The heavyweight structural method of brick and block has lots of practical advantages. Cavity wall construction is the most common way to build in the UK, which means that materials (chiefly blocks and bricks) and skilled, knowledgeable contractors are relatively easy to find.
This system creates homes with a high thermal mass, meaning it’s very good for providing a comfortable, even and predictable internal temperature. And with careful specification (see the top tips box, overleaf) they can even achieve Passivhaus standards of energy efficiency.
While a brickwork outer skin is common, block-built homes can be finished in any number of materials, from render to metal or timber cladding.
These projects demonstrate masonry’s flexible nature as well as its ability to deliver the wow factor.
Water Meadow (main image), a collaboration between Kate Jackson Architects and Mathew Ingham Design, is a brick and block house with an integrated steel frame to enable the daring cantilevered glazed elements at the rear.
The brick was specified in part because the house was in a conservation area, full of older masonry homes – and despite its modern look, the property blends in.
|Architect Kate Jackson explains how to use brick to create harmony in a conservation area:|
“I think there’s a huge difference between a machine-made product and a handmade one, and we used the latter for our project, Water Meadow.
“In this case, the house was in a conservation area, surrounded by historical red-brick buildings. We wanted to let it be a design of its time, but have that feeling of integration, stitching the new design into its environment.
“Our solution was a very good way of doing that, because, of course, when the older houses were built, there were only handmade options available. The imperfections of the brick are what really sells it – the way the sunlight reflects off it, it almost twinkles.
“The way we did the mortar was also important, using flush and brush pointing, where it’s flat rather than recessed, and rubbed in a bit. This technique also helped to emphasise the bricks’ imperfections.”
Paul Archer Design extended this early 1980s self build, using a mixture of the original bricks
and reclaimed units both for the refurbishment and the creation of additional space.
The insulation was also upgraded along the way. The darker new brickwork (from Ibstock) appears in the recessed areas at the front of the house, separating old and new.
The project, which now offers 240m2 of living space, has been shortlisted in the 2018 Brick Awards.
Read more: Guide to Specifying Bricks for your Project
Phillips Tracey Architects took their cues from an existing boundary wall when it came to the brickwork for this project.
The house looks like a single-storey building from the street, but behind, a basement level means it stretches over two full floors.
The simple materials – brick, plus black aluminium for the glazing frames – are a reflection on the minimal form, but the ochre tones of the masonry give the architecture warmth.
Architect Alex Michaelis of Michaelis Boyd built his own west London home using traditional masonry, and spent months sourcing the right brick – in the end he specified a handmade, imperial-sized product from Petersen, a Danish company.
The playful turret-like section of the building at the front of the house shows how masonry is inherently adaptable for curves.
Read more: Brickwork Patterns Explained
This two-storey extension to an Edwardian house in Dublin has a monolithic quality – it’s described by its designers, Architectural Farm, as a dense brick tower.
The masonry is similar to that used on the front facade of the house.
It has also been used extensively on the inside, knitting all the various elements together.
This extension to a Hampshire house was designed by LA Hally Architect.
The two-storey brick and block addition replaces a double garage, and features a mixture of wirecut grey bricks and cedar cladding as its external skin.
Installing new windows throughout has helped to unite old and new. The extension contains a living space and two bedrooms.
This north London new build by Granit Architects is one half of a semi-detached house, so it needed to capture the character of its neighbour.
The masonry construction is supplemented with a steel frame. The brick is Ibstock’s Tradesman Sandfaced Red Multi (around £750 per 1,000), which has a subtle colour variation between the units.
On the ground floor, a deep raked joint was specified on every third course, for a rusticated look.
Architecture practice Bureau de Change’s Step House is a fantastic example of how to reinvent a building.
It uses bricks reclaimed from the existing property to create a striking stepped extension that looks like it is extruded from the main house.
The staggered brickwork is also used internally, zig-zagging up the wall and across the ceiling, uniting inside and out.
Architects David Liddicoat and Sophie Goldhill bought the plot and built Makers House speculatively, with a self-imposed brief to explore the ideal texture and atmosphere
of domestic architecture.
The slender handmade bricks (from Petersen) exude character, and are used inside as well as out, creating a highly crafted look. The four-storey 221m2 house has been shortlisted for several awards.
This infill project by Duncan Foster Architects has the same material DNA as its neighbours, but with a more pared-down look.
The red bricks are a good match for the other houses in the street – they are Ibstock’s Berkshire Orange Stock (around £900 per 1,000) – and the rendered sections around the window are
a modern interpretation of an Edwardian bay window. The 145m2 project cost around £450,000.