Trade Secrets: Not Just Another Brick In The Wall

Updated: Jun 4, 2019

In recent blog posts we have talked about the advantages of Cross Laminated Timber, the magic of Dinesen Timber and even the challenges of constructing an award winning building almost entirely of concrete.

But with a number of award winning, recently completed projects that feature various types of brick and blockwork, we thought it was time to shine a light on the humble masonry unit.

At Harris Calnan we are privileged to work with the best manufacturers and craftsman in the business and so we decided to get their views on what's hot and what's not and why this material is one to watch.

And if that isn't enough, we are giving away a copy of Taschen's latest book, 100 Contemporary Brick Buildings by Philip Jodidio - so read on to find out more!

Part 1: The Brickmaker - Ibstock

Darren Mansell

Territory Manager, Specification Stuart Knight

Production Manager, Site

Darren Mansell and Stuart Knight from Ibstock, give us the low-down on what’s new in the manufacturing of bricks and, as the largest maker of bricks in the UK, what trends are on the rise.

HC: The presence of so many contemporary designs that use brick in this year’s RIBA awards suggests that brick is experiencing renewed interest as a modern material - why do you think that is? Ibstock: Whilst fashions and trends come and go, one advantage that brick has is its versatility. Although it has been around for a long time, the array of options has grown dramatically and there are now literally hundreds of choices with regards to colour and texture. Architects are always striving to be original and this innovation and broadening of choice, combined with brick’s relative affordability, helps to make sure that brick is more relevant than ever before.

HC: From what you have seen as the leading manufacturer of bricks in the UK, are there any trends developing towards certain kinds of bricks? Ibstock: In London and most major UK cities we seem to be following trends that have been spurred on by European products, particularly weathered grey or cream products that are longer (50/65mm heights and 290mm or even 440mm lengths) and proportionally thinner than traditional bricks. Likewise, there has also been growth in the use of crisp smooth white, grey, buff, blue, or black bricks of which Thornfield road is a good small scale example.

The products that drove these trends were predominantly European as well, but we have been working hard to develop local alternatives. By keeping up an eye on what’s in demand, we can deliver what people want and reduce transport costs and emissions in the process so everybody wins.

HC: What new technologies are emerging with respect to the brick industry and how will these impact on the built environment in the immediate future? Ibstock: All of our factories conform to the latest BSEN & BES codes and environmental practices (details of which can be found on our website). Brick making technologies haven't changed in many years, indeed some of our works still produce bricks like they did 300 years ago. But the use of recycled materials and our approach to waste, as well as energy and water consumption has improved hugely. Modern brick kilns and works are very efficient & sustainable and new fabrication technologies also allow us to be more adventurous and produce a wider range of prefabricated products like curtain wall panels, arches, under slung soffits and even structural panels.

Case Study: Thornfield Road

After initial discussions to help Feneley Studio select an array of products that would accurately show the client what they wanted to achieve, Ibstock helped them to narrow down the range until the Bevern dark was selected and then approved by the planning authorities. Their technical team also provided detailed drawings/design for the construction phase with the architects visiting the works to meet with Ibstock's Stuart Knight to see first-hand the overall production process of the Bevern Dark multi brick.

Part 2: The Bricklayer

Tom Kasperavicius

Harris Calnan Master Bricklayer

Filling in the joints with insights and tips for brick fans, master brick layer Tomas Kasperavicius has been laying bricks for over twenty years on some of Harris Calnan’s most prestigious projects, from Caruso St John’s Brick Awards winner, The Brick House, to 6a Architects’ 2017 Stirling Prize nominated Photography Studio for Juergen Teller. HC: How long have you worked for Harris Calnan and when did you first start laying bricks? TK: I started at Harris Calnan in January 1997. I had done a little bit of bricklaying back in Lithuania, just self-taught. Then when I came to London, I started with Harris Calnan as a labourer working with John, an Irish bricklayer who was close to retirement. He took me under his wing and trained me so that, when he retired, I stepped into his shoes and have been Harris Calnan’s bricklayer ever since.

HC: Has much changed since then, either with the bricks themselves or the way that they are used? TK: On one hand, things have changed because of how Harris Calnan has changed over time. When I started, we were doing smaller extensions, quite simple stretcher bond, standard brick projects. Now we are building new houses, like Levring House for Jamie Fobert Architects, or even blocks of apartments, like Compton Street for Doone Silver Kerr, using handmade bricks with special coloured mortars. So, the work I have been doing has certainly become more complicated over time and architects also seem to be expecting more from their brickwork than before.

HC: Are there any bricks that are harder to lay than others and what are the drawbacks? TK: Not necessarily harder, but certainly more time consuming. But, to be honest, most of the difficulty is in the setting out. Once you are laying a run of brickwork that is set out correctly and you have a mate who’s willing to work hard, then you are off as fast as you can go. But of course, now we aren’t just laying standard size bricks, so the number of bricks you are laying for each lift of brickwork can vary quite a lot. We have another project coming up, Glentham Road for Pip Horne Studio, and have just completed one, at Broadlands Road for Frank Reynolds Architects, where three colours of Petersen bricks are being used and they have to be laid in a particular pattern. Now, that is time consuming as you are not only setting out levels and laying brick after brick, but you also have to ensure you have laid your bricks out in the correct order before you even start.

HC: Any tips for designers thinking of using brick on their next project? TK: Most architects are very good, particularly where the brickwork is major feature of a project. You will find courses and mortar joints will be properly set out from datum levels, and when we are doing a Flemish bond wall, like at Thornfield Road by Feneley Studio, the coursing will always be marked out clearly to show where they want headers and where they want stretchers – so accurate setting out is essential.It is also important to think about how your bricks, or finished blocks in the case of Juergen Teller’s studio for 6a Architects, will finish up around openings. 6a produced drawings of where every half block would finish around openings, and this helped to ensure we achieved exactly what they wanted. HC: Which project do you consider to be your best work?

TK: I do my best work on all my projects!However, if I had to pick a favourite, I think it would be Fleet House for Stanton Williams, which we are due to complete very soon!

Setting Out Tips From Ibstcok

Ibtsock's Design Magazine is an excellent source of technical data and design solutions - click on the image above for an extract of their technical feature on setting out and click here for to go to the latest issue.

Twitter Competition


So now that we have covered all the bases, we thought we would throw in some inspiration! Harris Calnan are giving away a copy of Philip Jodidio's 100 Contemporary Brick Buildings to one of our lucky readers - for all the info on how to enter - click here.

#newbuild #technical #blockwork #brick #Ibstock #FeneleyStudio #Linked

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