In Common


Following our Brick On Brick Exhibition for the London Festival of Architecture, Senior Associate, Colin Wharry examines how brick might adapt to a climate resilient future.


Since the shift from timber to masonry construction after the Great Fire of London, brickwork has been used ubiquitously and expediently as the ordinary fabric of the common city. It has become emblematic of London’s urban form and the aesthetic expression of brick buildings has passed into the unselfconscious psyche of the city’s inhabitants. The scale of the brick module has an affinity with the human body; yet transforms into tactile surfaces, where the joint recedes. Brick buildings have an enduring quality, however load-bearing masonry reaches its limit within contemporary construction as we build higher.

As part of the London Festival of Architecture, EH Smith hosted a retrospective exhibition and breakfast discussion, reflecting on 30 years of Maccreanor Lavington brick façades and examining how brick might adapt to a climate resilient future.

‘The Lux’ on Hoxton Square, was one of Maccreanor Lavington’s first projects in the UK. This building sought to repair its context and respond to the material and character of the surrounding masonry warehouse buildings. The Lux does not follow vernacular load-bearing construction methods, it is brick faced precast concrete. Its response to context is not a question of authenticity, instead, this building uses brick as a surface to create a sense of weight and solidity.

This building represents the genesis of some of the established ideas of longevity and adaptability, prevalent in our offices work. A return to a focus on context, rhythm, proportion, regularity, sense of weight and a physical robustness, will mean that these buildings might outlast their current use and could go through multiple changes in their lifetime.

These ideas have been co-opted by what has become known as ‘The New London Vernacular’, a term coined by David Birkbeck and formalised by the ‘London Housing Design Guide’ and London Plan. This pushed architects to borrow from London’s stock of terraced houses, giving way to a ubiquitous restrained architecture. By the latter part of the 2000s, brickwork had become an expedient and cost-effective way of cladding buildings and navigating the planning process. An economy of means, which reduced risk in a financial crisis. Much of this architecture was stripped bare and began to lose many of the original ideas of quality and robustness.

Modelled Façades

Hans Kollhoff advocates for a renewed attention to the interdependency of appearance and construction, in which the appearance of a buildings should evoke a tectonic feeling of gravity and solidity. Kollhoff developed his tectonics of load bearing in a bas-relief façade system, utilising contemporary prefabricated building techniques. Kolhoff, The Chicago School, and the modelled façades of London’s historic industrial and housing stock, have been a constant touchstone for Maccreanor Lavington, in the development of a language which seeks to enhance the austerity of the ‘New London Vernacular’.

We aim to create buildings and places that have not only an inherent material quality and robustness, but that are sensitively designed and carefully crafted; utilising simple techniques and common materials to explore, decoration and relief.


What is the future of brick?

While traditional brick manufacture is a carbon-intensive process, their exceptional durability assumes sustainability through longevity. Contemporary building practice has resulted in an increased division of labour and especially the use of industrial products that are guaranteed, not by craftsmanship but by certificates and standards. A modern building is an assembly of certified components, where brick is typically used as a rain screen, held apart from the structure by steel supports. The lifespan of a building is likely not to be determined by the brick, but by the masonry support systems, ties, or other integral façade components.

With increased demands on thermal performance and further separation of the skin from the primary structure, it is becoming increasingly difficult to create façades with this degree of modelling. We are seeing greater pressure on the flattening of articulation and reduction of steelwork bridging the cavity.

Maccreanor Lavington’s Head of Sustainability, Marc Seligmann, has been working closely with suppliers and consultants to help us better understand the embodied and operational carbon of our buildings. In a typical masonry façade build up, the brick and masonry support each contribute approximately 25% to the embodied carbon, with the steel framing system another 25% and the mortar approximately 10%.

Maccreanor Lavington have been researching alternative brick materials including unfired bricks, substitute binders and reclaimed or recycled brick. Seratech has developed a cement replacement that captures CO2 which creates the biproduct magnesium carbonate that can be used to make a range of construction materials and consumer products, including alternatives to bricks, building blocks and plasterboard.

The inherent embodied carbon of materials is part of a wider complex issue, which has many variable and inter-related components. The associated impact of the weight of the cladding, the depth of the cavity or modelling of the façade, will result in a direct increase in secondary steel and impact the structural frame and foundations. Reduction in embodied carbon must be considered alongside the design life and reuse of materials to ensure a holistic approach to whole-life carbon.

Maccreanor Lavington are continuing to explore alternate methods of brick construction to address the separation of façade layers. Ryle Yard in Cambridge utilises load bearing brickwork, however demonstrates its limitation in scale. Other contemporary construction techniques, extend the notion of brick as a skin. Slips bonded to insulated panels or cast into modular façade elements, can be hung from the primary structure or as massive self-supporting brick-faced-precast as at Garden Halls. This construction reduces the amount of brick and secondary steel, allowing for future replacement of internal linings, membranes, and windows.

We believe that the quality, texture, and robustness of brickwork, is paramount to the idea of longevity. We understand that we have an obligation to the city, to leave behind buildings that will age beautifully; be deserving of care, repair, and adaption; and to hopefully go through multiple changes in their lifetime.



‘The Lux’ on Hoxton Square