Meeting brick aspirations

Andy Batterham of Ibstock looks at the ongoing renaissance in brick, and how providing for increasing demand for colours, as well as the trend for grey brick, is helping architects and specifiers reinvigorate this traditional building material.

It is fair to say that brick is going through a renaissance. Even The Times recently reported on the substantial demand for brick built buildings throughout the supply chain. From architects to builders down to home-buyers, there is a sense of a reinvigorated aesthetic appreciation of traditional building materials, and brick is at the forefront of this trend.

Localism’s role in specification

Why is there such renewed interest in brick, a material which many would already see as the natural choice for building?

Firstly, local planning requirements, particularly in rural or historically sensitive locations, are stringent regarding the use of materials which fit in with the surrounding buildings. There is also a wider interest in the planning process on a community level since the adoption of the powers made available through the 2011 Localism Act, which allows communities to decide on the ‘look and feel’ of new developments as part of the Neighbourhood Planning process. This interest includes the specification of construction materials, right down to the finer details.

Planning regulations always have and will impact on the design, appearance and materials considered for use when building. But with the pursuit to use materials that blend with the local vernacular, brick is often the material that best offers a sense of familiarity for an envelope to blend into its surroundings.

Colourful thinking

It is this familiarity of bricks that means the likes of buff and rustic red brickwork will always be a popular choice of finish. And with the resurgence of brick, these colours have been the first to experience a rise in popularity from the palette available.

But far from brick being the safe choice for buildings, some of the strongest opportunities for innovative brickwork – something that fits in with the local vernacular but also stands out with a sense of individuality – come from using a wider colour
palette. This ranges from the ‘sympathetic’ to the ‘imaginative’; thus, meeting the more creative design aspirations of architects and homeowners.

The specification of bolder colours is encouraging a new approach to the design of buildings, opening up a wider range of possibilities and creating inspiring facades.

Emerging trends

Awards such as the Stirling Prize and the Brick Awards are showcasing what can be achieved with brick, and in particular colour and setting the benchmark for future housing concepts.

As an example, the RIBA Stirling Prize finalist Barretts Grove, a residential project by Amin Taha + Groupwork, is creating a buzz. Here brick is used to create a stunning perforated facade, and the project has been described as an exemplar of the brick renaissance.

Another strong example is South Gardens – the Supreme Award Winner at the Brick Awards. Here, the architects Maccreanor Lavington demonstrated how bricks of different colours can be blended together to create visual interest while linking the building to its original Victorian surroundings.

While these are one-off projects, their designs appeal to the wider audience, filtering down the supply chain to both commercial and housing projects alike.

Shades of grey

One of the most recent emerging trends from the colour palette is the specification of grey brickwork. As a colour, grey has long been popular for interior design projects. Indeed, Dulux Paint’s Colour of the Year 2017 was Denim Drift, a smoky, calming grey-blue. This colour choice is migrating to the exterior of buildings and is now a major trend for building products too.

The popularity of grey brickwork originated from Northern European countries, particularly Denmark and the Low Countries; it is now influencing architects and specifiers here in the UK, and it’s easy to see why. The elegant hue of a ‘true grey’ brick offers an exciting alternative to traditional ‘brown greys’.

Of course, in the cool, ‘blueish’ light spectrum that is so dominant here in the UK, greys work well with the natural ambience and tone. The specification of grey bricks provides the perfect balance between a sense of familiarity with its surroundings while realising a state of individualism for a modern twist. This movement has been years in the making, but this shift in colour choice will continue to gain momentum in the coming years.

We have worked with architects across the country who are increasingly integrating grey brickwork into the specification of their commercial and domestic projects. As an example, grey brickwork was specified for a housing development where the architect used red brick as an accent; combined it created an inspiring look for an otherwise standard housing development. Other projects which have used grey brickwork include Oasis Academy in London (Bradgate Medium Grey in combination with glazed bricks), Corduff Primary Care Centre in Dublin (Dark Grey), an apartment complex in Motherwell (Multi Grey Rustic) and Park View School in Glasgow (Kingscote Grey Multi). Many other projects are also underway with architects and specifiers recognising its appeal.

Brick will continue to be the number one construction material. But with the sheer variety of colour options available, architects and specifiers have the opportunity to be experimental and make inspirational building ideas a reality, and not just for one-off projects. Larger housing developments can also benefit from the spectrum of brickwork available.

Brickwork that resonates with its environment while creating an aesthetically pleasing finish offers the ultimate kerb appeal. And with many homeowners – the end users in the supply chain – now looking to achieve this, architects and specifiers have a wide range of options available that retains familiarity while stepping away from the norm.

Andy Batterham, head of group technical services at Ibstock