Varied, versatile and eye-catching, masonry is an ideal option for any construction project.

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Image: Lipton Plant Architects (020 7288 1333; lparchitects.co.uk)

Thanks to the restrained architecture displayed in major housing developments all over the country, brick houses are often unfairly assumed to have limited design prowess. However, brick is definitely making a comeback as a stylish material choice, with architects embracing its versatility, diversity and durability. Creative treatments, including contrasting colours, making textured 3D facades and producing patterned brickwork, such as herringbone, are all popular options.

The variety of styles makes masonry a good choice for your build – Brickhunter (0808 231 2508; brickhunter.com), for example, sells more than 4,000 different sizes and colours, while Ibstock (0844 800 4575; ibstock.com) has a huge mix and match selection, and that’s before you consider the many different mortar profiles, colours and bond patterns.

Why choose brick?

A brick facade should last 70 to 100 years before needing repointing, according to  eBrick Development Association (BDA) because it resists weather and doesn’t fade or decay. ‘This is a powerful economic advantage,’ says architect Michael Hammett, a former senior architect at the BDA (0207323 7030; brick.org.uk). ‘A project that requires no maintenance will also use fewer resources. Brick doesn’t need preservatives and can be recycled after a property has been taken down.’

A brick build is typically robust, resistant to sound and has thermal properties. Available in bespoke shapes and sizes, and combined with other cladding materials, brickwork remains a popular choice for architects. ‘The design versatility is far-reaching,’ Hammett continues. ‘Bricks can be laid to form structures that are straight or curved, vertical or tilted, in simple flat surfaces or decoratively modelled.’

Buyers guide to bricks4

Image: CDMS Architects (01273 220 407; cdmsarchitects.com)

Bearing the load

Bricks are laid in patterns called bonds, which give structural integrity to a building. The most common is the stretcher bond – courses of bricks with the faces (stretchers) laid on top of one another – which is widely regarded as the most efficient and economical way of laying bricks. Other common variations include English bond, English garden wall bond and the increasingly popular Flemish bond.

‘More variations can be achieved by using contrasting colours of header and stretcher bricks,’ says Andrew Halstead-Smith, group marketing manager at Ibstock, ‘and by alternating the colour of mortar to add emphasis to the bond patterns.’

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Image: Nash Baker Architects (020 7229 1558; nashbaker.co.uk)

Buyers guide to bricks4

Image: MG Architects (0208877 0277; mgarchitects.org)

In a bind

Mortar, which fixes masonry units together, is available in a wide palette of hues, and can be matched to a brick colour or used for contrast and definition. It can be laid in different profiles, which adds to the longevity of the build as well as the aesthetics. A concave or bucket-handle joint is most commonly used and is curved to allow water run-off. A flush joint sits in line with the brick edge. Weatherstruck joints are angled to cast water away and a raked joint is fully recessed. Both emphasise the brick shape and cast shadows as the sunlight moves across the facade.

Brick making

The most widely available bricks are wire cut and produce a crisp-edged finish. Clay pressed into moulds creates softer blocks called stocks and, when water is added, the finish has a streaked appearance. Genuine handmade bricks are never identical and feature variable tones and textures.

‘The advantage of handmade types is that the permutations are endless,’ says Guy Armitage from The York Handmade Brick Company (01347 838 881; yorkhandmade.co.uk). ‘We can make any size and a variety of textures and bespoke colours. Bearing in mind that brickwork is typically 70 per cent of the look of a house, yet accounts for two to four per cent of the construction cost, it’s well worth the marginal extra expense of handmade bricks to give the building individual character.’

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Image: Fraher Architects (020 8291 6947; fraher.co)

Latest developments

Technical advances in manufacturing have enabled brick cladding systems to come to market, which have the benefits of faster construction times, lightweight handling and insulating properties: look out for Forterra’s Wonderwall (01604 707 600; forterra.co.uk), Wienerberger’s Corium (wienerberger.co.uk) and Ibstock Kevington’s Fastwall (01342 718 899; kevington.com). Ibstock also sells Faststack chimneys and Tilebrick, which emulates a traditional tile-hung wall elevation without mortar joints.

Ibstock’s elegant Linear collection (0844 800 4869; linearbrick.co.uk) is the most recent addition to its brick range and was introduced to address a demand for a traditional building material that could be used to produce a sleek, contemporary design.

‘Longer, thinner bricks, as well as glazed finishes in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes, can help differentiate facades and produce distinctive exteriors,’ says Halstead-Smith from Ibstock. ‘We now have more than 70 options in the Linear range.’

Image: Nick Guttridge; Jack Hobhouse; David Vintiner/Ibstock

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