Brick is back

Brick is one of the most ancient and familiar building materials known to man, its strength, character and flexibility of use continue to attract architects working on innovative contemporary buildings. Brick Development Association reports

The use of bricks, especially within modern architecture has perhaps been overlooked as traditional and uninspiring allowing competing materials to emerge into the market place. For some they conjure up images of architecturally unimaginative buildings, but today, many forward looking architects praise the use of the humble brick.

Today architects increasingly recognise that bricks have extremely positive qualities. As compact, modular building blocks, bricks offer limitless flexibility to architects who want to design distinctively sculptural, textured or patterned buildings. Brick works extremely well with other building materials and with a wide range of colours and varying textures offers many alternative styles, from rustic farmhouses to contemporary city apartment buildings. On versatility and pure aesthetics, few rivals come close. Coupled with choices on laying patterns, mortar colours and joint finishes, brick can be used to leave a distinctive and extraordinary impression on the landscape.

It is the overwhelming preference for brick in domestic architecture that accounts for its ubiquity in our living environments. Time after time polls reveal the housebuyer’s preference for brick but we can also see evidence of its use for the positive advancement of urban design.

A few finely considered new school buildings, for example, have seen architects using brick decoratively and to great effect. The Chetham School of Music designed by Stephenson Bell architects is a great example of an innovative use of brick in a modern structure. The original idea for the brick was to give the building a common denominator of the local vernacular spanning from Roman times to the modern day.

From this seed, long thin bricks have highlighted the flexibility of bricks to be made into many different shaped modules to enhance buildings in a way that is exclusive to brick products. Chetham School of Music’s new development is an exemplary example of how the new long thin shaped combined with the unique character and variation of a York Handmade brick can make for a thoroughly vibrant design.

Another example of innovation in architecture using bricks is without doubt the Saw Swee Student Centre at the LSE London designed by O’Donnell and Tuomey, winner of the 2014 Brick Awards, runner up of The RIBA Stirling Prize and nominated for 2015 Design Awards. This gloriously ambitious building with its sharp edges and irregular geometric facets manages to make a striking visual statement while still merging comfortably with the medieval streetscape and period buildings that surround it.

Developments in technology are allowing architects to use brick in new and inventive ways, while still harkening back to traditional craft methods. Patterned facades, soaring arches and sturdy walls are all features of brick that make it a versatile and beautiful.

David Patterson of Make Architects adds:

“The humble brick is having a quiet revival, particularly here at Make, as its sense of performance, of durability, of tradition cannot be beaten.”

He further states that brick is continuing to increase its profile and the UK is seeing excellent brick buildings taking shape. It has been surprising and very refreshing to see how brick is being used softly and innovatively as well as being robust. Its versatility makes brick an ideal material to be creative and in particular allows young architects to express modern concepts while retaining a link to the historic British vernacular. Its additional safety credentials – as a fire retardant material with inherent strength – allows architects to focus on the designs without having to worry that they are compromising on safety. Indeed, Bricks are fireproof, termite resistant and very energy efficient. This may even reduce your household expenses through the years while providing a safe place to live. Brick is also a very stable building material too. It requires little or no maintenance at all. Good quality bricks that have been carefully fired and hardened will not chip or wear for several decades, if ever. If a single material can successfully realise ground-breaking contemporary design, deliver durable performance and even contribute to social cohesion, it is any wonder that brick remains the first choice for building design?