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I was trawling the internet for beautiful examples of Sigurd Lewerentz’s work and came across my former university college – The Manchester School of Architecture, Continuity – and their blog of his work.

Often regarded as the master of brick, Lewerentz famously created St Mark’s church (pictured above) entirely of brick without cutting a single one, and created what some considered almost perfect, reflected in Adam Caruso’s Sigurd Lewerentz and a Material Basis for Form His wonderful arrangement of structures creates incredibly charged spaces which result in very successful schemes with no better example than Klippan.


I always enjoy talking to users of high profile architect’s buildings. I was having a conversation with someone who works for the New York Times as we strolled past Central Saint Giles, Renzo Piano Building Workshop‘s latest project in London, the subject turned to what is was like to work in the New York Times Building. Amongst what was a suspected reply of how comfortable it was, with great views and its beautiful external aesthetics was the building’s inability to deal with the New York winter.

One of the building’s key design features is a ceramic screen over a glass curtain wall system (shown above) which is used for daylight harvesting. Basically ceramics have a high thermal mass (they hold on to heat for longer) and so create a thermal boundary between the glass and outside. What was clearly not thought about is that ceramics, as well as holding onto heat very well also hold on to cold very well. This has resulted, so I am informed, with sheet ice forming on the ceramic screen during the colder winter months and the building having to close its main entrance for health and safety reasons (so you don’t get chopped in half by falling sheet ice). I suppose even the most highly regarded architects occasionally miss a detail.

Recently I was given a tour of the Brick Lane Mosque. It is a very good example of how a building can be re-appropriated for another use, but one of the more interesting features was this carpet. Only used in one space in the building (the upper floor space above the main prayer space), it is a carpet featuring a prayer mat pattern. Personally I have a preference for the traditional hard surface with individual mats for prayer, which allows a space to be more flexible, but I do love the quirkiness of this.

Above is an image of Alvar Aalto’s Baker House, Cambridge, Mass (1946-49) taken from Brick: A World History by James W.P. Campbell. Aalto’s use of brick as an elevational treatment for the Baker House is of particular interest because of his use of twisted and distorted overburnt bricks. They are used at intervals to add interest to the surface, but laid to protrude from the wall they would make an interesting contrast to regular bricks if applied to a Brick Pattern.

Brick Lane in London is a excellent example of middle eastern culture inhabiting a part of a british city. The area shows a delicate hybrid of cultures with many middle eastern activities being practiced in re-appropriated english buildings with little if any impact on the exterior. One elevation of note in amongst this very british vernacular, which includes landmarks such as the Truman Brewery, is Fashion Street. The aesthetics of the buildings that run the length of the street have clearly been created by merging both cultures vernacular styles to create something new. My feelings are that a lot of the decorative work is unnecessary, however the forms of the fenestration; taking a very industrial window and adding a slight islamic twist, generates fantastic forms. The strength of a material such as brick, and it’s use in both architectural styles, permits very subtle detailing to create a building which would feel comfortable amongst both.

Constructed iaround 1353, Sultaniya, Iran; the Tomb of Chelebi Oghlu is a superb precedent for what can be achieved decoratively with brick. Using standardized dimensioned bricks a repetitive islamic geometric pattern has been created without what some would consider the excessive nature of Brick Expressionism. The subtle use of different colored bricks is similar in language to Alvar Aalto’s Baker House, where twisted and distorted overburnt bricks were used at intervals of a seemingly plain elevation.

Despite the regular use of domes, the Minaret is the only architectural feature that is synonymous with mosques. Above are two examples of highly decorated minarets, separated by just short of 900 years. The much discussed Brick Lane minaret, constructed at the end of 2009 is a stainless steel structure, rising up to 90ft in amongst a highly dense part of London. The minaret is the first religious structure added to a building that has been used to house worshipers of different religions over around four centuries and has been accused of pointlessly labeling a structure that does not require it. It is however a beautifully worked piece of metal sculpture. The Islamic pattern is clinically cut using some sort of Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM), most likely a water jet cutter; as suggested for cutting the Wallpaper Balustrade. The other, the Kalyan Minaret located in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Constructed in 1127, this looks like a possible precedent for the whole Brick Expressionism movement, with the brick used as decoration and well as structure.

The term Brick Expressionism is used to describe a technique used most predominantly in Germany during the 1920s, using brick as a decorative material as well as a structural one. Developed during the same time period as Bauhaus, where all ornamentation was removed, expressionist architecture showed what could be achieved using a very plain construction material. Above shows the Reemtsma Cigarette Factory by Fritz Höger where the rotation of rectangular bricks creates a beautiful spiral column. More examples can be found here, including the Fernmeldeamt which is a great example of industrial styled architecture with intricate facade details.

A comprehensive collection of London Pubs by Postcode by Ewan Munro on Flickr, found here.

How do you embody the essence of a house? Why cast the thing in concrete of course!

Many people will already be aware of Rachel Whiteread’s Turner prize winning sculpture, but for me the most interesting thing is this freeze frame recording of an archetypal domestic situation’s ability to express internal atmosphere by looking at it externally. It also shows that a singular structure can sit happily on the verge of an open space.