The Colors of Brick

The Colors of Brick

Morovian Church / 70F Architecture. Image © Luuk KramerHVM House / M2.senos. Image © Ivo TavaresBlack Volcano / Urban Mesh Design. Image © Charles HoseaMaria Montessori Mazatlán School / EPArquitectos + Estudio Macías Peredo. Image © Onnis Luque+ 48

Brick is one of the most popular materials for architects designing with a vintage or rustic aesthetic: exposed brick walls are often touted as highly desirable for apartments, restaurants, and stores, and exterior brick facades can make a building or home feel warmer and more inviting. However, the color and cut of the brick can greatly influence the atmosphere it emanates, with white brick lending itself to more minimalist design and tan brick tending to feel more rustic and earthy. In this article, we will explore some of the most popular brick colors, ways to artificially color brick, and recent projects that use brick facades or interior brick elements effectively.

Chuon Chuon Kim 2 Kindergarten / KIENTRUC O. Image © Hiroyuki Oki
Chuon Chuon Kim 2 Kindergarten / KIENTRUC O. Image © Hiroyuki Oki

When choosing a brick color to design with, architects must consider the aesthetic they hope to achieve and, particularly for brick exteriors, the colors and styles of surrounding structures. Popular brick colors include red, white, tan, brown, orange, gray, or black, with many different variations within them as well as a wide variety of styles and cuts.

Chuon Chuon Kim 2 Kindergarten / KIENTRUC O. Image © Hiroyuki Oki
Chuon Chuon Kim 2 Kindergarten / KIENTRUC O. Image © Hiroyuki Oki
Brick House / Christi Azevedo. Image © Cesar Rubio
Brick House / Christi Azevedo. Image © Cesar Rubio

Red

Red brick is the most traditional color of brick, and is often associated with older or more classic styles of architecture, such as the colonial style in the U.S. It can thus be used to create a vintage or traditional aesthetic, or to adapt a new building to the character of an older neighborhood.

Red House / William Morris and Philip Webb. Image Courtesy of Flickr user Gabrielle Ludlow
Red House / William Morris and Philip Webb. Image Courtesy of Flickr user Gabrielle Ludlow
Melbourne Vernacular Project / Melbourne Vernacular + Altereco Design. Image © Nikole Ramsay
Melbourne Vernacular Project / Melbourne Vernacular + Altereco Design. Image © Nikole Ramsay
Melbourne Vernacular Project / Melbourne Vernacular + Altereco Design. Image © Nikole Ramsay
Melbourne Vernacular Project / Melbourne Vernacular + Altereco Design. Image © Nikole Ramsay

For example, William Morris and Philip Webb’s 1860 Red House emulates architecture from the Middle Ages, utilizing classic red brick for its exterior in contrast to the fashionable stucco finishes of the time period. The red brick is essential to the Arts and Crafts movement’s emphasis on historical vernacular architecture and ordinary materials. Likewise, in Altereco Design’s Melbourne Vernacular Project, the connection to an older structure is literal as the original red brick paving from a hundred-year-old worker’s cottage is reincorporated into its modern renovation. The red brick wall both retains the rustic aesthetic and adds to the sustainability of the project due to its reuse and thermal qualities.

YONG Building / DAAL. Image © Bae Jihun
YONG Building / DAAL. Image © Bae Jihun
Saint Peter House / Proyecto Cafeína + Estudio Tecalli. Image © Patrick Lopez
Saint Peter House / Proyecto Cafeína + Estudio Tecalli. Image © Patrick Lopez

More contemporary examples include DAAL’s YONG Building in South Korea, which combines modern design with a red brick exterior to match the distinctive red brick style of the area. Similarly, Proyecto Cafeína and Estudio Tecalli’s Saint Peter House takes advantage of local brick producers by designing a textured red brick exterior. Finally, UAD’s Shuyang Art Gallery tempers the cutting-edge contemporary design of the structure through its use of a traditional red brick façade.

Shuyang Art Gallery / UAD. Image © Qiang Zhao
Shuyang Art Gallery / UAD. Image © Qiang Zhao
Shuyang Art Gallery / UAD. Image © Qiang Zhao
Shuyang Art Gallery / UAD. Image © Qiang Zhao
Benziger Hospice Home / Srijit Srinivas - ARCHITECTS. Image © Prasanth Mohan, Running Studios
Benziger Hospice Home / Srijit Srinivas - ARCHITECTS. Image © Prasanth Mohan, Running Studios

Tan / Brown

Tan and brown bricks are very similar to red bricks in their commonness and in their modes of use. Many bricks may also be some combination of red, tan, and brown. Nevertheless, tan and brown bricks differ from noticeably red bricks in that in many places they tend less toward strong historical associations and maintain instead a timeless, earthy, natural aesthetic.

The Bricks House / HGE Architect. Image © Sebastien Veronese
The Bricks House / HGE Architect. Image © Sebastien Veronese
The Bricks House / HGE Architect. Image © Sebastien Veronese
The Bricks House / HGE Architect. Image © Sebastien Veronese
House in Azpitia / Estudio Rafael Freyre. Image © Edi Hirose
House in Azpitia / Estudio Rafael Freyre. Image © Edi Hirose

HGE Architects deliberately requested brown rather than traditionally red bricks for their Bricks House to ensure that the façade matched the tone of the surrounding landscape. Estudio Rafael Freyre’s House in Azpitia similarly boasts a dusty tan brick exterior to match the colors of the dry Peruvian mountains. The architects of HVM House, however, chose brown as an intermediate color brick to convey comfort and balance, and also to allow qualitative aging.

© Edi Hirose
© Edi Hirose
HVM House / M2.senos. Image © Ivo Tavares
HVM House / M2.senos. Image © Ivo Tavares
Lucky Penny / Biasol: Design Studio. Image © Martina Gemmola
Lucky Penny / Biasol: Design Studio. Image © Martina Gemmola
Lucky Penny / Biasol: Design Studio. Image © Martina Gemmola
Lucky Penny / Biasol: Design Studio. Image © Martina Gemmola

White

White brick, which may feel cleaner and more modern than traditional red or brown brick, is a common choice for stores, restaurants, and apartments aiming for a simultaneously chic and vintage look. For example, Biasol: Design Studio’s Lucky Penny coffee shop achieves the milieu of a vintage Scandinavian-inspired venue through its combination of white brick walls, blonde timber floors, industrial lights, and plants. The Greenwich Village Junzi Kitchen achieves a similarly vintage chic aesthetic through its combination of white brick walls, teal tiles, and pink neon lights.

Bleecker Street / Junzi Kitchen. Image © Andres Orozco
Bleecker Street / Junzi Kitchen. Image © Andres Orozco
Bleecker Street / Junzi Kitchen. Image © Andres Orozco
Bleecker Street / Junzi Kitchen. Image © Andres Orozco
A Simple Brick Interior / Pencil Office. Image Courtesy of Pencil Office
A Simple Brick Interior / Pencil Office. Image Courtesy of Pencil Office

Of course, white brick architecture extends beyond this particular mode of use: Pencil Office’s design for Commune Bistro, for example, uses perforated white brick walls to create an undulating optical effect reminiscent of optical artists Bridget Riley or Victor Vasarely. Architects Héctor Torres and Andrea Torregrosa use white brick walls and otherwise neutral colors in their UVB House to afford occupants unadulterated views of the garden and sky. 70F Architecture’s Morovian Church even uses white brick for religious reasons, with white being an important color to the liturgy of the Moravian church and the white brick exterior generating an adequately somber character.

UVB House / Héctor Torres & Andrea Torregrosa. Image © Liven Photography
UVB House / Héctor Torres & Andrea Torregrosa. Image © Liven Photography
Morovian Church / 70F Architecture. Image © Luuk Kramer
Morovian Church / 70F Architecture. Image © Luuk Kramer
YA VSESVIT / Yakusha Design & Architecture Studio. Image © Mikey Estrada
YA VSESVIT / Yakusha Design & Architecture Studio. Image © Mikey Estrada
YA VSESVIT / Yakusha Design & Architecture Studio. Image © Mikey Estrada
YA VSESVIT / Yakusha Design & Architecture Studio. Image © Mikey Estrada

Black

Like white brick, black brick often lends itself to a sleek, modern style of design, with the monochromatic color encouraging experiments with form and contrast. Yakusha Design & Architecture Studio’s YA VSESVIT, shown above, exemplifies the clean and modern effect of black brick.

Hollande Béthune Social Housing / FRES Architectes. Image © Philippe Ruault
Hollande Béthune Social Housing / FRES Architectes. Image © Philippe Ruault
House Embracing Sky / ArchiWorkshop. Image © Juneyoung Lim
House Embracing Sky / ArchiWorkshop. Image © Juneyoung Lim

FRES ArchitectesHollande Béthune Social Housing, meanwhile, combines a black brick façade with yellow window frames and doors, creating a visually interesting exterior through contrasting colors and textures. ArchiWorkshop’s House Embracing Sky achieves a similar effect with windows, filled with yellow light, punctuating the black brick exterior.

Black Volcano / Urban Mesh Design. Image © Charles Hosea
Black Volcano / Urban Mesh Design. Image © Charles Hosea
Black Volcano / Urban Mesh Design. Image © Charles Hosea
Black Volcano / Urban Mesh Design. Image © Charles Hosea

In contrast, Urban Mesh Design’s Black Volcano amalgamates a wide variety of different colors and textures rather than simply two. The solid black color of one section of the façade also accentuates the internal differences in texture and pattern. Wise Architecture similarly utilizes the monotony of the black brick to experiment with form in MU:M Office Building, incorporating fabric-like creases, folds, and curves into the rectangular façade.

MU:M Office Building / Wise Architecture. Image © Kyung Roh
MU:M Office Building / Wise Architecture. Image © Kyung Roh
MU:M Office Building / Wise Architecture. Image © Kyung Roh
MU:M Office Building / Wise Architecture. Image © Kyung Roh
Baan Pomphet Hotel and Restaurant / onion. Image © Wison Tungthumya
Baan Pomphet Hotel and Restaurant / onion. Image © Wison Tungthumya
Baan Pomphet Hotel and Restaurant / onion. Image © Wison Tungthumya
Baan Pomphet Hotel and Restaurant / onion. Image © Wison Tungthumya
The Klinker Cultural Centre, Winschoten / atelier PRO. Image © Roland Halbe
The Klinker Cultural Centre, Winschoten / atelier PRO. Image © Roland Halbe

Other colors of brick, including gray, pink, or orange, may be less common and have less defined characteristics. Structures using orange brick, for example, may do so because of the particular qualities of a specific material or brick manufacturer, as was the case with the Baan Pomphet Hotel and Restaurant, the architect of which cited BPK Brick’s firewood baking technique as the reason for the unique orange color. The Klinker Cultural Centre in Winschoten similarly used orange brick due to the cultural significance of local orange Groningen clay.

© Luis Asin
© Luis Asin
Apartment Renovation for a Musician in Madrid / idearch studio. Image © Joaquin Mosquera
Apartment Renovation for a Musician in Madrid / idearch studio. Image © Joaquin Mosquera

These anecdotal examples also serve to demonstrate that there is no single natural brick color – rather, colors may vary depending on location, local materials, firing temperature, the atmosphere in the kiln, and more. Most bricks burn to various hues of red: as the temperature increases, this red may progress from dark red, to purple, to brown or grey. Similarly, naturally pink bricks are usually the result of high iron content, while naturally white or yellow bricks are the result of high lime content. 

Lucky Penny / Biasol: Design Studio. Image © Martina Gemmola
Lucky Penny / Biasol: Design Studio. Image © Martina Gemmola
Eleva Offices Renovation / ALMA de Arquitectos. Image © Cesar Bejar
Eleva Offices Renovation / ALMA de Arquitectos. Image © Cesar Bejar

Moreover, bricks may also be painted or stained to alter their original color. Painting a brick helps mask the natural texture of the brick, which may be useful for architects seeking a cleaner or slicker design. It is typically preceded by a rigorous cleaning of the brick, followed by the application of a latex primer, after which the paint is finally applied using specific masonry paint products. However, painting brick, by creating a film over the original texture, may trap moisture and require increased maintenance to maintain the original appearance.

ABC Building / Wise Architecture. Image © Chin HyoSook
ABC Building / Wise Architecture. Image © Chin HyoSook
ABC Building / Wise Architecture. Image © Chin HyoSook
ABC Building / Wise Architecture. Image © Chin HyoSook

Staining brick maintains the original texture rather than masking it, and has more permanent effects due to the forming of a chemical bond. This effect also makes staining lower maintenance, less prone to water damage, and therefore a more effective method for exterior bricks, whereas painting may be more effective for interiors. However, architects are recommended to consult brick manufacturers or painters for more comprehensive information.

Old brick house / AtelierJun. Image © Namgoong Sun
Old brick house / AtelierJun. Image © Namgoong Sun
Black Rhino Academy / NLÉ. Image © Iwan Baan
Black Rhino Academy / NLÉ. Image © Iwan Baan
Maria Montessori Mazatlán School / EPArquitectos + Estudio Macías Peredo. Image © Onnis Luque
Maria Montessori Mazatlán School / EPArquitectos + Estudio Macías Peredo. Image © Onnis Luque
A Simple Brick Interior / Pencil Office. Image Courtesy of Pencil Office
A Simple Brick Interior / Pencil Office. Image Courtesy of Pencil Office

Altogether, the possibilities afforded by colored bricks are endless, ranging from the rustic to the chic to the modern to the experimental. Architects should consider this variety of aesthetic outcomes alongside practical considerations such as surroundings and available materials to maximize the effects of their design.

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About this author
Cite: Lilly Cao. "The Colors of Brick" 29 Jul 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/944493/the-colors-of-brick> ISSN 0719-8884
Shuyang Art Gallery / UAD. Image © Qiang Zhao

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