painted again. You can’t blame an owner for wanting to take the easiest route, but in the long run it is much more difficult to remove paint than it is to remove soiling or isolated graffiti.
Materials also influence whether owners paint their brick or leave it exposed. Very soft, porous brick or historic brick that was underfired in a kiln may need to be painted to protect the brick from further deterioration. In general, the brick in Denver appears to be very high quality, high fired brick, especially the bricks used on late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century buildings. But if the protective fire skin on the outer surface of the brick has been abraded by sandblasting or scarified during stucco removal, the softer inside of the brick is exposed to greater deterioration. Because of this, you often see that painted brick that has a rough texture under the paint, like the brick in the photo below.
People also paint their brick buildings when their repairs do not quite match the adjacent brick. Their contractor may have used smaller brick, such as the repair in the photo at the left. Or they may not have done the repair using brick at all, as you can see above the window lintel in the right-hand photograph.
Similarly, the contractor may have used a brick that doesn’t match the adjacent brick in color or texture, like the infill at the former window opening below.
Alterations are another big reason for painted brick. An owner may paint their brick building if they construct an addition using a different color of brick. Or they may paint a portion of a building if a wing was demolished exposing a non-matching brick wall. The photo below shows two areas of painted brick near the base of the building where an earlier structure was demolished. It’s not a great photo, but if you look closely you can see the scar of the previous building’s roofline in the painted areas.
Finally – and this goes back to aesthetics – murals are often painted on brick walls, especially side walls that have no windows or doors. Denver has a wonderful mural arts program, the Urban Arts Fund, and I encourage you to explore all of the unique murals painted by talented local artists. One of my favorites is this one at the Mestizo Pool at Curtis Park. The artist very cleverly disguises large ventilation louvers as sunglasses.