Iran’s geography consists largely of a central desert plateau, surrounded by mountain ranges. Due to the country being mostly covered by earth, sand, and rock, Iranian architecture makes fantastic use of brick or adobe elements. Most of the buildings seen in larger cities such as Tehran and Isfahan are constructed using similar brick-laying methods as can been seen in other parts of the world, but certain constructions, usually ones that date further back, contain incredible geometrical treasures. And it doesn’t stop there - old Iranian architecture often contains a layer of tiles over the brick constructions that can create just as mesmerizing geometrical wonders. The art of creating complexity by using many incredibly simple elements is one that has been mastered in Iran. In an architectural world where construction has become hidden by layers of plaster and plywood, we could learn a lot from the beauty of Iran’s structural geometry, where skin and structure are (almost always) one and the same.
London-based firm Architecture Initiative has released updates of their mixed-use scheme set to transform a neglected brutalist building in Northampton, England. The Northampton International Academy, currently an abandoned Royal Mail sorting office, will be centered around educational, commercial, and community use. The scheme aims to address a need for school places in a manner which contributes to the economic regeneration of the local area.
Henley Halebrown has released updates for their proposed mixed-use scheme in Hackney, London. 333 Kingland Road, previously occupied by a fire station, will soon be home to the Hackney New Primary School, commercial units, and dual aspect apartments. The scheme aims to address a need for school places and homes in London and to maintain a connection between learning and living in a dense urban environment.
As the common phrase attests, “history is written by the victors.” We therefore know that the story of the West is that of Europe and the United States, while the other actors in world history are minimized or invisible: it happened to the Chinese and Japanese during World War II, to the Ottoman Empire in sixteenth-century Europe, and to racial majorities in the common reading of Latin American independence. The same thing happens in architecture.
The current boom of the Global South is based not only on new work, but rather on the recognition of an invisible architecture which was apparently not worthy of publication in the journals of the 1990s. The world stage has changed, with the emergence of a humanity that is decentralized yet local; globalized, yet heterogeneous; accelerated, yet unbalanced. There are no longer red and blue countries, but a wide variety of colors, exploding like a Pollock painting.
This serves as a preamble to consider the outstanding projects of 2016 according to the British critic Oliver Wainwright, whose map of the world appears to extend from New York in the West to Oslo in the East, with the exception of Birzeit in Palestine. The Global South represents more than 40% of the global economy and already includes most of the world’s megacities, yet has no architecture worthy of recognition? We wanted to highlight the following projects in order to expand the western-centric world view, enabling us to truly comprehend the extent of architectural innovation on a global scale.
A building’s materiality is what our bodies make direct contact with; the cold metal handle, the warm wooden wall, and the hard glass window would all create an entirely different atmosphere if they were, say, a hard glass handle, a cold metal wall and a warm wooden window (which with KTH’s new translucent wood, is not as absurd as it might sound). Materiality is of just as much importance as form, function and location—or rather, inseparable from all three.
Here we’ve compiled a selection of 16 materials that should be part of the design vocabulary of all architects, ranging from the very familiar (such as concrete and steel) to materials which may be unknown for some of our readers, as well as links to comprehensive resources to learn more about many of them.
The Wienerberger Brick Award is a global award for modern and innovative brick architecture. Architectural journalists, critics, as well as architects, are invited to submit outstanding projects of modern brick architecture via an easy to handle submission tool until 20th April 2017. The official Brick Award ceremony will take place in Vienna in Spring 2018.
Using concrete and bricks made of raw mud, architects Solanito Benitez, Solano Benitez, Gloria Cabral, Maria Rovea and Ricardo Sargiotti built a wall able to be constructed by the two materials working in tandem. Once the concrete dries, the bricks are washed away, returning the mud back to its natural state, leaving spaces in the lines of concrete, like a kind of negative.
More information and images below.
The wide range in which pieces of masonry can be arranged allows for multiple spatial configurations. Born in a furnace, the brick adorns and reinforces, protects and—to various degrees—brings natural light into spaces that need slight, natural illumination.
Throughout history, traditional brick-laying consisted of predetermined arrangement of parts, and lines of rope to guide the consistency and placement of each individual brick. But there are many other ways to exploit this multi-faceted, timeless material, so we've selected 16 projects that demonstrate the potential of the humble brick.
Below find 16 construction details from projects that use bricks in ingenious ways.
Thanks to a new robot named Hadrian X, we made soon be able to construct an entire brick house in just 2 days. Developed by the appropriately named Australian firm Fastbrick Robotics, the giant truck-mounted robot has the ability to lay up to 1,000 bricks an hour. Its innovation comes via the machine’s 30-meter telescopic boom, which allows the base to remain in a single position throughout the brick-laying process.
Six million yellow bricks on a hilltop just outside Copenhagen form one of the world’s foremost, if not perhaps comparatively unknown, Expressionist monuments. Grundtvigs Kirke (“Grundtvig’s Church”), designed by architect Peder Vilhelm Jensen Klint, was built between 1921 and 1940 as a memorial to N.F.S. Grundtvig – a famed Danish pastor, philosopher, historian, hymnist, and politician of the 19th century. Jensen Klint, inspired by Grundtvig’s humanist interpretation of Christianity, merged the scale and stylings of a Gothic cathedral with the aesthetics of a Danish country church to create a landmark worthy of its namesake.
It was decided in 1912 that Grundtvig, who had passed away in 1873, had been so significant to Danish history and culture that he merited a national monument. Two competitions were held in 1912 and 1913, bringing in numerous design submissions for statues, decorative columns, and architectural memorials.
The Brick Industry Association (BIA) has announced the results of the 2016 Brick in Architecture Awards, given to “the country’s most visionary projects incorporating fired-clay brick.” This year, there were a total of 32 medalists with Best in Class winners in seven categories: Commercial, Educational (Higher Education), Educational (K-12), Healthcare, Municipal/Government, Residential (Multifamily) and Residential (Single Family).
“These winners demonstrate the best of brick’s aesthetic flexibility, and as a material made from abundant natural resources, it’s a perfect strategy in sustainable design,” said Ray Leonhard, BIA’s president and CEO.
Read on for the Best in Class winners:
With their latest facade construction, Iranian architecture firm Sstudiomm explores the potential that brick can offer by utilizing parametric architecture. Instead of relying on unique construction elements for assembly on-site at a later date, in their new project (called, in full, "Negative Precision. On-Site Fabrication of a Parametric Brick Facade // A DIY for Architects") the firm considers how a simple mass-produced element like the brick can be assembled in unique ways by taking advantage of digital technology. While firms like Gramazio Kohler have already developed industrial methods of assembling brickwork following parametric designs, Sstudiomm aims for a more lo-fi approach, creating parametric brick walls using little more than the traditional construction methods found in Iran and a dose of ingenuity.
One man’s trash is another man’s building material. Researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (commonly known as RMIT University) have developed a technique for making bricks out of one of the world’s most stubborn forms of pollution: discarded cigarette butts. Led by Dr. Abbas Mohajerani, the team discovered that manufacturing fired-clay bricks with as little as 1 percent cigarette butt content could completely offset annual worldwide cigarette production, while also producing a lighter, more efficient brick.
Gabinete de Arquitectura’s “Breaking the Siege” – Winner of the Golden Lion at the 2016 Venice Biennale
Bricks are an iconic element of Solano Benítez’s studio. An ancestral material, forged by man using an ancient technique of modeling and baking. Bricks are very versatile, cheap and easy to manufacture – even marginalized areas of the world can afford to build houses with brick. Benítez feels the poetry of brick and has experimented with its versatility, relying solely on bricks as the main construction material. 
Gabinete de Arquitectura's exhibition, designed by Solano Benítez, Gloria Cabral and Solanito Benítez, was awarded the Golden Lion for Best Participant in the International Exhibition, Reporting From the Front, for “harnessing simple materials, structural ingenuity and unskilled labour to bring architecture to underserved communities.”
Though it was once an essential element of all classical structures, the frieze has largely been left behind by architects looking for contemporary façade systems. But at the recently-opened addition to the Kunstmuseum Basel, designed by Swiss architects Christ & Gantenbein in collaboration with design group iart, the frieze returns with an eye-catching, technological twist, as hidden pixels within the facade light up to display moving images and text to those below.
Jyväskylä, a city whose status as the center of Finnish culture and academia during the nineteenth century earned it the nickname “the Athens of Finland,” awarded Alvar Aalto the contract to design a university campus worthy of the city’s cultural heritage in 1951. Built around the pre-existing facilities of Finland’s Athenaeum, the new university would be designed with great care to respect both its natural and institutional surroundings.
The city of Jyväskylä was by no means unfamiliar to Aalto; he had moved there as a young boy with his family in 1903 and returned to form his practice in the city after qualifying as an architect in Helsinki in 1923. He was well acquainted with Jyväskylä’s Teacher Seminary, which had been a bastion of the study of the Finnish language since 1863. Such an institution was eminently important in a country that had spent most of its history as part of either Sweden or Russia. As such, the teaching of Finnish was considered an integral part of the awakening of the fledgling country’s national identity.
Originally built as the headquarters for the Finnish Communist Party, the House of Culture (Kultuuritalo in Finnish) has since established itself as one of Helsinki’s most popular concert venues. Comprising a rectilinear copper office block, a curved brick auditorium, and a long canopy that binds them together, the House of Culture represents the pinnacle of Alvar Aalto’s work with red brick architecture in the 1950s.
Occupying the center of a small farming town in Finland, Säynätsalo’s Town Hall might appear almost too monumental for its context. Designed by Alvar Aalto in 1949, the town hall is a study in opposition: elements of classicism and the monumental blended with modernity and intimacy to form a cohesive new center-point for the community. These and other aspects of the design initially proved somewhat divisive, and the Town Hall has not been without controversy since its inception.