Brick gets its mojo back
Anybody who gave it a moment’s thought, would not have been surprised that O Donnell & Tuomey’s Saw Swee Hock student centre for the London School of Economics won this year’s top prize at the Brick Awards. The architects, after all, won the RIBA Gold Medal this year, and the building was a finalist (and a hotly tipped one) for the Stirling Prize.
Ten years ago the amazement would have been in the other direction. that such highly acclaimed architects were building in such a prosaic material. There were some great examples of brick architecture in mainland Europe but almost everything designed here was dull at the back and ugly at the worst. Now the material is used in great formats, imaginatively and decoratively.
One of the more modest but still pleasing winners is the Horizons housing project by HTA Architects.
A few years ago, managing partner Ben Derbyshire explained to me that environmental concerns would soon make brick disappear – that it was not a material to include on high-performing buildings. Instead, he said, all buildings have external insulation. But the public still loves brick and here it still is. For years that seemed to be pure nostalgia but now, with some great projects among the (unfortunately still prevalent dross), architecture seems to have caught up with public taste.