The Uncanny Valley

Notes on art, culture and preservation

Architect’s Dictionary: what’s a quoin?

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This architectural feature is easy to overlook, but quite a charming element of certain buildings once you learn how to spot it. A quoin (pronounced like “coin”) refers to the use of masonry to reinforce the corner of a structure, usually with an alternating pattern of long and short bricks. Specifically, quoins are those corner bricks that add fortification to facades made from weaker materials, as with First Baptist Church (pictured above), although they can be defined broadly as any such brick pattern that contrasts visually with the building’s facade.

Here’s but a sampling from the Uncanny Valley photo archives of quoins in Philadelphia:

A little quoin-age in Washington Square West

A little quoin-age in Washington Square West

The extraordinary John Charles Memorial Church (now Refuge Temple of Jesus Christ) in Grays Ferry

The extraordinary John Charles Memorial Church (now Refuge Temple of Jesus Christ) in Grays Ferry

row houses in Point Breeze

row houses in Point Breeze

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Building 1, Naval Shipyard. Yes, that’s what it’s called — they never “quoined” a better name for it. (Pun not unintended. See what I did there?)

Spot any more fancy quoins? Please share!

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  1. […] tours of the establishment, which includes the Second Empire house impressively designed (and fabulously quoined) by John Fraser, as well as the Horace Trumbauer addition fronting 15th Street (where you actually […]


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