architect’s pet peeve no. 8 – fake quions

“Quoins” are the exposed stone pieces that you sometimes see stacking up only on the corner of a building.  Their use today is odd and usually fake and are trying to allude to traditional masonry construction and presumably the sense of durability, solidity and timelessness that implies.

Quoins provide a kind of emphasis, a visual boldness, to the corners of a building and tend to make the building feel more solid, more object-like. However, like so many elements of architecture that appear to be merely stylistic touches, they have an origin in a construction technology.

Quarrying stone has always been a difficult and expensive proposition. Making a stone building out of the stone that are scattered around the field and forest is a much easier proposition but results in a random rubble type wall.  When that random rubble wall has to turn a corner, the stone of differing sizes and shapes create a visual and technological problem.  Because of its ragged line it collects water, because of the use of small, varied stone, they easily pop off the corner when exposed to the elements from two sides.  Quoins of cut stone were used to contain the edges of stone walls and help solve these exposed corner problems.  Being cut stone they stack nicely and cleanly on each other and their consistent size and shape they solidly and securely hold the corner true and vertical.

However, this technological use of quoins has long been forgotten and they are merely stylistic touches now applied without much subtlety to buildings.  You can see fake stone quoins, face brick quoins, wood quoins trying to look like stone quoins, and best yet, EIFS (fake stucco) quoins, in buildings all over the country.


“cast” stone quoins on parade


wood "stone" quoins; actually as you can see, quite an old fakery often used by New England ship captains to give their wood houses a sense of class
fake stucco and foam quoins


3 thoughts on “architect’s pet peeve no. 8 – fake quions

  1. Well, going by my rule of thumb “I you must fake architectural features, at least try to make them plausible.”, I find the worst offender to be Quoins on a corner in which a brick (presumably veneer) wall meets one with siding. These embarrassing horrors are surprisingly common around Boston, especially in upscale suburbs where buyers should know better. For a great example, try a Google street view of “hunnewell street wellsley ma”; there are plenty of horrific examples between 1 and 30. If the builder of these 1-2 million dollar houses had just covered the side walls with stucco and extended the quoins around the corner, one might be gullible enough to assume that the sides were stucco-coated masonry and that the quoins actually served a purpose. Instead, said builder must have assumed that his customers would be proud to live in a house that resembles the front of a bank stuck on to the side of a barn.

  2. Thanks for this great article, I share this pet peeve. I think quoins are beautiful but they must serve a purpose in making the building stronger, presenting less opportunity for the elements to work away at a building at its most vulnerable points.
    Fake, veneer quoins are right up there with wooden Gothic windows

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