WORDS Jo Buitendacht PHOTOS Courtesy of Studio KO; Marc Shoul (Gregory Katz); Frans Roux and Nic Huisman (Barnato Hall); DOOK (House of The Big Arch); Edmund Sumner (Maya Somaiya Library); Parham Taghioff and Deed Studio (Kohan Ceram); Supplied
Face brick’s back, baby – and its devotees couldn’t be more thrilled.
You probably associate face brick with cookie-cutter Highveld complexes and civic structures. Over decades, these building blocks that require neither paint nor plaster have earned a bit of a bad rep. But it wasn’t always the case: at one time, face brick was a key player in local design, and brilliant local architects used the material to create buildings of real beauty.
Take Pretoria-based architect Norman Eaton. From the 1930s onwards, he was known for using face brick to create a cool yet rough mid-century look, influenced by African form. This trailblazer’s inspiration came from the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, and his use of unadorned brick put him way ahead of his contemporaries.
Eaton showed that the brick suited many situations, spaces and seasons. It works well for both residential and commercial structures, and is affordable and easy to maintain. Perhaps most intriguingly, its sheer simplicity pushes creatives out of the box, demanding it be used in imaginative and new ways.
Happily, enlightened local and international architects are thinking like Eaton once more. Almost 100 years later, here is a selection of contemporary face-brick builds that really rock.
Yves Saint Laurent Museum, Marrakech
Built in 2017, the museum houses French fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent’s extensive collection of clothing, accessories and sketches. Designed by French Studio KO, it’s an exercise in simplicity and sexy lines. The brick pattern on the exterior of the building takes inspiration from threads of fabric, and its terracotta bricks were fashioned from Moroccan earth. This Marrakech jewel is now so acclaimed that Studio KO has recently released a book on the project: Yves Saint Laurent Museum Marrakech (Phaidon) is a visual diary that takes readers on a journey through the 1 423 days in which this brick beauty was built. It’s a coffee-table essential.
Gregory Katz Architecture
The Gardens, Johannesburg | Corner Fox, Johannesburg
Whether it’s in his own home/studio or on affordable housing in the Joburg inner city, Gregory Katz is no stranger to creative brickwork. High-density apartment block Corner Fox (top) is an eye-catching ode to money-savvy materials: using stock brick, face brick and paint in an array of pink hues, the outcome is functional, hardy and striking. On the other end of the spectrum, in Gregory’s suburban home (bottom), concrete frames creatively placed red brick reclaimed from a brickyard.
26’10 South Architects
Extension to Barnato Hall student residence, Johannesburg
26’10 South Architects were tasked with providing an additional 150-odd rooms to Wits University’s Barnato residence. Crafting a clever extension that clips onto the existing building’s infrastructure meant that the project was delivered for 30% less than a new build. Its new brick-skin facade was envisioned as a “beautifully textured quilt”, and was created with a mix of standard and special bricks. The latter were leftovers from commissioned ranges, and sourced from brickyards.
House of the Big Arch, Waterberg mountains
Breath-taking brick inspiration comes from the House of the Big Arch by design firm Frankie Pappas. Located in a nature reserve, the home aims to fade into its background, letting the landscape take centre stage. It was constructed using glass and aluminium, but it’s the rough stock brick, selected to match the surrounding sandstone, that steals the show – proof that stock brick can be exceedingly beautiful.
s P + A
Maya Somaiya Library, Kopargaon | Sienna Apartments, Hyderabad
India’s Maya Somaiya Library (above) by sP+A (Sameep Padora and Associates) is a face-brick masterclass – and a worthy winner of multiple design awards. Constructed using brick tiles and inspired by historic vault structures, this addition to a children’s library provides a place to study (the interior) and space to play (a walkable roof). Comparatively, the firm’s Sienna Apartments in Hyderabad (top) were built by master brick masons. It’s a mind- (and brick-) bending structure reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
Kohan Ceram building, Tehran
There aren’t many celebrations of brick like the Kohan Ceram building – and since it houses a brick-manufacturing company, this is especially fitting. Iranian architecture firm Hooba Design created a unique “spectacled brick” for the project (manufactured at the Kohan Ceram factory, of course). Semi-transparent yet solid, and recyclable too, the bricks are cost-effective to maintain – and the building is both chic and innovative.