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CONTEMPORARY TRADITION

FOCUS ON: BRICKS & BLOCKS

One might think that the ubiquity of the humble brick would make it the most uncontroversial of building materials, so commonplace that it is devoid of architectural significance. And yet despite (or perhaps because of ) its popular associations, brick seems to be the material of choice for attacks on the glass house of Modernism.

The following two examples - one by FAT, the other by Quinlan and Francis Terry - show recent residential projects that have used loadbearing masonry. Seen through the prism of our annual bricks and blocks theme, the agendas of both practices come to resemble a rather unlikely pincer movement on their perceived foe, advancing respectively from post- and pre-Modern critical positions.

ISLINGTON SQUARE FAT was chosen by residents of the Cardroom Estate in New Islington, Manchester, to design this development of 23 new houses comprising two-, threeand four-bed dwellings to rehouse existing tenants.

The practice describes the design of the houses as a response to two contradictory elements of the brief: 'the residents' desires for traditional housing; and the masterplan's call for innovative, contemporary architecture'.

This grey area between highbrow and popular aesthetic judgement is FAT's ideal territory, and the group has used its first major built project in the UK to put its theoretical ideas into practice. Sean Griffiths, director of FAT, once said that no masterpiece of Modernism would benefit from an extension. Here, the use of resident consultation during the design process provides a legitimacy to the architectural rhetoric, and aims to ensure that future changes will enhance rather than undermine the initial concept.

While not exactly flipping on its head Le Corbusier's maxim that 'the plan is the generator', it has at least been turned it on its side to make the elevation the key architectural driver. This is diametrically opposed to functionalism: the facade's surface decoration and ornamental edges offer a seemingly coherent expression to the confusion of tastes shown by the residents during individual interviews in their homes.

Initially, the practice looked at forming the facade from the Corium system, which was developed collaboratively by Baggeridge Brick and Terrapin in the 1990s, and offi cially launched in September 2001. This system comprises profiled brick tiles, 35mm thick, with the face dimensions of a standard brick, which clip into plasticcoated galvanised-steel backing sections. Since the support rails do not need to be fixed horizontally, FAT adopted a surface pattern that used diagonal and vertical coursing.

This steel-framed cladding system also afforded a free arrangement of openings and attachments of elements in the elevations.

The cost-plan estimates for the Corium system were feasible, but ran into problems during the second-stage tender of the design-and-build project, when the subcontractor tenders came in as significantly higher than expected. Ultimately these figures were brought closer to the original cost plan, but the preferred main contractor was strongly in favour of a loadbearing brick solution and offered better savings overall.

FAT's Matthew Stack says: 'The final decision to switch to load-bearing brickwork was in large part a risk-averse response to the unknowns of an emerging system - a typical vicious circle for new building technologies being used in the UK.'

The original design intent survived the value-engineering process; the desired outline and arrangement of openings was retained and the surface pattern, comprising horizontal, diagonal and vertical coursing, was reworked into a consistent stretcher bond.

Baggeridge Bricks supplied the strong three-tone palette of the front elevation: Florid Red Dragfaced, Original Blue Sovereign Stock, and Kingsbury Smooth Cream.

This selection of brick provides a contrast in textures when viewed up close; whereas from a distance, an over-scaled diaper pattern can be read which is deliberately misaligned at the expansion joints, highlighting the axes of the existing estate and proposed masterplan.

The mortar used was RMC Readymix in natural colour, with struck f lush mortar joints. Behind the front elevation, the houses are constructed throughout from load-bearing masonry, with the sides and rear elevations rendered with a coloured silicone render system.

HIGHAM HOUSE Quinlan and Francis Terry Architects recently remodelled Higham House, a private dwelling in Essex. It is rumoured that Sir John Soane may have been involved in early designs for the house, which dates from 1815 and is described by Francis Terry as 'late Georgian, or early Modernist'.

The Victorian additions at the rear of the building were demolished, and the practice has replaced them with a 557m 2 extension that has created a symmetrical whole from the original by exactly continuing its proportions. The architects have successfully copied every detail, either by using traditional construction techniques or with very slight modern shortcuts.

Contractor Haymills Construction followed the existing brickwork's Flemish bond. The architect specified a brick by Belgian manufacturer De-Keignaert called Zandvoorde Vlam, which is similar to the local Suffolk White. Headers and stretchers are standard components, and closers were cut to size where necessary.

The architect and client discussed using specialist Brick Doctors to tint the new bricks to match their older counterparts, but it was decided to let nature take its course.

The rubbed-and-gauged brick window arches were preformed from a different brick by Brickmatch, saving construction time as the skills to make the arches on site do not readily exist. Cambridge-based Coulson Joinery has replicated the original late-Georgian sash windows, which have very thin glazing bars that can only be made of hardwood. The Portland-stone sills were made by Rattee & Kett, also based in Cambridge.

Lime mortar was used, which is favoured for aesthetic reasons and because it does not require expansion joints.

The practice doesn't use cement mortar because it is stronger than the bricks and therefore not particularly flexible for movement, requiring expansion joints at regular intervals. (On this project there is an expansion joint only where the new build meets the existing house, as these two areas of brickwork are unlikely to behave identically. ) The composition of the lime mortar used is premixed Tilcon sand lime mix at 6:1; the lime sand mix is Buckden soft with white cement.

The original brickwork is tuckpointed - where lime putty is inserted into the mortar to create a fine, white detail.

'A couple of firms still tuckpoint, ' says Francis Terry, 'but it is prohibitively expensive.'

The extension's brickwork is penny jointed - a more economical version of tuckpointing, where a nail is used to score the mortar while it is still wet, creating an indentation.

For Quinlan Terry the choice of load-bearing masonry is ideological as well as pragmatic. To coincide with winning the Richard H Driehaus prize in March 2005 - which is awarded for major contributions to Classical architecture - Terry published an essay entitled 'Leaving an Environmentally Sound, Attractive Legacy', which calls for a rejection of 'the whole modernistic system of building' in favour of traditional construction techniques.

Terry argues that in discussions on sustainability, we shouldn't only focus on how a building's occupants can reduce energy consumption, but also consider issues of longevity, the environmental cost of materials, thermal mass and thermal movement. Terry states: 'A modern steel-frame construction gets a 'C' rating, as many such buildings are demolished after 40 years.

Properly constructed traditional buildings get an 'A' rating, because with normal maintenance they will last indefinitely.'

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