The University of Southern California's Galen Event Center on the Los Angeles campus features seven sculptures that, at 46-ft 8-in. high x 11-ft 8-in. wide, are among the world's largest brick murals. The sculptures, each comprised of 2520 brick in 210 courses, adorn the building's octagonal corners and define its uses for sporting events, performing arts, and community outreach programs.

Design concept

“The university's goal for all its buildings is to reflect the northern Italian Romanesque architecture of the original campus, built in the early 1900s,” said Stan Westfall, architect project manager for USC's Department of Capital Construction Development. The idea to use brick murals on the Galen Center arose from discussions between USC senior associate athletic director Carol Dougherty and architect Fernando Vazquez, principal designer with HNTB Architecture Inc., Los Angeles.

“We wanted the designs to represent the uses of the building, as well as university life,” said Westfall. Two sports figures depict women's volleyball and men's basketball. Murals of a saxophonist, violinist, and dancers represent the performing arts. A mentor-and-child portrait and a graduation scene represent other university and community functions.

Creating the sculptures

The seven brick sculptures were created by Jay Tschetter, founder of Images in Brick, Denton, Neb., and his brother, Dean, principal designer.

Dean Tschetter creates brick mural designs on a computer, which simplifies making any needed revisions and generates grids or projected images to assist the sculptors. Drawings of the Galen Center designs were placed over a grid outlining the brick stacking pattern. The drawings were then shaded, brick by brick, using three colors to indicate the 4-in., 6-in., and 8-in. brick depths to be used in the sculptures. The appropriate quantities of wet clay brick for each size were ordered from Pacific Clay Brick, Lake Elsinore, Calif.

“This project was especially challenging because of the incredible mass and the tight time frame,” said Jay Tschetter, a mason and artist who has been sculpting brick for 20 years. “We basically had one week to carve each mural.”

Workers from Pacific Clay stacked the brick on two 14-ft tall x 60-ft long carving easels, using shims to simulate mortar joints. Each mural was broken down into four sections to fit on the easels. Images in Brick's team of six sculptors worked on several sections simultaneously, first cutting a figure out of the protruding brick, and then carving the detail by reducing the clay.

Photographs of each section were taken and composited on the computer to check the proportion. Each brick was marked with a row letter and position number. Then the sculptures were disassembled and the pieces dried and fired. After removal from the kilns, the sculptures were reassembled to check that each piece was intact. Finally, they were disassembled once more, packed on pallets, and delivered to the jobsite.

Installing the murals

Meanwhile, bricklayers from Masonry Concepts Inc., Santa Fe Springs, Calif., installed the brick cladding on the building. “To work the sculptures into the courses, we defined the space they would go into, built panels, and then placed the brick around it,” said Dana Kemp, owner of Masonry Concepts.

When the time came to install the murals, Jay Tschetter joined the crew on the scaffolding. “We installed the murals piece-by-piece like a jigsaw puzzle,” said Kemp. “We worked closely with Jay to learn tips for laying out the irregular pieces and making the joints look correct.”

Flush mortar joints were used within the sculptures for a smooth appearance. The rest of the veneer used tooled joints. Masonry Concepts installed all of the exterior face brick, brick paving around the building, and structural CMU.

The project was completed within 22 months, with the crew of 30 masons onsite for about a year. The 255,000-sq-ft Galen Center, home of the USC Trojans, opened on schedule for the fall 2006 season.

Project Participants
Brick Mural Design/Sculpture: Images in Brick, Denton, Neb. (
Masonry Contractor: Masonry Concepts Inc., Santa Fe Springs, Calif.
Architect: HNTB Architecture Inc., Los Angeles
Masonry Suppliers: Pacific Clay Brick, Lake Elsinore, Calif., and Angelus Block Co., Sun Valley, Calif.