Design moves cyclically, and what’s old is often new again. Brick–one of the world’s oldest building materials–is having a moment. It never really faded away from construction since it was first used in 7,500 BC, but contemporary architects are finding clever ways to use the cost-effective, robust building blocks that feel entirely fresh.
“Brick has been the choice material of great monuments, expressing power and wealth, embodying impregnable defenses, from the ancient Middle East to the Roman Empire, and the Great Wall of China,” writes historian Philip Jodidio in 100 Contemporary Brick Buildings, a new book from Taschen. “Today, some of the most inventive and creative architects of the time turn to brick for its properties of durability, ecological sustainability, and sublimated reference to the past.” He goes on to point out that it’s still cost-effective as ever, and a go-to material for projects with severely limited budgets.
So what’s behind brick’s creative resurgence? It’s a material that robots can easily handle, it can be made from recycled materials, and its standardized size also lends itself to easy manipulation through digital design tools.
In the Tate Modern Switch House and Saw Swee Hock Student Center, at the London School of Economics, brick is used to generate a striking, faceted effect. Architect Peter Zumthor creates a pixelated effect on the Kolumba Art Museum’s facade by spacing bricks slightly apart–a move that also protects the fragile artifacts from too much daylight. At the Boa School Restaurant, in France, different colors of brick come together to create a snakeskin pattern on the exterior walls. And at the New State Archive, the brickwork looks almost like a textile up close.
While scientists and researchers are dreaming up high-tech materials, like shape-shifting textiles, it’s refreshing to see how something so humble can create such radical designs.
See these structures and more in the slide show above, and pick up a copy of the two-volume tome ($60) at taschen.com.