Designing with Brick: The History and Legacy of Brick… | Fireclay Tile
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Designing with Brick: Past to Present

By Ted Ryan

Designing with Brick: Past to Present

Brick is a timeless design element. Whether it’s a brick floor or exposed brick wall, the addition of Brick into interior design gives your project personality and character unmatched by many other finishes. Brick has a history of making impactful impressions and its lineage is the perfect jumping-off point for new creations for the contemporary design world.

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Brick Shown: Elk // Design: Anne Sage // Photo: Elizabeth Messina

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History of Brick

When you think of Brick, it’s hard not to think of the history that surrounds it. From the adobe brick of Taos Pueblo to the colonial architecture of Boston or New York, in the United States alone, Brick is part of the building blocks of our country and responsible for some of the most iconic designs to date.

But brick’s history goes back much farther than pre and post-colonial America.

The oldest bricks in human history were discovered along the Jordan River in the upper Tigris region of Mesopotamia, what is now Southern Turkey. The bricks were about the size of loaves of bread. Bricks were processed by kneading a mixture of dirt/clay and water. Bricks were dried out in direct sunlight and used for masoning with a thin mortar of mud and clay.

Along with brick, Mesopotamia was responsible for the invention of the wheel, agriculture, and mathematics. It is considered one of the earliest civilizations in the world, meaning brick coincides directly with the development of human society itself.

Since then, brick has never gone out of fashion. For its strength, practicality, and visual appeal, why would it? Here are a handful of our favorite historic applications.

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Our Favorite Brick Designs

Frederick C. Robie House

The Robie House is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s landmark masterpieces. Designed in the Prairie style of paying homage to the environment, Wright chose wide Roman brick to give this Midwestern home a horizontal emphasis. Adding to the linear appearance, horizontal joints between the offset bricks are filled with red mortar flush with the Brick while the horizontal lines are deeply defined with white mortar.

V.C. Morris Gift Shop

In 1948, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design the V.C. Morris Gift Shop in San Francisco, California. Wright decided that he didn’t want the customers to see any of the merchandise from the street and chose brick to encourage would-be window shoppers inside instead. Offset Bricks cover most of the space while straight-set brick forms the dramatic half-brick, half-glass arch.

National Assembly Building

The National Assembly Building in Dkaka, Bangladesh is a testament to the creativity that can be found in modernist design. Usually viewed to be austere, architect Louis Kahn redefined modernism when he was commissioned in 1962 to build this monument to the government of Bangladesh. Kahn was known to literally talk to his bricks and ask, ‘What do you want, brick?’ The Brick responded with this inspiringly bold building.

Muuratsalo Experimental House

Finnish architect Alvar Aalto began the Muuratsalo Experimental House while grieving over his late wife. It seems to make sense that he chose to work with heavy and permanent brick for this summer cottage. He used over 50 types of brick in various arrangements, experimenting on which would stand up to the environment the longest. The Muuratsalo Experimental House stands as a study in raw materials and human expression.

Kolumba Museum

The Kolumba Museum sits beside the ruins of St. Kolumba, a 9th-century church in Cologne, Germany. Architect Peter Zumthor designed this museum to not just house and protect works of art inside but the ruins themselves, with a brick facade accentuated by perforations that let shafts of light shine through the building’s protective walls.

UCLA Botany Building

When designing UCLA’s Botany Building in 1957, legendary Los Angeles architect Paul Revere Williams sought to position the building within the existing environment, specifically the Westwood campus’s sprawling botanical garden.

To incorporate the garden into the design of the space as well as the students’ lesson plans, Williams featured a vast glass facade. To give the building its composition though, Williams turned to brick. Along with a column of breeze blocks above the building’s entrance, Williams’s use of brick served to balance the ample glass and offer an academic appearance to endure decades of studies.

The School of Dancing Arches

The School of Dancing Arches in Bhadran, India, built in 2019 by architect Samira Rathod is a study in bending the limits of brick. Hulking and massive, the children’s school defies logic with an appearance of motion and levity.

Inspired by a world rendered from a child’s imagination, the school features unconventional shapes throughout the building’s many brick arches, windows, classrooms and nooks intended for reflection and discovery. For a building meant to inspire students to dream big, ignoring preconception, the school, and its dancing arches are an apt foundation for just such learning.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a building that captures the enormity of the Civil Rights Movement itself, sitting rightfully in the center of Birmingham Alabama’s historic Civil Rights District.

Designed by New York’s J Max Bond Jr., one of the most prominent Black architects in America, the building features extensive use of brick encompassing archives, galleries, community meeting rooms, exhibition space, and administrative offices. In the center of the living institution, a wide brick staircase leads to a brick rotunda capped with a dramatic dome, a fitting focal point to a city at the center of a historic movement for human rights.

Virgilio Barca Public Library

The common brick is a basic rectangle of right angles. But put to good use, it can create incredible shapes and space. Take for example the Virgilio Barca Public Library in Bogota Colombia. This modernist masterpiece by legendary Colombian architect Rogelio Salmona stands unmatched in a city of red brick.

Designed with Islamic architectural influence of Spain and North Africa, the massive project begs for exploration. Brick bridges, curved brick walls, and sweeping ramps and staircases intrigue and inspire visitors as much as the books it was built to house.

The Chase Residence

American architect John Chase was the first Black architect licensed in the state of Texas. With it, Chase embarked on a pioneering career of memorable projects, but none may be as recognizable as his own brick residence.

Built in 1959, the Houston home features a modern design, with a low slung flat roof and a brick encased courtyard. The courtyard acted as not just an outdoor space, but an intersection for the entire home, and its novel home design still stands out today for its clever function and beautiful brickwork.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Brick’s durability and resilience against fire and weather make it one of the best materials to house precious goods and people. It’s no surprise it was the chosen medium for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a division of the New York Public Library responsible for protecting the archive repository for information on people of African descent worldwide.

The Harlem outpost also acts as a community center for public events, making this brick building a fitting link from the past to the present.

Bait Ur Rouf Mosque

When the government of the fastest growing city in the world, Dhaka, Bangladesh, failed to answer the call of its citizens for a mosque to worship in, the community got together. Brick by brick, from the support of individual worshippers, the Baid Ur Roufe Mosque was built.

One of the many benefits of brick is its incredibly low maintenance and this quality was a key consideration when choosing to build the mosque with brick. The results are a modest, modern mosque that reflects the materials of the community as well as its shared values.

Benjamin J. and Mabel T. Ricker House

The Benjamin J. and Mabel T. Ricker House, or, the Ricker House as it’s often shortened to, was designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin in 1911 for Grinnell, Iowa homeowners.

This sturdy brick building is cherished for both its impressive brick design, but specifically for its artistic brick tile designs that adorn both the exterior windows and interior brick tile murals in the library and living room. This historic home was purchased by Grinnell College in 2000, to be preserved for its beautiful example of brick architecture.

King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science

Brick is prized for its ability to take a beating and still look stunning year after year. Students at Los Angeles’s King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science get to study in a space that feels more welcoming than weathered. Since 1995, the magnet school has occupied the classic red-brick campus.

The building exhibits a column shape with curved brick walls, contrasting white stucco, and a brick facade that frames a massive carved stone mural.

Iturbide Studio

This Mexico City masterpiece demonstrates the dramatic textures that brick of various shapes and sizes can lend to a space. The Iturbide Studio was built in 2007 with an architectural beauty that highlights what isn’t present as much as the bricks that are. Using beautiful bricks of several sizes to create intriguing texture the building is punctuated by gaps in the brick, giving the heavy structure a light and airy feel that invites the breeze to pass through it on hot days in the city.

Ready to start working with brick but don’t want to use full-sized or faux brick? Sample our Glazed Thin Brick that is lighter and easier to install than standard brick but still retains the strength and character brick is best known for.

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