Over the decades many people have had varying views on bricks for construction. Fortunately, there are those, such as Johannesburg architect, Thorsten Deckler, who feels you can built almost anything from face brick.
Between the two world wars, the English town of Slough was used to dump war materials and prior to World War 11, became home to hundreds of new concrete and brick factories.
Slough’s new trading estate appearance was a foretaste of the Brutalist brick movement, which flourished from the 1950s to 1970s. Brutalist brick has some severe critics, amongst them Charles, Prince of Wales. His writings and speeches have often been condemning of the movement and in 1987 at a Corporation of London Planning and Communication Committee annual dinner he said: “When they (Luftwaffe) knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace with anything more offensive than rubble”.
Luckily, not everyone shares these Brutalist brick sentiments! Deckler who, together with his wife Anne Graupner, runs a practice named 26’10 South Architects - is a fan of brick.
And, whilst many of us who grew up in the 70’s still have mixed feelings about suburban facebrick housing, Deckler has less qualms professing to a “somewhat warm and fuzzy feeling for knotty pine and facebrick”.
“I associate facebrick with both the happy homes I spent time in as well as a period in which honesty of materials was valued,” he explains. However, he admits that the opposite can also be true: exposed brick used in overbearingly can’t put people off the material.
Deckler said that local and international architects that have worked with exposed brick who he admires, include the Swedish Brutalist architect, Sigurd Lewerentz (1885 – 1975) and local architect, Jack Clinton.
He does question whether Lewerentz fits the Brutalism brick bill completely. Although sometimes photographs of his work featuring brick seem unfriendly, Deckler said on a recent trip to Sweden when he saw several Lewerentz projects, he felt the brick gives them a humane and even friendly feeling.
Deckler says Lewerentz use of brick is striking. He saw the brick Eneborg housing project which called for construction in the local dark clay brick to two world renowned Swedish churches, St Peter’s in Klippan and St Mark’s in Bjorkhagen, Sweden. He mastered exposed or face brick as a material are used in both churches. Deckler says both churches are a showcase of his ability to transform the use of clay brick from what many believe to be the mundane into living areas filled with atmosphere.
In the St Peter’s structure, Deckler was particularly admiring of Lewerentz’s ability to allude to and evoke the atmosphere of the Roman catacombs where early Christians hid to escape capture.
The entire structure is made from brick including the walls, floors and ceilings. He also forbade the workmen to cut any of the bricks or grind off welding burs on the steel work to ensure an unpretentious directness. “One can argue that this is what most builders in South Africa achieve without even trying…. but in the case of Lewerentz it’s a premeditated move over which he presided with utmost control and intent,” explains Deckler.
The Brutalist movement was a big fan of brick - utilitarian, stark and rugged, Brutalist brick buildings are typically substantial in character if not in size and are known for their functionality. Favoured for educational buildings, government projects and public housing, Brutalism is an expression of moral seriousness amongst architects after the lightness and frivolity of some 1930s and 1940 architecture.
Recalling many of Lewerentz’s works Deckler says, “I have feelings for Brutalism where it was handled less rigidly and where the proportions, human scale and the integration of nature are well thought out.”
Facebrick, was favoured long before the Brutalist movement as is seen in the Monadnock Building in Chicago, USA. Built in 1891 and completed in 1893 the Monadnock was the tallest load bearing building ever constructed and is identified by its unornamented vertical mass of purple-brown brick.
Deckler, was impressed by this 16-story high-rise. “The facebrick material made an incredible impression on me and the building’s deep window reveals and rounded corners gave it a tactile feel that was almost African in nature, reminding me of the earth architecture of Mali,” he said.
In the last century facebrick has featured prominently in churches, corporate and government buildings and suburban homes. Brick is the choice of architects looking for honesty, practicality and integrity.
“This all goes back to the argument that decent architecture, no matter what material and style it is, can be enabling, comforting, inspiring and memorable if it is in control of proportion and scale, and offers intimacy and generosity,” concludes Deckler.
Corobrik, the brickmaking giant has been supplying clay bricks and pavers to the Southern African market for the past 115 years.
Says Corobrik Commercial Director Musa Shangase, “our bricks are as relevant today as they were a century back. We continue to invest in our business to ensure we remain relevant and can produce bricks, that are environmentally friendly, long lasting and never go out of fashion.”