Creative Approaches to Incorporating Bricks in Contemporary Commercial Architecture

In modern architecture, the timeless appeal of brick remains constant. As towns and cities expand and commercial spaces redefine urban aesthetics, architects are continuing to explore innovative ways to integrate traditional materials into contemporary designs. Mathew Davies, National Specification Manager for brick manufacturer Vandersanden, explains how bricks can deliver transformative solutions in commercial architecture.


Designing for sustainability

Bricks are fired from clay, an abundant natural resource. With their durability and thermal mass properties, they offer a sustainable solution for commercial buildings, being both reusable and recyclable. Many brick manufacturers have introduced more sustainable production methods to help ensure that modern brick manufacturing processes reduce the potential impact on the environment. By incorporating bricks into commercial architecture, designers can mitigate the environmental impact of construction projects and help contribute to a more sustainable future.

Exploring brick type, texture and form

The versatility of bricks extends beyond their structural function, offering architects a canvas to explore texture and form. From intricate brick patterns to sculptural facades, the possibilities are limitless, thanks to the diverse range of brick products available. Specifying the right colour, size and texture of facing brick will determine the final look of a commercial building, so the first decision when specifying a brick is deciding what type of brick to use. Each has its own look, production process and properties.

Hand formed: The stock brick

A stock (or hand-form) brick has a coarse, grained surface and a characterful, timeless look. As the name suggests, hand-form bricks were once made by hand. Today, the process is carried out in a production process that mimics the traditional hand-forming technique. The machine rolls the clay into a layer of sand before inserting it into a mould. This creates folds that, after the firing process, give that typical, grained texture that is unique to hand-form bricks.

A special type of stock brick is the aged brick variant. This is usually a patented manufacturing process unique to the manufacturer and an addition to the hand-form technique. After the drying process, the unfired facing bricks are given extra pigments on the visible surface before being tumbled to give them an aged look. This gives a more natural appearance and makes an aged brick look very similar to a reclaimed brick.

Another option for stock bricks is the tumbled option. This has a slightly rougher structure but with the same authentic and timeless appearance.

Waterstruck: A lightly-textured brick

These bricks have a pure look and fine lines. The waterstruck brick is fairly smooth with a lightly-grained texture that is perfect for getting creative with. Water is key to the production process. The clay is not rolled through sand and is, instead, pressed into a wet mould. When the formed clay is removed from the mould, the water runs along the surface of the brick, giving it its typical surface texture.

Wirecut: A smooth and angular brick

In contrast to the stock and waterstruck brick, the wirecut brick is not placed into a mould or compressed. Instead, a machine presses the clay into a long column and cuts it to the size of bricks.

Special techniques are used for added effects on the visible surfaces of the brick. The machine can be equipped with different nozzles and cutting benches, allowing the bricks to be cut into different shapes and sizes. This technique results in a robust and contemporary look, well-suited to contemporary architecture.

There are a number of special manufacturing techniques that architects could consider when designing for commercial architecture. For example, engobed bricks can help to achieve colour nuances and dramatic effect.

By playing with light and shadow, texture and colour, bricks can add depth and character to commercial buildings, making them stand out in urban landscapes.

The brickwork pattern and brick joints

The way in which a brick is laid, the pattern, also has a big influence on the look of a facade. A well-considered brickwork pattern can really help a commercial project stand out and add character. Whether designing a half-brick pattern, stacked pattern, block pattern or random pattern, there is a huge range to choose from. Patterns can even be combined for extra creative dimension.

Another important consideration is the mortar joint. Depending on the brick size you choose, your facade could be as much as 10 to 20% joint. So think carefully about the colour of the joint. The profile of the joint can also influence the look of a facade. In addition to the height of the joint, its depth is important. The deeper the joint, the more it will disappear into the background. The result? An interplay of shadow between the joint and facing brick, making the colour of the brick more projected. Or you could go for joint-free brickwork for a sleek brick facade.

Creative textures

Many brick manufacturers now have digital tools that enable architects and specifiers to try different facade choices when planning a design. Vandersanden, for example, has an online texture generator for its facing bricks and brick slips. This enables architects, property developers and other specifiers to design a facade by combining, among other things, different types of bricks and brick slips, colours, mortar choices, laying patterns and joint thicknesses. In total, the texture generator allows more than 1.1 million combinations to be created and compared. Thanks to cutting-edge technology, the texture generator displays the most detailed and realistic digital reproduction of a facade texture to date.

Creating iconic commercial landmarks

Bricks, with their timeless appeal and longevity, have the potential to define contemporary architecture for generations to come. By pushing the boundaries of design, architects can harness the sustainable and creative possibilities of bricks to create iconic commercial buildings that capture the imagination. Whether it’s a sleek contemporary office block or a vibrant retail complex, bricks have the power to elevate commercial architecture to new heights of innovation and aesthetic appeal.

Share this article

Login to post comments

About us

Future Constructor & Architect is a specification platform for architects and building contractors, which focuses on top-end domestic and commercial developments.

As well as timely industry comment and legislation updates, the magazine covers recent projects and reviews the latest sustainable building products on the market. Subscribe here.

Privacy policy

Latest updates


Sign up below to receive monthly construction, architecture and product updates from FC&A via email: