My interest in brick stems largely from my experience working on projects at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) since beginning my employment with BNIM in 2011. The UCLA campus has a very specific brick blend to which the majority of the buildings adhere. Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two years looking at existing brick buildings and drawing bricks. I must admit, that as excited as I was to start working on these projects, the prospect of working on a brick building fresh out of school did not excite me.
Royce Hall on the UCLA Campus (left and right) is an example of the distinctive brick color that abounds on the campus.
As a student, I hated brick. I viewed it as a de facto “contextualizer” that lazy students used to resolve their material issues when dealing with an urban site. Even worse, there are far too many examples of spec office buildings and developer-driven new urbanism projects in which brick was used to either contextualize or to attempt to create an element of sophistication and power.
Kansas City's Power and Light District uses brick to offer immediate context among new buildings.
However, while working on the projects at UCLA, I soon realized there was much more potential in brick than my preconceived beliefs had allowed me to discover. Through the design process, we rigorously evaluated, established and developed critical datum lines, proportions and openings as a direct result of the brick module. We began adding texture and depth to the façade and developing our details primarily off the rhythm of this module. Because of this exercise, I found myself constantly examining brick projects that were new construction, repurposed or renovated.
A rendering of the design for UCLA Win-Gem, part of the new engineering complex, collaboratively designed by Moore Ruble Yudell + BNIM
In light of my experiences and newfound affinity for brick, I’d like to share why I believe that brick can be particularly powerful in new construction and, further, why I think embracing brick is critical for design moving into the future. It is not uncommon for new projects to use brick. I took a particular interest in projects that experimented with the types of texture, light and transparency that could be created from the material, especially those project that are able to use the modularity of the brick to create textures at an urban scale. The idea of urban scale texture is fascinating given the familiar, tactile nature of an individual brick.
The innovative use of brick along with the textural quality are reasons that brick has purpose and longevity. Left: Poroscape by Youngham Chung + Studio Archiholic; Right: Apartment Building by Shop Architects
Our mind’s hand can begin to understand what the texture of the façade feels like at both a macro and micro scale. Adding to the intrigue of texture are the projects that begin to introduce openings and distortions in the modular organization of the bonding pattern. These projects create a new layer of texture along with an added field of depth through screening and porosity. This interplay and layering of textures and screening creates a façade that is ever-changing in color, depth, shadow, weight and texture at a variety of scales. The sensory response and perceived or real tactile qualities of these manipulations is exactly what excites me when I see new projects using
As public interest design becomes more and more prevalent, there are more examples of very simple, yet beautiful projects that utilize the innate properties of brick. It is also worth noting that brick is an incredibly important and crucial building material for much of the developing world. We often forget that brick is a structural material, since it is often used primarily as a veneer. There are many examples of projects that use age-old techniques to construct stunning spaces. The vernacular of these designs exemplifies that brick buildigns can be very rooted to place. The connection to place is experienced through the brick, as it is commonly built on site and from the local earth, proudly displaying the color and geology of the place. As simple as brick may be, it can be a marvelous material that reflects the cultural and ecological resources of the place to create truly meaningful space.
The bricks used in the Greensburg City Hall by BNIM, a LEED Platinum civic building, were salvaged from an older building and reused.
I believe brick is critical to the future of design. In many of the industrialized cities of America, including Kansas City, we are faced with decaying buildings in our urban core. Some are beyond the point of saving; others prime for repurposing. In either scenario, these buildings provide us with a great opportunity to take advantage of one of the most durable materials we build with — brick. In light of continued re-urbanization, capturing the potential of these often-underutilized buildings in a way that meets the needs of our current society is critical.
The brick warehouse buildings of the West Bottoms in Kansas City, MO. Photo by Kyle Rogler.
This potential is often harmoniously realized in those projects that incorporate new design interventions and additions in way that best serves the requirements of today. These projects interweave old and new to create authenticity in design in a way that is mutually symbiotic between past and present. The patina and contextual requirements of the old are respected and honored, while the forces and interactions of the new urban context, materiality and program are honest, sustainable and expressed through meaningful design. In embracing the beauty of brick and reusing this material, we are certainly promoting sustainability, but we are also reinventing an existing layer of our built environment for the now and the future.