Guest Blog: John Cave, EH Smith "An Ode to a Brick" - EH Smith

Guest Blog: John Cave, EH Smith “An Ode to a Brick”

An ode (from Ancient Greek: ᾠδή, translit. ōdḗ) is a type of lyrical stanza. It is an elaborately structured poem praising or glorifying an event or individual, describing nature intellectually as well as emotionally.

5 December 2019

Ok. He’s lost it. “A little over the top for a lump of fired clay,” you may say…but it is strange how such a commonplace and everyday building material can evoke such emotion. In our industry there are many self confessed ‘brick geeks’ who would talk for hours or even days on the characteristics of the humble brick. Why? What is it about this mix of clay, fire and water that produces such a passionate response? I remember looking into this strange obsessive world from the outside and wondering what all the fuss was about. Then you get sucked in…

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is quoted as saying “Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.” And I suppose that’s it. In the age of Lego and Minecraft we get that satisfaction from an early age – the creative freedom given by a modular unit.

A brick offers the Architect a colour and a texture which is almost limitless. Smooth, heavily textured, sanded, glazed, matt and anything in between. What colour do you want? Bold and striking? Or subtle and understated? It also offers a timelessness that cannot be matched. What other material can keep its’ colour, shape and strength for thousands of years?!

2600 year old glazed bricks from the Ishtar Gate, Babylon

It’s not difficult to see why Architects keep returning to this most basic of materials to realise their designs. Some love the honesty of the form; whilst others love to play with shapes and sizes. Some find joy in the complexity of a simple window detail; whilst others use the brick to be bold and outrageous.

So next time you have a project that requires just the right sprinkle of class or colour – speak to the brick obsessives at EH Smith – slightly too mad about bricks since 1922…

By John Cave, Executive Director, EH Smith Group