Brick is a material that proves to be timeless. Though it is a somewhat simple building material it is one that is constantly evolving. It is through material research and organisations such as Think Brick Australia that architects and developers are encouraged to re-think its potentials by pursuing contemporary ideas and techniques within brick architecture.
Australian architecture owes greatly to the use of brick; historically it is a building material which initially came into use with the arrival of the First Fleet and subsequently through the works of some of our earliest architects. George Temple Poole was known for his projects in Western Australia and as Government Architect, he created a significant number of prominent brick buildings throughout Perth, such as the Treasury Buildings and Perth Railway Station.
CODA’s interest in brick stems from both an awareness of the historical role it plays in the context of cities and towns throughout Australia as well as the potential it holds for experimentation with its manufacture and laying techniques. A number of CODA projects feature brickwork and demonstrate how research into this enduring material can lead to innovative results and unique architecture.
In 2009, CODA won the Think Brick Australia ‘About Face’ design competition which required each contending architect to demonstrate the use of brick within a mixed use, multi-residential building in an urban environment. The resulting design was situated in Mandurah and sought to address the need for affordable housing. CODA took the opportunity to design a strong civic building that embraced a broader thinking about brick. A significant outcome of the design and research process was the creation of the CODA Brick. Our design was fed by a desire to bring back some of the magic that can be found in old handmade bricks, distinctively characterised by their imperfections, as well as the aspiration to use crafted, unique bonding patterns without the expense and time that generally comes with these laying methods. The CODA brick was a solution for reviving this essence of pattern, texture and variety by combining them into a single brick extrusion that requires standard bricklaying techniques. Innovation and re-thinking demonstrates that a simple, well known and widely used material can be something that evolves, becoming a central design feature leading to notable, yet affordable, architecture.
In addition to being fundamental to the structural performance of a building, the craft of laying bricks offers potential to create diversity in texture and pattern, much like that achieved through the CODA brick. In the Women’s Health and Family Services building, completed in 2011, brick forms a substantial part of the dialogue, incorporating rarely used brick bonds such as the herringbone or checkerboard technique to bring character and texture to the building and its interiors. The use of this bond alongside a standard stretcher bond has allowed for brick to become a feature element, whereby the fundamental character of bricks – their robustness, durability and structural performance is combined with the inherent visual possibilities it holds. Existing brickwork has also been retained and restored in a number of spaces, offering further variety when combined with new masonry work. The diversity of patterns that can be achieved through experimentation with brick, as both a feature element and as part of a whole, highlights the importance of the physical laying of brick and reminds us to research different masonry bonds during the design process.
The simplicity of brick is fundamental to its success. Research into masonry not only provides a realm of knowledge but can also deliver more cost efficient, well-considered projects of architectural merit. It is a material that CODA frequently returns to in our projects where the structural and performance based uses of masonry often hold equal merit to its visual qualities. Here the evolution of brick is interrelated with material research, whether this is through construction, looking into historical uses and context or uncovering the possibilities in manufacture and laying techniques through experimentation. The longevity of brick both in its physical characteristics and strong historical presence suggest it will remain an integral part of the Australian architectural language.