Another Brick in the Wall

­A workshop in the Netherlands demonstrates that there’s nothing basic about this building block.

An international team of architects, artists, and designers is attempting to reinvent that most basic of building materials, the lowly brick. In a project spearheaded by the Netherlands-based European Ceramic Workcentre, 15 participants spent the past two years looking for ways to make a better—or at least more appealing—building block. “The brick is kind of a dull building material, and it’s been the same for thousands of years,” project leader Noor Zwinkels says. “Our objective was to stimulate some product renewal and innovation.”

The results include bricks that control water runoff, blocks that add a decorative flourish to buildings, and modular components that can be used to create large-scale art projects. “It’s very diverse, and that’s surprising,” Zwinkels says. “Every single project is so different from the others.” Only time will tell whether some of the prototypes will make it to full-scale production, but Zwinkels says it’s a real possibility—the center’s main sponsor is Wienerberger, the world’s largest brick manufacturer. An exhibition of the prototypes is on view May 25 to July 1 at Groot Handelsgebouw, Conradstraat 40-48, as part of the Rotterdam 2007 City of Architecture festivities.

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