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Each spring brings a lot of talk about brackets for fans of the NCAA basketball championships. Being more of building guy than a sports guy, I think about brackets on buildings.

An architectural bracket projects from a wall in order to support something else like a beam or cornice. Brackets had their heyday in the last half 19th century when they often appeared under the eaves of Italianate style buildings. You can find them throughout Capitol Neighborhoods on commercial buildings and houses including the Abraham Wood House (1853) at the corner of East Main and South Hancock. Brackets didn’t disappear when Italianate went out of style around 1890. The Mediterranean Revival-style Pinckney Apartments (1911) at 204 N. Pinckney has different kinds of brackets to support to the balconies and the overhanging roof.

Brackets come in many shapes and sizes. Small brackets appear under the triangular pediments over the second-floor windows of the Wisconsin Capitol (1906-1917), a superb example of Beaux Arts architecture. At the other end of size scale are the large wooden braces at the old Illinois Central Railroad Freight Depot (1873) on West Washington, long home to a U-Haul facility.

Brackets have made a comeback, particularly on buildings that echo historical styles. The neo-Italianate building that is home to AJ Bombers at the corner of East Henry and West Gorham (2009) sports many brackets under its eaves. [Photo E] Brackets appear in contemporary architecture, too. When the Network 222 Building (1972) on West Washington was renovated in 2003 it gained brise soleils or “sun breakers.” These horizontal screens—supported by brackets—provide a bit of shade and substitute for a traditional cornice at the top of the tower.

Look around and you’ll see brackets everywhere: at home improvement stores, in antique shops and on buildings old and new.

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