Brick Brings Class, Style To Downtowns And Neighbourhoods Alike

Peter Chiodo, founder and president of The Robert Simpson Brewing Company in downtown Barrie, Ont., looked to his city's historic buildings when he started planning the renovation of his new microbrewery.

The older brick buildings found in the city inspired him to use brick in the renovation of his formerly wood slat building, situated in the waterfront area of Barrie's downtown. "I think brick looks better than any other siding because architecturally it's more picturesque," Chiodio said. "It's also unconventional, it seems like not as many people use it these days."

Many building owners, developers and architects who turn to brick cladding today no longer cite durability alone as a reason behind their choice. Brick is increasingly a design choice intended to project beauty, originality and warmth. In the 19th century, many cities mandated brick for downtown buildings due to its fire-resistant qualities. Changes in styles during the 20th century saw many brick facades covered with stucco, wood or metal, although the brick remains as a structural element.

"There was a desire to do something different and the result has been to break up the visual cohesion of downtowns," said Edward Allen, architect, author and former professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Barrington's, an outer wear store in Oakville, Ont., uncovered brick in its more than century-old building to create a sense of elegance on the inside.
"Our whole concept was rustic warm, so I wanted that warmth that brick gives," said Paul Barrington, owner of Barrington's. "The brick we exposed in our store complemented the wide plank hardwood floor, Persian carpets and chandeliers we use in our decor."

Brick brings the same feeling of warmth to a downtown's exterior, Allen said. "An entirely brick downtown creates a sense of harmony," he said. "Brick work is so flexible. Masons can do a lot with ornamentation, so each building has an individual style."

Chiodo followed that principle during his brewery renovation. Masons created a checkerboard border across the second floor facade, incorporating light brown brick accents into the deep red brick exterior. The effect creates visual cohesion for the building, but allows it to harmonize with surrounding structures.

The renovation earned a 2006 Masonry Masterpiece award from MasonryWorx, a masonry industry association, for design innovations that contributed to sustainable development. A buildings' relationship to its surrounding structures or neighbourhood was priority No. 1 for architect Yvan Deschenes, who led the 2004-2005 renovation of the Caisse Populaire building in Ste-Marie, Que. Since the building is located off Main Street and in a historic district, Deschenes and the bank's director were acutely aware of the need to upgrade the building's circa 1970s cement slab exterior.

"I chose an orange brick because it is a warm colour that provides variation to the many red brick buildings in Quebec," Deschenes said. "The brick gives a feeling of a historic building and we know that 100 years from now this building will still look good."

With exterior lighting that showcases the brick's colour and texture, the building won a Prix Lumiere 2006 award from the Montreal chapter of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America.

Deschenes hopes to continue to shed light on the beauty and versatility of brick.
"For me the attraction of brick has never waned," he said. "It has enduring qualities that defy trends."