Brickwork has had a chequered history. In the Middle Ages, it advanced to become the favourite material of municipalities; and with the advance of industrial production in the late 19th century, its fortunes reached a new peak. Only a few decades later, however, brickwork was to meet with competition from concrete, steel and glass, and today it is only one material among many. Nevertheless, the small-scale texture and haptic qualities of exposed brickwork continue to exert a special attraction. Depending on its coloration and surface character and the way the bricks are bonded and jointed, there is still an enormous range of design possibilities with this material.
Some architects even develop their own bricks for a particular project, as one sees in the European Hansemuseum in Lübeck with its hand-pressed forms (see illustration) or the grey walling of the Museum of Art in Basle with its subtle colour shadings. For the house in Catalonia, on the other hand, standard blocks were used which lend the building its own rough internal and external character.
Since thermal insulation calls for a multilayer form of facade construction today, brickwork can no longer be equated with the powerful load-bearing walls we know from the past. But the development towards a thin outer skin does not have to be of disadvantage. In the Discussion section, buildings are presented that are wrapped in a lightweight enclosure of perforated brickwork. The fact that monolithic forms of construction are still possible today is shown by the architects Bruno Fioretti Marquez with their housing development in Berlin – built with large-size insulating blocks (which are also considered in the Technology section). Despite their different functions – as a building skin or as a load-bearing structure – bricks remain an exciting material to use with a lot of design and technical potential.