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5 cool buildings that will make you rethink brick

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A whole new world with a very old material

Brick may be one of the oldest building materials around, but it deserves to be looked at with fresh eyes. Using computer software, and in some cases, even robots, architects today are deploying brick in inventive ways: perforated, pixelated, undulating, you name it.

As much as we love a handsome brick house or quaint brick roads, seeing a millennia-old material get adapted through modern technology is nothing short of amazing. Take a look at five fab examples below.

A brick facade built by robots

For the complex facade of a new Shanghai exhibition and workshop space, Chinese firm Archi-Union Architects programmed a car-manufacturing robot to precisely position bricks according to a computer-generated design. The result looks something like a supernatural intervention.

Sleek glass bricks update a tradition

In Amsterdam, Dutch firm MVRDV was tasked with designing a modern storefront that still maintains some historic character. Their solution? Ingenious glass bricks that are stronger than concrete while referencing the original terra cotta brick facade. The process—here’s a video—involved high-tech lasers, lab-grade UV lamps, and even milk.

When digital patterns go IRL

Photos via Designboom

For a project in rural China, Shanghai firm M.O.D.E.S explored how digital designs can be realized in a low-tech manner, taking into account limited local materials and labor know-how. They came up with using clay bricks that workers can erect according to simple number labeling derived from digital patterns, instead of conventional construction drawings. The project also makes use of CNC-cut wooden window frames.

Brick does a tango with light

Photos by Oki Hiroyuki

Inspired by termite nests, this two-story Vietnamese home by local firm Tropical Space features an inner envelope of glazing and an outer layer of baked brick that has select perforations for ventilation, private, and, most vividly, light. The openings let in rays that make the walls look everything from light red in the morning to purple come sunset.

Brick wall becomes brick road becomes brick wall?!

Photos by Wang Ning and Jin Weiqi

This project, in which an undulating brick road morphs from ground to roof in the middle of a traditional Beijing courtyard residence, is a bit perplexing. But, of course, the designers at ArchStudio had their reasons. You see, they wanted to turn the small yard into a dynamic communal space that connects indoor and outdoor living—literally.