When Will Quam was asked if all the bricks wanted to be arches, he insisted that the bricks had no feelings or desires, that as wonderful as they were, they just weren’t sensitive.
Quam, Chicago’s resident “brick whisperer,” hosts walking tours of Chicago where he shares his infectious passion for bricks. Tours last 90 minutes, cover 1.5 miles, and cost $19 or $10. There is no difference between tours at different prices, he just wants to make sure they are affordable for everyone and that the lowest price is for those who need it.
Besides being a brick expert and lover, Quam is an architectural photographer, writer and researcher. He is convinced that nothing is boring and that excitement can be found in anything, even bricks.
Chicago is a great city for brick lovers – bricks can be found everywhere and come in all sorts of shapes, patterns, colors, and decors. They wear out in various ways. Quam began documenting the Chicago Bricks as an exercise in mindfulness and it led to some amazing discoveries that he enjoys sharing with others.
Did you know Chicago bricks are special?
After the Great Chicago Fire of 1971 burned down more than 17,000 buildings and another fire in 1874 caused more damage, the city changed its building codes to prohibit new wood construction. The result? The common brick of Chicago.
Chicago Commons are made from clay from the Chicago River and when fired take on colors such as buff yellow, salmon pink, or dark red. Clays are full of lime iron and small stones and particles. They were called “common” because they were rougher and were banished to the back, sides, and interior of buildings. Street-facing facades were reserved for out-of-town fancy bricks made of cleaner clay.
Brickyards began to expand throughout Cook County, growing from five in 1871 to 60 by 1881. By 1915, 10% of all American bricks were made in Chicago. But nothing good lasts, and the last brickyard on Chicago Common closed in 1981. None have been made since.
This is just the beginning of the facts you can learn from Quam. He also talks about the history of the neighborhoods, underrepresented architecture, and lots of facts about bricks.
His tours cover areas such as Noble Square, Logan Square or Hyde Park. Or, if you don’t feel like walking (or just don’t want to be with people yet as the pandemic – hopefully – subsides), you can purchase one of his three tour videos for $8 to $12 each from his website.
As Quam acts as a spokesperson for the bricks around Chicago, telling their stories, he insists that it is up to humans to take on this task. The bricks themselves are without feelings or desires, which makes Quam Chicago the best tourist guide to non-sentimental architecture.