For a generation of architects now well into maturity, Z-BRICK was a ubiquitous presence in their youth. Almost every American suburban home built during the late 1950s and 1960s seemed to use the lightweight, bricklike finish to provide a paper-thin sense of durability and permanence. What was the material's downfall? It was phony! Not just fake, but as counterfeit as a three-dollar bill. More than half a century since its introduction, Z-BRICK is still produced by the Minnesota-based company that invented it—although most architects looking to do masonry facing on a budget opt for prefabricated panels that incorporate real, 4-inch-thick masonry units.
Architects have probably been faking it for as long as there have been architects. Le Corbusier's seminal Villa Savoye outside Paris was meant to invoke the machine aesthetic in ocean liners, airplanes, and automobiles. But the large undifferentiated surfaces that define the main volume of the building are not made of metal, like his references. They're stucco on masonry—a building technique that would have seemed ordinary to Vitruvius in the first century.
It's only recently that we've become accustomed to “honesty” in materials as a requirement. A short survey of current offerings finds that we might be getting over this decidedly Calvinist prescription. But there remains some difference of opinion, and most architects draw a distinct line between phony (the fakest of the fakes) and faux (which might be described as Vitruvius minus Calvin).