Mind & Matter


Putting New Spins on Brick

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The Brick Loft building, showing custom-designed ventilation blocks. Image courtesy of Farm.


In Louis Kahn's parable of the brick, a brick "tells" Kahn how it should be used to create architecture ("I like an arch," says the brick). In the case of one firm's renovation of an existing brick loft building, the principles of "brick-ness" extend beyond the actual physical unit of masonry into other materials and building systems.

The Singapore-based practice Farm designed the renovation of an older building in the Joo Chiat neighborhood with the intent to transform it into a "chic industrial loft." One of the firm's first instincts was to reveal the existing brick walls by removing layers of surface plaster. Farm also created large openings in the building's exterior in order to increase the amount of light and air in the space. The designers then embellished the loft with new partitions and a stair—but rather than introduce new brick material, which would have created more opacity, they employed porous material systems inspired by the scale and modularity of brick.

"Taking a cue from concrete ventilation blocks found in old houses, we updated the look with a new custom-made pattern," reports the Farm project brief. "This pattern is then abstracted and transformed again and brought into the living area via a laser-cut metal screen folding door." In this way, the design team chronicles the inspiration they took from an existing material palette, but rather than mimic this palette with the same physical material, they riffed on its vocabulary to address a variety of different architectural conditions and functions. Kahn's brick may not have approved, but this strategy resulted in a more versatile, playful, and less conventional design.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.