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Corbelling found on 431/433 Massachusetts Avenue

Corbelling. Corbelling derives from the use of a corbel, defined as brick or stone projecting from a wall, intended as a structural support. Corbelling occurs upon the succession of several rows of corbels, in which each course steps upward and outward from the primary wall. Historically, corbelling was an essential architectural engineering feature that allowed designers to increase the heights, loads, and spans of their structures. Corbelling is seen supporting a variety of architectural features, such as arches, parapets, and beams.

As building technology evolved, including the introduction of steel frame structures, the structural need for corbelling decreased. However, architects continued to use the feature both for its structural benefit and ornamental value. On historic Indianapolis structures, corbelling is commonly found at the roofline of a structure, adding architectural interest to the intersect of a wall and roof.

One might find corbelling on the façade of a commercial structure, such as several structures along Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Indianapolis. Brick corbelling can be found frequently on brick storefronts that terminate with a parapet wall. One example includes the storefront at 431/433 Massachusetts Avenue, which features four corbels and a design reminiscent of crenellation. While another example found at 409 Massachusetts Avenue includes nine corbels across, drastically accenting the roofline of the storefront.

Corbelling on 409 Massachusetts Avenue

Add it to your vocabulary – how might one use today’s Building Language term in their everyday life?

I may say to my companion while walking down a street, “The brick corbelling on that façade really accents the parapet wall,” or possibly, “Although the brick work on that storefront seems unassuming, the detailed corbelling gives the structure some historic character.”

Share your corbelling finds in Indianapolis in the comments!

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