“In all and all, you are just another brick in the wall ... "

Words: Those title lyrics come from a popular song by the English rock band Pink Floyd. However, any brick is simply not just another brick in the wall. Each and every one is an integral part of an architectural composition, which speaks softly of fine craftsmanship across the ages. Innovative technology is not relegated to the gurus in computer engineering or advancements in the automotive industry, medical instrumentation or the host of industrial applications. It can be found in the world of bricks. Embraced by architects, homeowners and property developers the world over, brick remains in high demand for its timeless qualities of authentic beauty and sophisticated expression. Color Among the many improvements in brick is color. County Materials Corporation, headquartered in Marathon, Wisc., has been manufacturing concrete products for more than 70 years.       Their extensive industry knowledge and manufacturing capabilities include vastly improved coloring that enhances color retention for many years and adds stunning depth and richness. Pigments are integrated throughout the entire brick rather than just coating the surface. Light colors and specialty designs can insert a vintage character into traditional and contemporary homes and add drama to any space. The uncompromising elegance of brick is now often found in contrasting colors and patterns that can radiate a company's brand in the exterior of its building. White, gray and creamy bricks are sought for modern or sleek industrial designs. The Heritage Collection™ Designer Concrete Brick [from County Materials] offers durability, sustainability, an abundance of color choices and the many advantages of concrete masonry construction combined with the aesthetics of traditional brick. Their colors include Dove Gray, Sienna Cream, Tuscany Villa Blend, Sable and many more. Interstate Brick, based in West Jordan, Utah, offers many brick colors between its Arctic White or Almond and Ironstone or Midnight Black. Some incorporate light and dark shades of the same color like Copperstone or Bronzestone, while others are solid, such as Walnut, Ash and Park Rose. The Echelon brand under Oldcastle Architectural offers a variety of colors for its Quik-Brik® products. "We’re having success with Quik-Brik at the national account level, mainly with retailers who want to install the same look and feel for their locations regardless of region," states Jim Cooper, National Accounts Sales Manager. "Quik-Brik is an excellent consideration for home builders seeking a quality finish and attractive price point." Texture Another style innovation in the brick industry beyond color is texture, which has both a visual quality and a touch trait. More people see texture than feel it, and it can evoke an emotion as well as an opinion. Smooth can be quite pleasant and transmit a modern flair for a brick, while a roughed-up brick creates a rustic character. Uneven textures establish creativity and interest from a distance. Textures can influence a person's perception of value and enthusiasm for a building, a company, and a product. Among the many textures that combine with colors in bricks, some of which overlap, are:
  • Sanded
  • Wire or knife cut (horizontal, vertical or random)
  • Tumbled
  • Artisan
  • Lumpy, bumpy, nubby
  • Matt
  • Polished
  • Spotted, speckled (with or without texture)
  • Weathered
Reflection StoneConcrete Masonry Units [also from County Materials] are like new kids on the block, which capture the look and aesthetics of natural stone, but at a value-added price. "These are manufactured with an integral coloring system to create units with an impressive face texture and color in an inherently strong masonry unit," they say. Sizes Modern variation in sizes addresses more thickness and thinness than dimensions of an entire brick, which is normally 8 × 4 × 2.25 inches (203 × 102 × 57 mm). The Heritage CollectionTM from County Materials, for example, is made in both structural load-bearing or full and thin veneer units. Interstate Brick lists 10 sizes in its face brick specifications, as well as a variety of paver sizes and thick brick dimensions. The Reflection StoneTM series is available in three size modules: Reflection Stone, Reflection Stone GRAND and Reflection Brick. Because units are modular, the series offers easy installation, and sizes can be installed independently or blended together for maximum design flexibility. Their consistent size makes it one of the easiest products to install. Reflection StoneTM Concrete Masonry Units are perfect for interior and exterior uses, and come in full and thin veneer units. Because Quik-Brik® is concrete masonry, it is durable and can stand alone. The EnduraMax version comes in either 1 3/4 x 2 3/4 x 16" or 1 3/4 x 4 x 16". Its Standard shapes and sizes are:
      • 4 x 4 x 16 inches
      • 8 x 4 x 16 inches
      • 12 x 4 x 16 inches
One very popular trend is the use of brick veneer for its design statement and decorative value. In kitchens, offices or living spaces, brick evokes the rustic, welcome feel of a farmhouse or an Old World or Mediterranean atmosphere. A vintage or warehouse design is wildly trendy in kitchens, city lofts and many corporations, which embrace natural elements in their lobbies, offices and boardrooms. There is also demand for larger bricks and pavers. These are gaining popularity in parking lots and driveways for they’re more porous placement, which can reduce or eliminate special drainage construction. Installation According to the professionals at County Materials: "Traditional size concrete brick is segmental; it allows an architect and mason to be more creative, producing special design elements such as arches, corbeling and columns that often result in a much more attractive and inviting building. Concrete brick is also readily available, economical and engineered for lasting value. It enhances the speed of construction and installation efficiencies, and it minimizes maintenance and repairs over a project’s service life. Concrete brick provides all the advantages of concrete masonry construction combined with craftsmanship and natural beauty." There is very little waste when using the smooth texture of the Heritage CollectionTM concrete brick because both sides can be used. If a brick somehow becomes chipped, it can easily be used by flipping it to the other surface. Additionally, concrete brick is cured in a form and maintains a very consistent, uniform size. This consistency allows for efficient installation, making a mason’s job easier. The concrete brick at County Materials is made with an integral water repellent that adds water repellency to the wall envelope. This helps prevent moisture penetration inside the wall and minimize efflorescence. "The labor shortage is well documented and poses a substantial issue for the masonry industry," Cooper states. "With limited masons, rival building materials with faster installation time and less reliance on skill may gain wall share. Echelon Masonry’s Quik-Brik ® is part of our brand’s commitment to delivering innovative masonry solutions that meet critical building challenges in modern construction… What Quik-Brik offers is single-wythe masonry with the appearance of traditional clay brick." "Contractors install Quik-Brik with a single pass," he continues, "and exceed ASTM C-90 requirements at around the same price point as a CMU application. Insulation uses the same materials used in standard CMU wall construction – adding additional value and ease of use." According to Blackson Brick Company's website: "Today’s technology allows wall finishes to be created from thin brick veneer for a comparable appearance and durability to traditional face brick, but without extra footings and weight. Thin brick leaves a smaller environmental footprint, due to its smaller size, reduced transportation burden, and often high recycled material content." From courthouses, castles and condos to banks, homes and commercial buildings galore, Interstate Brick has been instrumental in promoting and providing bricks for myriad exciting projects. County Materials concurs with Cooper's assessment of the masonry industry's workforce. The family-owned enterprise is "proud to be American-based and American-made since 1946," and their reach extends into high schools and post secondary schools. "We support and actively participate in masonry training and recruitment to help educate aspiring designers and masons. [www.countymaterials.com] From engineered brick making in America in the early 1600s to the 21st century, architects, designers and homeowners have the look, feel and enduring qualities of brick in colors, textures, veneers and sizes to meet any pattern or creative style. And it's imperative that brick companies continue innovation and education to attract the next generation of stonemasons to an industry with a very long, impressive history and equally long, impressive future.
Words: Joanne M. Anderson Photos: County Materials, Oldcastle
Joanne M. Anderson is a freelance writer and magazine editor with more than 1,000 articles and blogs in print. She especially enjoys home improvement and building topics. www.jmawriter.com
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