Brick facades: A practical and contemporary solution

Discover the advantages of brick facades when undertaking new construction or renovation.

Brick has been, and continues to be, an essential building material throughout the centuries and in different cultures, initially with its traditional structural functions as a load-bearing wall, later as an enclosure, and then as the protagonist of coatings and finishes.

Today, architects, designers, and manufacturers have seen the opportunity to develop a new aesthetic with an economical material that stands out for its mechanical characteristics and durability. Numerous housing ventures have innovatively utilized bricks. Lahore Smart city is one of the residential complexes which has used bricks in building a property. 

Although some associate it with a material typical of traditional constructions, brick facades have regained prominence in contemporary architecture thanks to the application of new technologies.

Versatile stuff; Brick is a material that, with little maintenance, offers excellent resistance over time. Hence, it has been used in all typologies and climatic zones.

Its various shades, the wide variety of finishes, and its warmth make it fit into any environment and combine with other materials such as concrete, wood, or steel.

An environmentally friendly option. The brick is obtained from clay subjected to a firing process. Therefore, it does not contain toxic or synthetic substances. In addition, in case of fire, it does not emit harmful gases.

Another of its most advantageous characteristics is its breathability. A house built in brick breathes naturally, which will facilitate the balance in the percentage of humidity in the interior air. Of course, to maintain this characteristic, the use of non-breathable waterproofing paints and coatings must be avoided.

However, to consider brick as a totally “ecological” material, some aspects of its manufacture would have to be solved. On the one hand, to avoid the release of large amounts of CO2 in its firing and to develop the implementation of recycling processes for used brick.

Wide variety of finishes. Klinker is the most used brick in facing brick facades. It is made by extruding a mixture of special clays and water. In addition, it has exceptional durability and beauty. There are different varieties within this type of brick.

  • The flared ones offer tonal varieties to give the facade a more distinctive color and provide it with greater movement
  • The hydrophobic ones contain a special treatment that facilitates their cleaning and makes them maintain their appearance for longer
  • And finally, the enamels that, thanks to a surface treatment with a thin layer of enamel, give the material a characteristic shine

Today, some proposals rescue other types of brick, less noble, to create avant-garde facades based on very cheap materials that were not used as visual materials for facades. This is the case of this small house in Gualba, by Harquitectes, which has a façade with a chamber and an outer sheet of perforated brick (gero brick) placed on the face that is not normally seen.

Adobe brick, used since ancient times, is another widely used type in bioconstruction. It is an unfired mud brick dried in the sun. Clay and sand are used in their composition, a mixture to which additives are added depending on the type of soil and the climate. 

The most used are usually straw and lime. The result is a façade that breathes and has a good capacity to store heat and cold depending on the season. Its biggest disadvantage is the slow manufacturing process.

Self-supporting and Ventilated Facades

In Spain, for decades, the use of the traditional facing brick facade has been widespread in housing construction. Why? The greatest advantages it offers are the following: durability, low maintenance, and economy. In addition, its high technical performance meets the requirements of the Technical Building Code: impermeability, thermal insulation, acoustic insulation, and fire resistance.

However, these facades also have a series of limitations:

  • Structural: because the brick facade rests on the slabs, they are not recommended for building high-rise walls without intermediate supports.
  • Hygrothermal: since these facades do not solve the problem of thermal bridges in the joints between the slabs and the facade, the general thermal insulation of the envelope is weakened.
  • Aesthetic: since they require ceramic plates on the front of the slab. Thus, it can sometimes lead to differences in tonalities between the different pieces.

It is important to point out that, currently, several manufacturers have developed self-supporting and ventilated facing brick facade systems that achieve a clear improvement in the performance of traditional facades.

In addition to maintaining the properties inherent to this material, such as its stability, resistance, aesthetics, and functionality, they also provide solutions to lighting, thermal and acoustic issues thanks to their great insulation capacity.

In this type of façade, as it is self-supporting, the outer brick sheet is separated from the structure, which allows the continuous passage of an air chamber. This results in several advantages that we describe below.

Structural Behavior

The outer sheet of the façade is attached to the building structure using anchors to floors and pillars and is reinforced, so stability problems are avoided.

Hygrothermal Behavior 

Because the brick and the insulation pass continuously in front of the building structure, thermal bridges are eliminated. In addition, the air chamber facilitates circulation inside and improves the hygrothermal performance of the façade.

Acoustic Insulation

The façade is made up of two sheets that are not connected, and in this way its acoustic behavior is optimal.

Aesthetic improvements 

By eliminating the passage of the brick wall through the front of the slab and by not requiring the use of special pieces, possible differences in tonality between the bricks are avoided.

Optimization of the execution process 

The placement of anchors and reinforcement is very simple and does not require specialized labor.

Economic savings

The economic cost is comparable to that of traditional facades since the price of the auxiliary elements (anchors and reinforcements) is offset by the optimization of the workforce.

Translucent facades that protect from the sunIs it possible to build a brick facade that lets in light, filters it, and protects us from excessive sunlight? Yes, within the versatility offered by brick are also lattice facades. 

Through self-supporting brick facades, some flexibility is allowed, and patterns can be created that allow light to pass through in the form of perforated facades, eliminating certain pieces without weakening their structural stability.

In this house in Mexico, designed by Alexanderson Arquitectos, the huge panels of brick lattices generate a play of light and shadow that enriches the spatial path inside. The outer brick layer acts as a solar filter for the interior glass enclosure, creating a chamber that cushions extreme temperatures. The lattice allows the passage of light and the breeze and also creates various light nuances throughout the day.

Today, technologies are being developed that allow the construction of lattices that resemble brick facades through much lighter ceramic element systems that are quick and easy to install.
Flexbrick, for example, is an industrialized system made up of flexible ceramic sheets based on the concept of “ceramic fabric”. It is made up of a steel mesh in which the ceramic pieces are inserted. In this way, it is possible to avoid placing the lattice piece by piece.

A material that can Provide a Wide Variety of Textures and ornaments. The current decorative elements are conceived in many cases as an integral part of the building envelope. Beyond the homogeneous brick facades that we all know, some alternatives and designs play with the texture that this material is capable of creating. Exposed brick has an inherent expressive quality and can generate avant-garde patterns, textures, and reliefs on a façade.

Some techniques have to be carried out on-site and require almost artisanal work. Others need the use of digital technology in the design, planning, and construction phases to achieve complex three-dimensional shapes and patterns through the laying of the brick.

Going beyond the craft practice, there are now techniques for robotically laying bricks and forming digitally generated patterns. This is the case of this renovation of an old Victorian house in Melbourne, by OOF! Architecture. As the main element of the project, a dynamic façade was created based on a brick surface with an original rigging that greets the passer-by.

The façade was designed in collaboration with artist Rose Nolan and stands as a contemporary interpretation of the 1960s and 1970s brick construction heritage of residential buildings and small warehouses in the area.