Tough difficult sites are not often chosen as laboratories in which to push forward the application of a new technology. On the other hand, they are often the projects that require exactly the sort of grand gesture that such a venture may involve.
This was the conclusion of architect Maccreanor Lavington when it was designing its Kartendrecht housing in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The scheme, of 124 dwellings, is part of a larger masterplan for an area that is one of the most deprived in Holland. Now housing is going in for sale, but at the lower end of the market.
Maccreanor Lavington's scheme is for a perimeter of four-storey buildings, some housing and some maisonettes, with twoand-a-half storey housing at the centre. This is a recreation of a back-to-back typology, with strongly geometric sawtooth roofs.
Aidan Williams of Maccreanor Lavington, who has worked on the project since the early stages, said: 'With the nature of the area and the limitations to the budget, we homed in on the idea that a strong but simple project was the right answer.' The architect quickly became keen on the idea of using glued brickwork. 'It is very warm, ' said Williams. 'We appreciated that it could give us a really rich project.' Because glued brickwork uses a thin layer of adhesive to bond the layers, in place of mortar, the colour of the brickwork comes through much more strongly and the buildings look far more monolithic. 'We are always interested in having a monolithic quality in our buildings, ' said Richard Lavington.
In addition, in its quest for simplicity, the architect was interested in the idea that with glued brickwork, the adhesive bond would make it possible to build the relatively small windows involved without the need for lintels. In the event, it was not possible to carry out the requisite tests in time to adopt this idea. However, even without this, the project was innovative in that it was one of the largest projects in the Netherlands to have used glued brickwork. When the next phase of two apartment blocks is built (designed by different architects but using the same glued bricks), this will become the largest project anywhere.
That, in itself, was one potential problem.
Others were the additional cost involved compared to conventional masonry, and the limited choice of bricks. In fact, the architect had only two to choose from in the requisite and most effective size, of 70 x 100 x 300mm.
The chosen brick is an orange colour with a very dragged face.
Williams admitted he was not entirely happy about the brick when he saw it on its own but he added that 'all through the project, the colour of the brickwork has sung'.
The team argued hard for the additional expenditure on glued brickwork, and believes that it cost far less than any other 'feature' that could have been used on the buildings. 'If we had spent the extra money on some other embellishment, it would not have worked at all, ' said Williams.
Because the use of glued brickwork is still in development, construction involved a learning process. Each brick has only one finished face, and therefore traditional methods of turning a corner could not be used. Instead, every brick on a corner had to be mitred. Again, because the windows were recessed to a thickness of one brick, every brick on each window had to be cut specially. In addition, the bricks to create the slope of the sawtooth roof had to be cut specially.
Some of these problems should be overcome in time, with the introduction of a wider range of specials.
And the architect is delighted with the quality of the finished brickwork. 'In Holland, the quality of conventional brickwork is appalling, ' said Williams. 'Here we were confident that it couldn't be spoilt.Normally we have to get the bricklayers to acid-clean the brickwork.'
The joints between the courses are 3mm deep, and since the glue-mortar is recessed it is not visible. There is no mortar between adjacent bricks, which are spaced 5mm apart. 'As a result, we have had some fun with the expansion joints, ' said Williams.
Instead of cutting them vertically, the architect cut out small sections of the adhesive to create a square wave running up the building.
This adds to the monolithic effect of the glued brickwork. These simple, strong buildings, with windows punched out at interesting spacings, make a strong case for the use of glued brickwork.
'We would definitely use it again and use it in the UK, ' said Lavington, adding: 'But it might be difficult to use in the context of conventional brickwork.'