“Brick is Beautiful” was a slogan used by the Brick Industry in a successful advertising campaign in the 1980s. There are many local bricklayers in London who believe that there should be another campaign with the slogan “Brick is Still Beautiful”. It is worth taking time to consider whether or not this slogan would be valid considering the very different context in which properties are built today.
Whilst in the 1980s it was sufficient for brick to qualify as beautiful by offering an attractive, durable finish that mellowed with age, today people expect much more from a material for it to be considered “beautiful”. In the 1980s the building industry had little concept of sustainability, whereas today every material is expected to trumpet its sustainability credentials whilst taking a sideswipe at the claims of others.
The Brick Industry grasped the point of sustainability in 2001 when it became one of the first industries to issue its sustainability strategy. This contained a set of Key Performance Indicators covering social progress, effective protection of the environment, prudent use of resources, and the development of economic factors. These targets and the progress towards them are reported annually. Some people choose to compress sustainability into a consideration of energy use defined as the emission of CO2. The Brick Industry measures this annually and also reports on it under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.
Competing materials claim that this is the Achilles heel of the Industry, but if you were to spread the CO2 emissions from the brick in a square metre of brickwork over a life of 120 years it comes out as 0.000232 tonnes of CO2 / sq metre / per annum. This carbon isn’t “locked up” to be released at the end of life. It has already been expended and the longer the building exists, the better the value.
Longevity is a valuable asset, but when it is coupled with future-proofing and easy adaptability, it is even more valuable. Studies have shown that as global warming increases lightweight structures are likely to require air-conditioning to maintain reasonable internal conditions, whilst the thermal mass inherent in heavyweight structures can be used to moderate temperature changes. Masonry structures have proved to be easily adaptable and therefore able to fulfil new functions extending the life of the building. A responsible designer will take these points into consideration when thinking about the sustainability of a proposed building and will appreciate that brick fulfils the requirements “beautifully”.
Photo Acknowledgements (Top to Bottom)
St Pancras Midland Road – Image courtesy of: Flickr user amandabhslater. Original image
London Docklands Blue Brick – Image courtesy of: Flickr user Jenniferboyer Original Image
Mary Ward House Tavistock Sq – Image Courtesy of George P Landow Victorianweb.org
Dockland Red Chimney – Image courtesy of: Flickr user DavidReber Original Image