homage to the brick

The brick – a most beautiful and useful artifact.

one for the brickophile

Architects love the brick. Architects’ wives love the brick. Builders, makers, doers, fixers, tinkerers love bricks.

They are ‘permutation toys’ (a poetic term for the rubik’s cube coined by  child genius Ainan Celeste Cawley when he was 8 years old).  Increments.  Prosaic matter that gives substance to lyric impulse. En masse, bricks can lose their weight and solidity and yield soft curves, gravity-defying columns, spires and arches.

Brickworks_ yarralumla

brick ceiling - house in Kent featured on Grand Designs

What’s not to like about bricks? Well, lots it seems. Some decades ago, the public turned against them. When was it? in the 70s or 80s? the brick lost its appeal to the middle class. No longer a sign of status, the brick house was spurned. By the 1990s and 2000s renovators were madly rendering brickwork, painting over it. Bricks were deemed pedestrian, institutional, charmless – associated with suburban sprawl and ‘brick venereals’.

Howard Arkley painting. Australian suburbia


The brick has an unbearable load. Is ‘overdetermined’.1 Regularly used as a metonym for pragmatic and soul-less urban or suburban development, it has been harshly judged, as if a co-conspirator in the schemes of tyrannous men.

The brick is inseparable in our minds and hearts from its uses and abuses. It has heightened significance as the means of urban, suburban and connurban development, and suffers the projections of our fears and contempt, our regrets and nostalgia, our hopes and fantasies.

When crumbling in ruins, bricks are picturesque and have nostalgic appeal. They can tend to the sublime. http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/ruskin/atheories/3.1.html

piranisi – the sublime

The brick’s value is taken for granted. The support it provides (like that of a good wife/husband/partner) remains opaque.

Wright's Larking Administration Building 1906 : Red Brick

There are books on the significance of other significant technologies – iron, bronze, steel.

guns germs and steel

Yet it is difficult to find serious accounts of the significance of the brick as technology. Brick as metaphor? An abundance!

It’s gratifying to see the brick becoming fashionable again; architects can embrace the brick AND find their work appreciated beyond the design circles- even featured in house & garden magazines or on Grand Designs.

Donovan Hill Z house

Ferrier Baudet architects - Noble bathroom

Castlecrag house Neeson Murcutt

Neeson Murcutt Zac's house

3 M architects - uq micro-health laboratory

It baffles me that bricks are still so often painted over.

white 'painted over' bricks - striving for transcendence?

So, with deference to the brick I finish this post with a Vera vintage scarf, that might make an appropriate gift for the architect’s wife.

vera vintage scarf

Useful quote for all those misunderstood architects/bricks out there:

“A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him”. David Brinkley.

An interesting phenomenon – brick lovers. http://brickloversblog.blogspot.com/

1. Overdetermination, the idea that a single observed effect is determined by multiple causes at once (any one of which alone might be enough to account for the effect), was originally a key concept of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overdetermination


3 responses to “homage to the brick

  1. Someone with a memory.

    Your use of the phrase “permutation toy” reminds me of the coining of it, by Ainan Celeste Cawley – an eight year old scientific child prodigy, who used it four years ago, to refer to a Rubik’s Cube. You appear to have adopted this phrase for a brick.

    For his use of the phrase, see The World’s Cleverest Child and Me…a documentary.

    • Yes indeed, and when I first posted this I included those details, attributing this brilliant phrase to Ainan (If you google “architects wives” you’ll see that full reference is still ‘out there’). I later edited the post because it seemed that I’d gone ‘off topic’ talking about Ainan and rubik’s cubes. But I’ll re-insert the reference to ensure Ainan gets credit for his poetic term.

      • Someone with a memory.

        It is kind of you to have the decency to credit the young boy with his poetic thought…many wouldn’t. It is good to hear that you did so, at first.

        By the way…interesting post!

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