Strength, beauty and new ideas

Building with bricks and blocks

Here’s just one reason that brick is starting to appear in increasingly ambitious buildings, used in ways not conventionally associated with the material:  this is a human-scale modular component that works both structurally and aesthetically.  It can bear load – a lot of load – and need no further embellishment, since you can create your own patterns and textures with it.  

Not that the texture thing is a new idea. Remember how Ralph Erskine, in his Ark building in Hammersmith, took ridged bricks that were meant to act as a key for render, and expressed them just as they were, as a facing material on the support columns? Or the way other architects of that generation just loved using hard blue-grey engineering bricks which, again, were never really originally intended for visual effect?  The increasing difference today is that the material in all its variety of colours, textures and densities is once again being used, quite literally, to its strengths. It’s odd, after all, for a material with such great compressive strength to be used non-structurally: the challenge is to find ways of using it as it wants to be used that are predictable and cost-effective.

In this supplement on structural brickwork we look at the ways various leading architects have engaged with this most enduring building material in very different settings. How best can it be panellised, how to achieve best practice in thermal efficiency, how can it work in conjunction with lightweight structures? Published in conjunction with the Brick Development Association’s Structural Masonry Day on April 3, this publication will, we hope, stimulate your own ideas.