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AE#9: Undulating Brick Walls permalink

Source: archidose.blogspot.com

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A brick is a modular masonry unit, something that wouldn't appear to "want to be" composed into undulating surfaces. Of course this doesn't stop architects from trying, from using limitations as inspiration and opportunities for doing something new. The idea of creating curves from orthogonal materials is not new. Modern examples of undulating brick walls include such mid-century designs as Eero Saarinen's 1955 MIT Chapel, where fairly regular ins-and-outs create an embracing space for worship.

AE009a.jpg
[MIT Chapel by Eero Saarinen | image source]

Similar forms were created by Uruguay's Eladio Dieste, an engineer who exploited a technique of reinforcing brick walls, an innovation that could be considered his own. The Church of Christ the Worker is a stunning examples of how Dieste engineering prowess led to sensually appealing forms, undulating in plan but also leaning in section, following the roof also undulating overhead. The image below shows how he revealed the thickness of these walls, showing how the bricks supported themselves in relatively thin sections, unlike the thick load-bearing masonry walls of the Monadnock Building and the like.

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[Church of Christ the Worker by Eladio Dieste | image source]

Thanks to engineers like Dieste, and advances in computer drafting and manufacturing, architects are trying similar forms, but less regular and repetitious. An unbuilt 1999 project in Green Bay, Wisconsin by Office dA -- a firm that thrives on the unconventional composition of materials -- is a good example of this trend. Gaps in a rectangular shell give the impression of carvings in a brick mass. Up close the "truth" is revealed, that the wall is but a wrapper that is manipulated for effect.

AE009b.jpg
[Witte Arts Building by Office dA | image source]

Erick van Egeraat's design for an art gallery in Cork, Ireland is a masonry execution of "blob" architecture, achieved via a thin-joint mortar system, in which bricks are glued together on a backing, more akin to precast systems than the conventional on-site stacking of bricks. Egeraat uses this technique as a sort of flourish in the Crawford Art Gallery's facade, a one-off design not dependent on structure like the earlier examples above. The subsequent implementation of undulating brick walls is more in keeping with Dieste's techniques than Egeraat's.

AE009c.jpg
[Cork Gallery of Art by Erick van Egeraat | image source]

ROTO Architecture's design for a building at Prairie View A&M University in Texas recalls Dieste's expression of the wall's thickness, as well as SITE's series of 1970's Best Product showrooms which treated the brick facade like a thin veneer shed by the big box behind it. Prairie View's brick facade peels away to allow access to, and light to enter, the interior. This playful maneuver activates a long elevation otherwise punctuated by small, apparently random windows.

AE009e.jpg
[Architecture and Art Building by ROTO Architects | image source]

Last is 290 Mulberry, a condo building now under construction in New York City. Designed by SHoP Architects, the facades are covered in a patterned brick that appears at once undulating and folded. The vertical joints in the rendering below make me believe that the construction is more akin to the precast Crawford Art Gallery than the other examples here. In design it recalls the mid-century designs of Saarinen and Dieste, where repetition is key; it is evident here, but in a more complex and decorative form. It creates a pattern, a texture that unfortunately recalls architecture's past, not its future.

AE009d.jpg
[290 Mulberry by SHoP Architects | image source]

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