After my wildly successful treatise on Brutalism (Ha!) two high school friends encouraged me to continue my architectural forays by offering some enlightenment about that most utilitarian of building materials - the brick. Now if I didn't know them so well, I might have assumed that this suggestion was a polite way of saying 'Who cares?' and consequently passed on the opportunity. But as one is an engineer and the other is an architect, I knew they were genuinely interested and couldn't wait for this next installment. Little did they know that I love photographing brick constructions so my photo library is replete with images just ready to go. So, emboldened by their encouragement and having ready access to images, I offer this essay on the importance of the humble brick in architecture.
The process of manufacturing brick imbues humble clay and earth with rich shapes, textures and colors all amenable to the brick-makers creativity. Skilled architects have used these rich features to advantage in the creation of simple and ornate designs, the possibilities limited only by the architects' imaginations and the load-bearing capacity of their brick creations. The evolution and use of steel and other structural materials and approaches in the twentieth century liberated bricks from primarily serving a weight-bearing, structural role opening up even greater opportunities for their use in decorative applications. Even the modernists found ways to incorporate bricks into the plain, smooth aesthetics for which their buildings are known.
Recently, new strategies for using bricks in the construction of modern buildings, techniques like the twisted veil, rippled skin, perforated grid and lattice layering techniques, have joined classic patchwork, archway and flat brick treatments. The nearly limitless variety of shapes, patterns, textures, geometries and color now made possible by the individual and collective properties of bricks present the photographer in me with an irresistible potpourri of photographic opportunities to capture the geometric abstracts I covet. I've shared just a few of my favorites in this post.
I realize I have marginal credibility when it comes to architectural critiques. So in closing I'll rely on the words of three architects with impeccable bona fides to authoritatively support my case - Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto and Frank Lloyd Wright.
While addressing a conference in Milwaukee Frank Lloyd Wright told the audience,
'Ladies and gentlemen do you know what a brick is? It's trivial and worth 11 cents; its common and valueless but possesses a peculiar characteristic. Give me this brick and it will be worth its weight in gold."Citing Wright's declaration, Aalto stated that,
'That was perhaps the only time I heard in public, stated clearly and bluntly, what architecture really is. Architecture is the transformation of a worthless brick into something worth its weight in gold."But I think Mies van der Rohe said it most succinctly,
'Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins."And here I'll end.
So, I may be one brick short of a load, but I know what I like.