Paving the Way: Materiality and Experimentation in Seven New Projects
October 26, 2011
How many pop history books exist that identify a single intimate object as the thing that “birthed” civilization? Guns. Germs. Steel. If we had a book deal, we’d propose yet another: the humble brick. Bricks were the building material of the first permanent structures, almost eight thousand years before the birth of Christ. They were invented independently by nearly every large civilization in the pre-Modern world. Because of the brick, cities could rise above flooding, and because of the brick, homes were cleaner, safer, and stronger. Perhaps most importantly, brick is relatively inexpensive to produce, and are incredibly environmentally efficient.
Amazingly, bricks are still being reinvented and improved, even today: architects are programming robots to lay complicated patterns, while others are experimenting with size and joinery, while still more designers are experimenting with the ingredient ratios, transforming the very manufacturing process. We’ve aggregated a typological series of projects from the last few years that use brick in new, interesting ways.
The Chapel of St. Lawrence — an anglicized name for a church in Vantaa, Finland — was completed last year. The project takes much from Finnish master Alvar Aalto (is it possible to work in Finland without speaking to Aalto’s legacy?). Aalto experimented with brick often, using it as a tactile, mutable material than a way to form an orthogonal plane. Avanto Architects say the brick walls are a response to the surrounding environment, and act to turn the worshipper’s gaze towards the procession of light conditions, as if to say, “the path turns toward the unknown, but goes on.”
At first look, it’s tough to discern whether or not Busch Stadium is a completely new project, or a gut renovation with a new facade. That’s because the stadium represents a new direction for sports design: rather than make the assumption that a brand new formal solution will produce a better stadium than the designs of the past, Populous says the design team strove to connect their proposal with the rich architectural history of St. Louis – meaning beautiful ironwork, and impeccable brickwork by by Belden Brick.
Studio Gang Architects are well known for turning material experiments into reality. Brick has not escaped them, either, and in the Brick Weave House, they apply characteristic radicality to the ubiquitous material. The result is a static screen of brickwork, turning a facade into a permeable, semi-private screen device.
The Gourmet Tea, a Sao Paolo store/lounge, is simply a beautiful example of material simplicity. Architect Alan Chu avoided the common approach to modern boutique design (the boring “all smooth, white, reflective” model) by offsetting the stark pop colors of the product with rough brick interior walls. Slick store design, tempered by the warmth of unfinished brick.
East Pier in Loraine is a long stretch of waterfront space that the community of Loraine, Ohio hoped to turn into a public promenade. Behnke Associates Inc. were careful about choosing a paving pattern for this project, since it would cover over an acre of space; functionality and longevity were essential factors in their specifications. Ultimately, the chose a paver made by Belden Brick that sits on a flexible surface, a technical innovation that meant the joints could be left un-mortared. Say the architects, the four-color patten gives the impression of an old-fashioned boardwalk, echoing an era when a stroll by the water was an essential public activity.
The Housing Complex
Lansdowne Mews hearkens back to a day when brick was the voice through which the Modernist housing epoch spoke. Built by Hampson Williams in London, the application of raw brick on the exterior coupled with a glazed white brick of the interior courtyard showcases the variability of the brick module.
Speaking of Aalto, it’s interesting to wonder whether he would have been delighted or dismayed by this project by ETH Architektur und Digitale Fabrikation (DFAB). “Structural Oscillations” is a 300-foot ribbon of brickwork laid by a robot, programmed to build the liquid form specified in a digital model.