Awarding brick

In the wrong hands bricks are bland and boring and contribute to a barren, soul-sapping built environment. What I saw in Vienna last week was brick at its most inspirational. Wienerberger, the world’s largest brick producer, was handing out its Brick Award 2010. This was a celebration of brick at its best – a splendid combination of innovation, design excellence and craftsmanship, coupled with the diversity of hues, shapes and textures embodied in the material.

Two hundred and sixty projects from 32 countries had been submitted for the Awards. Residential and non-residential structures displaying exposed bricks, clay blocks and paving bricks provided a demonstration of how good brick architecture can achieve unity between functionality and construction, between economy and ecology, and between physical comfort and artistic value.

First prize went to the new State Forum and Parliament building of the Principality of Liechtenstein designed by the Hansjörg Göritz Architecture Studio. Göritz created two buildings – the “high house” and the “long house” – using 680,000 specially customised yellow ochre bricks. Anagram Architects’ Documentation Centre for Human Rights in New Delhi received second prize. Here work areas are shielded from noise, the visual distractions of the street and from direct sunlight by an elaborate brick wall with an optically complex pattern. A single family house in Germany by Nikolaus Bienefeld was awarded third prize. The construction combines an economically priced brick with large mortar joints to create a refreshingly fresh and simple look.

Two special prizes were awarded. The first for the Museum of Architecture for the Island of Hombroich Foundation in Germany by the architects Álvaro Siza and Rudolf Finsterwalder. The second for infrastructure buildings in the Republic of Mali by architect Emilio Caravatti. For me this work had special appeal, Caravatti used locally sourced materials – notably clay to make sun dried adobe bricks – and traditional construction techniques, some of which had been forgotten by the locals. Having learned from their experiences on these construction sites, local trainees have applied their skills in other villages outside their regions and passed on to others the construction techniques they have learned. Surely a fine example of sustainability in all its guises.

Image credit: Wienerberger