Bricks have been around for over 9,500 years, and some of the oldest buildings in the world use this humble material. Brick is still being widely used today, whether it’s in commercial buildings, houses, public buildings and so on. Lately there have been robots popping up in videos laying bricks, however it is mainly a human using his hands to lay thousands and thousands of bricks. My father was a bricklayer, so I grew up around bricks, but there was a period in my life where I fell out of love with this material. Like any great love story, I found that passion again, and here is that story.
I grew up in Oaklands, a small country town in New South Wales, Australia. We lived in a double-brick house, with some timber framing. During 1992, that double-brick house was constructed by my father, with my earliest memory I can recall is watching either the demolition or construction of it… All I remember is a naked timber-frame structure, wasn’t sure if it was going up or coming down. As a kid I would sometimes help dad carry bricks from one spot in the yard to his trailer, or vice-versus. And by ‘carry bricks’ I mean carry one brick with both hands, and struggle (I was a small kid). That was the extent of my ‘hands on’ experience with bricks, with dad, having back issues since birth he never asked me to physically go out on site and help him lay the bricks. Looking back, I wish I was able to be more-involved with him on site.
In 2010 I started studying the Advanced Diploma of Building Design (Architectural) at Wodonga TAFE, and this is where my love for brick started to be tainted. My first couple residential projects in TAFE involved brick as construction material, but I rendered over the brickwork. This was influenced by a ‘hobby’ a friend and I had where we would drive around the new estates in the area and look at the project homes. These project homes would have the 2-4 different materials on the facade, and brick barely being visible on the front facade. I began to think this was the style to do.
During my second trimester in my first year of university, I wrote an essay about a housing development in relation to Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness. I passionately wrote about the ugly houses, and in the process of writing this essay I started to distain brick. Brick was THE main material in these ugly houses, and in turn started believing that brick was an ugly material. I mean, how could I ever love a material that was widely used in these houses?! I submitted this essay on the 21st of August, then a week later I attended a guest lecture.
The 27th of August, 2013, Mel Bright from MAKE Architecture came to Deakin to give a guest lecture. I went to a couple of these guest lectures in the past, mainly for the free pizza at the end (free dinner!) but I am so thankful I attended MAKE’s. Mel Bright presented a project that changed my view on bricks, it rekindled my love for the material. Little Brick Studio, this small studio space made out of these beautiful white bricks, with bricks punctuating of the facade. She turned this simple material, used so frequently in ugly project homes, into something so beautiful. I never really saw brick used like this before, in that context, on that scale. It truly opened my eyes and imagination to what this beautiful material could do. I was in love again…
Monique Woodward, from WoodWoodWard Architecture (WOWOWA) was another guest lecturer a week later and she ended up presenting some of her projects that were using brick in other ways not seen on project homes. Whether it was large walls of red glazed bricks or a beautiful blend of several bricks, I was crushing so hard for brick. I started to notice the difference between when an architect and a building designer (or whoever is in charge of project home “designs”) used brick.
A few days ago I visited HELLO House by OOOF! Architecture, where the bricks were used in a similar fashion to MAKE but spelt out ‘HELLO’ on the facade. The shadows and effect by a simple gesture with the brick, pulling them out slightly, is just such a delight. On that same day I re-visited a site for a project in TAFE (read that post here) which has this old brick warehouse covering the entire site. Back in my TAFE days I would have just demolished the whole site, and take the bricks away, and that’s what my project did. If I was doing that project today, I would either be retaining the brick structure or if I was pull the walls down I would be incorporating the bricks somewhere in the project. Why? There is so much history in those bricks, stories told and not to mention the sustainability aspect of reusing materials. Plus, they are beautiful bricks, see this Google Map streetview to see for yourself (if the link doesn’t work, Google 55 Dover St Cremorne).
These days my love for brick is as strong as ever, so much that I had to use it in my first studio project for Masters. Before TAFE, I was pretty okay with brick. I didn’t love it, but didn’t hate it, I just merely saw it as a building material. However I never thought I could ever see brick the same again after writing that essay, but Mel Bright, and all the other architects who I saw after, changed that. I think about a brick, a material which my dad used to build his career, and life, for over 45 years. Now, heading into the future, will be a material I will use to build my career, and life, although I’d be doing so from the comfort of an office.