It’s natural, subtle yet makes a statement, is sassy enough to pull off both the straight and curvy attire, and has bonded our walls for over a millennia – yes, it’s BRICKS in Architecture. From adorning the fireplaces of West to the idea of a pucca house in East; corbelled industrial chimneys to tapestry pattern effects, bricks have suited the rich and the poor, the developed and the developing, the industries and the houses alike. Despite the revolution in the construction industry and markets flooding with newer building materials, the centuries old brick shall always be dear to architects and users alike. Brick is one of the oldest known building materials that continues to rephrase its characteristics to remain relevant even today.
While evidence from ancient civilizations of Indus, Egypt and Rome dating back to 7000BC indicate the use of sun-dried clay bricks for construction, the real deal began during the Industrial Revolution of the 1900s. The era replaced almost everything handmade to machine-made and bricks were no exception. The mass production of bricks made them ideal in response to the construction boom in rapidly growing cities. Cheaper and quicker brick structures replaced stone and rock as building materials and the brick production count of the 19th century is estimated at about a whopping billion annually.
Since brick essentially became a locally available building material, innovations and experimentation with them came next. ‘Not one size fits all’ is a phrase that aptly fits brick architecture. They can be altered in shapes, sizes, even colors and play a versatile role as an aesthetic, functional, structural, sometimes thermal element of a building. Most known architects would have experimented the limitations of brick in the course of their career while some leave an unforgettable mark and burst the boundaries of how far can it go. Like Louis Kahn rightly says, “Even a Brick wants to be something”. The article here illustrates some uncanny ways in which brick has been used in architecture. Hold tight, you are up for a ride!
Louis Kahn, Alvar Aalto, Laurie Baker, Kengo Kuma are some well-known architects who could foresee more than the usual from a rectangular block and have some modern masterpieces of brick architecture built to their names. The IIM Ahmedabad built in 1974 is a spectacular work of exposed brickwork with numerous arches and circles carved out of the façade. The National Assembly Building in Dhaka by Kahn belongs to a similar aesthetic along with cylindrical forms. Laurie Baker, the Gandhi of Architecture brought a wave of novel ideas to brick architecture. His idea of a building was one of minimalism. The rat-trap bond reduces the cost of walls and also makes it thermally insulated while beautiful brick jalis substitute windows to encourage light and ventilation while making it thermally insulated. Aalto’s Muuratsalo House is an example of probably the widest range of brick testing with about fifty different types adorning the walls of its courtyard.
Time and again, bricks remind us of cornered buildings and straight lines but projects such as Dr. Chau Chak Building at UTS, Sydney by Frank Gehry would make you believe just otherwise. The curvilinear brick façade of the twelve story building features three-dimensional curves and is truly a piece of Gehry artwork.
Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Marrakesh, Morocco by Studio KO is yet another work of wonderful tactile curves in brick. The building is ideated to represent the warps and wefts of a fabric. Inspired by the works of Saint Laurent, a French couturier, the architects covered the curves in a lace-like brick lining, imitating a luxury couture. The façade details and patterns in brick are the elements to look out for in this work!
Pirouette House by Wallmakers, is a personal favorite project, located in Kerala, India. It offers an ode to the ideas of Laurie Baker and touches them with modernity. The undulating sculptural brick walls built in rat-trap bond render a strong character to the house that seeps into its interior spaces as well.
Another striking example that defies the idea of a regular brick is the Hermes Store in Amsterdam designed by MVRDV. Keeping the façade details in line with the heritage look of the vicinity, the architects replaced the opaque red brick with a transparent one to give it the identity of a ‘crystal house’.
Experiments in color is another way to tamper with the identity of the material. MU:M Office Building in South Korea by Wise Architecture incorporates a solid black brick elevation. It is an experiment that accentuates the fabric-like folds and creases (built in brick!) injected in the rectangular form. ABC Building, also designed by Wise Architecture, features a dark brick jali that makes it stand apart from the crowds.
The rigidity of the form of a brick does not do justice to its flexibility and versatility in use. This may well be expressed in the following two projects – Twisting Courtyard in Beijing, China by ARCHSTUDIO and Termeh Office Commercial Building in Iran by Farshad Mehdizadeh Architects + Ahmad Bathaei. In the Twisting Courtyard the grey brick pavement sly’s converts into a brick wall which goes on to become a brick roof, all in one twist. Similarly the Termeh Office rises at the street level to form a dynamic brick surface that functions as a wall, a roof and a stairway to the first level.
Bricks are the multi-starrer actors of the construction industry that hold the potential to do just anything and everything. The world is whirring at its potential and so should you!