The Big Mac inspires the co-founder of Loader Monteith Architects to break away on his bike for some private study of design strength with brick as his benchmark
Our family holiday to north Belgium and the town of Lommel was chosen primarily because we felt the flat landscape would make fallings-out on bike rides less likely. However, on my solo excursions I came across an incredible series of modernist houses.
The flat terrain is reflected in some beautiful rectilinear homes with floating prestressed concrete roofs, large panel windows and tabula rasas – all of which echo to our project to restore a fire-damaged High Sunderland. These houses sit in clusters of native pine trees (Lommel is a town built in a woodland), and the wonderful villas are worth a visit in their own right.
Lommel is home to a major potato growing organisation, Farm Frites, whose clients include McDonald's. The Big Mac index is cited as a means to compare the relative disposable income of nations using a ubiquitous product (the Big Mac).
I wondered during my excursions whether the same principle could be applied in terms of the use of a ubiquitous building material the world over to assess the relative strengths of the architecture and design industry in any given area.
As a self-confessed brick geek, I thought the variety of bond patterns, mortar uses, accuracy of brick sizing, and quality of product on show as a general standard would be a pretty good starting point. As a 'compare and contrast' to the UK, the evidence in Lommel was that there is a huge degree of good quality of the material and its application, both current and past. It never ceases to amaze me how a little thought and imagination, applied to something so simple, can result in such a variety in finish. A joy to behold and certainly something we will take into our next tranche of projects.
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