Shades of Grey: the Contemporary Clay Brick

Designing with clay bricks is experiencing a global renaissance as the brick industry sets itself apart in terms of green
design and sustainability. We spoke to The Brickery about the renewed possibilities of designing with this ancient material.
Words by The Brickery Team
18 June 2019

Stretching from the Dolomites in the north to the Adriatic Sea in the south, Veneto is one of the most famous regions of Italy encompassing the medieval cities of Venice and Verona. Famed for its canals and Gothic architecture, Veneto is home to some of Italy’s most famous built environments. It is in Veneto where many of the bricks we use in New Zealand originate. “Bricks have been used for millennia, and Italians have been making clay bricks in this region for thousands of years,” The Brickery’s Kerry Heard says. “It’s this innate knowledge, passed down through the generations, that allows for the creation of what are arguably the world’s best contemporary clay bricks.”

The Brickery is New Zealand’s largest supplier of clay bricks, and works closely with Italian brick manufacturers San Anselmo, whose premises are located just north of Venice in an area rich in diverse clays. “The process San Anselmo uses to manufacture clay bricks has been used for centuries,” Kerry says. “It’s a very traditional process, aided now by machinery but the original method of manufacturing pressed bricks still remains.

“San Anselmo are incredibly good at creating new bricks that have the essence of old. Our reclaimed brick range is the result of a traditional process in which bricks are applied with agobe before they are kiln-fired. This gives them an uneven, rustic coating that is fired into the bricks and remains for the lifetime of the brick.”

When the bricks are removed from the kiln, a further coating of agobe is applied and they are tumbled in a mixer to develop the rustic, natural look of aged bricks and achieve a true variation in colour. “Reclaimed bricks create a distinct character and give a unique timelessness to a building,” Kerry says.

However, the options available in terms of clay bricks is vast and a core focus of The Brickery is providing the knowledge and versatility of design to allow for brick to be used more so as a design element than simply a construction material.

Smoked bricks are another sought after product in the New Zealand market at the moment – a range of bricks that exude a very contemporary aesthetic in terms of colour.

“Our smoked brick range is available in various shades of grey. Smoked bricks are made with a different type of clay. Rather than terracotta clay, the clays used to make smoked bricks are naturally grey in colour.”

The allure of Italian bricks is partly a result of the inherent skill of the manufacturers, but equally evident in the ability to completely customise bricks for individual projects. “Working with San Anselmo we are able to offer complete design freedom in terms of colour options,” Kerry says.

“The Veneto location allows San Anselmo access to a rich palate of different types of clay. When using one type of clay becomes cost prohibitive – which can happen often when white bricks are specified – bricks can be specified that are coated with the desired colour rather than being made wholly from a specific clay.”

This option allows for costs to be kept down, while ensuring the colour finish lasts the lifetime of the bricks as it is applied before the bricks are fired. “San Anselmo has an unrivaled ability to create specific colours in brick, often using mixtures of up to 15 different clays and oxides to create a
precise hue.”

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