Why Brick Is The Right Material

For centuries, brick has been a dependable building material that has stood the test of time. There is no shortage of brick structures still in use around the world – just look at Brunel’s stunning spanned bridge over the Thames at Maidenhead, or the brickwork at St Pancras.

Brick has long been popular among architects, developers, and the general public. Not only is it visually appealing, but it also has excellent sustainability credentials and is difficult to beat in terms of price. Few competitors come close in terms of versatility and pure aesthetics. Brick technology is well understood because we have been using it for thousands of years. In structural terms, its robustness offers solutions to masonry designs that require ‘high’ strength.

Clay bricks, made from a plentiful natural material, have a much closer visual connection to their raw constituents than anything else you’ll find in a modern building. With a wonderful blend of subtle tones and textures, their warm and humanising personality brings buildings to life. Bricks blend in with their surroundings easily and naturally, complementing other building materials. Furthermore, brickwork can be modified as a building’s use changes.

A high environmental rating has bolstered the case for brick. Every external wall containing brick that was rated by the BRE’s Green Guide to Specification received the highest possible accreditation A+. This is evidence that brick plays an important role in meeting CSH targets.

And what about brick’s carbon footprint? By the time a square metre of brickwork is delivered to site, it has produced 28 kg of carbon dioxide. Over 150 years, that equates to only 0.0001867 tonnes per square metre per year. To put that into perspective, the energy used to produce and deliver brickwork for an average semi-detached home is less than 2% of the energy used to heat that home. The brick industry submits annual reports to the government for both the climate change agreement and the European Union Emission Trading Scheme (EUETS), and as a result, CO2 emissions are monitored on a regular basis.

Over a 150-year lifespan, the embodied energy of a clay brick is equal to 0.4 percent of total domestic energy consumption. According to a recent survey of 900 homes, brick structures can last 500 years or more. In stark contrast, some of the lightweight panelized homes currently being built have a design life of 50 years or less. What about that is long-term?

It’s not surprising, then, that the demand for brick buildings continues to rise, as evidenced by the annual Brick Awards’ continued success. The Awards, which were first held in 1977 and are organised by the Brick Development Association, are one of the top design and construction awards in the country – and the definitive showcase for what clay brick can do.

“The purpose of the awards is of course to recognise the very best, and because of the incredible diversity of the ways in which brick is being used today, the awards don’t just recognise the talents of architects and designers, they acknowledge the expertise of the contractors, the consistency of the house-builders, the quality of the bricks,” says Bob Allies, partner in leading architectural practise Allies and Morrison and Chairperson of the Brick Awards Judging panel.

Internal Insulation

Competition is fierce, and this was no exception in 2009, when the judges shortlisted three very different projects.

Burd Haward Architects designed the Cafe Caponata and Forge Arts Venue project in Delancey Street, London, which houses dining and performance spaces connected by a glazed courtyard. The front building is a reinterpretation of the adjacent Georgian terraces, while the back building is reminiscent of the barn-like forge that once stood on the site. Brick was chosen because it provided a strong, self-finished, load-bearing material that allowed the two blocks to feel connected while visually contrasting.

The front, which houses the cafe, restaurant, and apartments, required a more rugged appearance, and a dark sooty looking brick was chosen to reflect the busy street’s urban nature. A white brick was chosen as a calming contrast in the rear, which houses the recital hall. Internally, the same pale facing brickwork is used to provide a neutral background with the added benefit of a hard sound reflective surface, which is required for the space’s acoustic function.

Lime mortar was used throughout to avoid the need for movement joints, which would have been both aesthetically and acoustically undesirable. This was tinted to the darkest shade possible and used with a shallow raked joint to create shadow and further darken the joints on the dark brick. To create a more monolithic look, the natural shade of lime mortar was applied to the pale brick with a flush bag rubbed joint.

The construction of Unilever UK’s new headquarters building in Leatherhead, Surrey, was viewed as an opportunity to create an exemplar project to benchmark across the company’s real estate portfolio.

The client brief for the scheme was to design a facility that would bring together three previously separate business units from three different locations and house them in a space that promotes a harmonious way of working and a united culture. The new structure promotes synergy and integration among previously disparate business units. It also has a central arrival area for product and promotional display for both customers and staff, as well as clear lines of separation from visitor, customer, and secure staffing areas.

The ‘Business Park’ office building has become a familiar type for developers and designers, and this example adheres to established practise by relating office floors to a central atria. A design approach of fully glazed buildings, on the other hand, would be out of step with the environmentally responsible and energy efficient world of building design in the twenty-first century. dn-a Architects achieved a balance between glazing a solid facade and using the module of the clay block as the primary background material in a natural cream to give a warm earthy hue with complementary opaque background surface materials.

The resulting building, which won the Best Commercial Building Award, features a bold, contemporary, and environmentally sound design that is sympathetic to the scale and compartmental nature of the high-quality development at Leatherhead Office Park, as well as the site’s sensitive greenbelt edge.

The Hull Truck Theatre in Hull, designed by Wright and Wright Architects, received the Best Public Building Award.

The new structure is essentially a three-story (including basement) brick-clad reinforced concrete structure with blockwork infill and internal partitions. It has flat roofs (mastic asphalt) with roof lights, zinc clad vent cowls, and roof terraces on the second floor. The large clear span over the main auditorium is made possible by structural steelwork. Robust and long-lasting materials were deemed both visually appropriate and functional for the Hull Truck Theatre.

To echo the grand warehouses of Hull, brick has been used to clad the building both inside and out. To avoid cuts and unsightly junctions, every brick in the building was drawn in elevation. Furthermore, brick specials were meticulously detailed and labelled on layout drawings.

Double Glazed Windows

The mortar colour, joints, and copings were all carefully chosen to complement the brickwork. Before the right combination was chosen, several large sample boards were made and inspected.

Brick walls and paving extend into the internal public foyers on the ground and first floors, making these areas part of the street and putting all visitors ‘on stage.’

Glazed bricks are traditionally used in theatres, and brick has been fully utilised as an integral part of the design in this building.

So, what makes brick the best option? It’s easy to see why brick is one of the most successful building materials ever invented. It’s difficult to beat in terms of aesthetics and price. Furthermore, it is the most mellow, versatile, and, most importantly, sustainable of building materials.

Related Posts

None found

Last Updated on December 28, 2021


Author: Indra Gupta

Indra is an in-house writer with a love of Newcastle United and all things sustainable.

Scroll to Top