Bricks have long been a highly sought-after material. They are favoured by builders and architects for their durability, high thermal value, and excellent cradle-to-grave story. At the end of their life in one building, the material can easily be recycled to form new bricks or even other building materials, such as aggregate for concrete or a sub-base for pavement and roads.
Although the many benefits of brick make it easy for the industry to rest on its laurels, architects and manufacturers around the world continue to find new ways to improve the long-favoured material.
We look at some of the most exciting innovations to come out of the brick industry in the last five years.
Bloque Termodisipador BT by Sumart Diseño y Arquitectura SAS
© Sumart Diseño y Arquitectura
Colombian architects Miguel Niño and Johanna Navarro have developed a new type of ceramic brick for the construction of architectural enclosures and façades. Manufactured in the same way as traditional fired clay bricks, the BT – Bloque Termodisipador features a unique semi-hollow cross-section and an unusual rectangle-scalene triangle shape.
Unlike typical rectangular bricks, which when laid flat next to each together cause an entire wall to be exposed to solar radiation for extended periods of time, BT’s irregular scalene triangle form means there is a gap between each brick. This protects walls or structures made from BT against solar radiation and the transfer of heat.
“The channels that make up the irregular triangle allow ventilation to pass through them, quickly dissipating the temperature of the brick, and reducing the amount of heat transmitted inside,” the architects explain.
The surface of the BT - Bloque Termodisipador, is made out of an irregular triangle, where the longest side has a 114° angle, an angle that faces solar radiation in the maximum amount of sunlight (24°). This angle allows the UV rays to be redirected upward and not to the ground. © Sumart Diseño y Arquitectura
WasteBasedBricks by StoneCycling
StoneCycling is a Dutch company that turns industrial waste into new building materials. WasteBasedBricks, their range of upcycled bricks, are made from various types of waste that have been combined in different ways to create new colours, shapes, sizes and textures.
While some combinations may be handmade, others may be machine-made. This gives specifiers the flexibility to order a standardised batch or something that has been custom-formed for their project.
The bricks can also be ordered raw, where what you see is what you get. This type of formation has either been ‘sliced’ so that the brick’s interior is revealed, or ‘punched’, where one side of the brick is indented to create an uneven but deeper look and feel. All bricks are manufactured to meet industry requirements.
Photography by Ossip
The very first house to be built with WasteBasedBricks was completed in Rottendam in 2016. Together with the architects, Architectuur Maken, StoneCycling combined their Caramel Raw & Sliced bricks for the home’s playful and unique façade. Almost 15,000 kilograms of waste was upcycled into the bricks.
Israeli company Kite Bricks have developed a new type of Smart Bricks. These bricks look, and are joined together, like realistic blocks of Lego.
Smart Bricks are made of high-strength concrete in order to withstand earthquakes and weather-related stresses. They are specifically designed to be easily joined together, with open internal spaces for insulation and infrastructure elements to run through.
Furthermore, the bricks’ faces are removable, allowing leaky pipes or frayed cables to be fixed without damaging walls and floors.
Some of the innovation’s key benefits include faster, more precise and cheaper construction, with the company estimating that using its Smart Bricks could save up to 50 percent of the total expenses associated with building an eight-storey building. The bricks also boast excellent thermal properties. The main advantage of Smart Bricks, however, is that they pave the way for a new, smarter approach to building.
As Kite Bricks puts it:
“Real alternatives to the Smart Brick do not exist. Most blocks are ‘dumb’ in that they simply provide a structural scaffolding onto or through which important elements are decorated – just as was done 100 years ago.
“Some ‘advanced’ blocks may include insulation. The Smart Brick offers it all: high thermal control, full passage of pipes, wires, cables and the like, finishes for both indoors and outdoors, extraordinary tensile strength, ease of construction, safety of materials, and total application throughout a structure – floors, ceilings, and walls.”
Smart Bricks are now the basis of a new construction system that is being covered by issued and pending US patents, and which could change the automated building industry significantly.
BioBricks by bioMason
A&D first announced in 2014 that bioMason, winner of the 2014 Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Challenge, had come up with a way to grow bricks in a mold, rather than baking them in a kiln.
Their product, the bioBrick, is made from bacterial by-products that cement sand particles together in a matrix strong enough for use in home construction. Made in ambient temperatures, this cementation process takes about five days to form, with the resulting product comparable in terms of cost and quality to traditional masonry bricks.
“At bioMason, we grow our materials by employing micro-organisms to grow cement,” the company explains.
“The process of growing bricks is similar to hydroponics, whereby units mixed with the microorganism are fed an aqueous solution to harden the bricks to specification.”
bioMason has set up a pilot plant in Durham, NC, which at the moment, is capable of producing up to 1,500 bricks each week. Images: bioMason
A greener alternative to traditional fired clay bricks, whose kiln firing process releases a range of energy pollutants and CO2, the BioBrick’s ‘founding ingredients’ are natural and globally abundant.
By eliminating the need for firing, the product’s manufacturing process could make a dent in the estimated 800 million tonnes of CO2 released each year by the creation of traditional bricks.