Eco-friendly bricks?

The web seminar series "Building Materials of the Future" dealt with the traditional building material brick on 30 April. Can it meet the requirements of the future?

Intensive discussions and many new points of view characterised the 2nd web seminar of the natureplus event series "Building Materials of the Future" on 30.4. entitled "Bricks - A Traditional Player Shaping the Future", which was held entirely in English. After the welcome by the organiser, Tilmann Kramolisch of natureplus, Judith Ottich of Architects for Future once again emphasised her point of view that "Europe has already been built" and that one must therefore give priority to renovation over new construction. The current ruling of the Verfassungsgericht (Constitutional Court) in Germany makes it clear once again that much more must now be done for climate protection in the building sector, which, with a direct and indirect share of 40% of CO2 emissions, must be regarded as "the elephant in the climate house".

5 Environmental commitments

Gerhard Koch from the Association of Austrian Brickworks, also a member of the natureplus board, first went into the more than 6,000-year history of the traditional building material and explained the method of production and the various areas of application of the brick: from the masonry brick, which also takes on growing tasks in thermal insulation through porosity and perforation, they range through the roof tile and paving block to the facing brick, which designs and protects the façade. In order to meet the challenges of the future, the brick industry has made 5 commitments:

  • Decarbonising products through efficiency improvements, reduced material use, increased heat recovery and ultimately replacing fossil fuels to eventually achieve near-zero CO2 emissions by 2050
  • Encouraging the circular economy through the use of recycled materials and the recirculation of water
  • Protecting species and biodiversity in the reclamation of clay pits
  • Contribution to healthy indoor air quality
  • Regionalisation of production to avoid transport

"The brick" - a landmark in Vienna

Doris Wirth from the consulting office BLUESAVE in Vienna, has assessed the new administration building of the Wienerberger brick industry on behalf of the certification organisations DGNB and ÖGNI and gives this 9-storey high-rise building on the edge of the Wienerberg, which is predominantly built of bricks and also resembles a brick on the outside, a very good environmental rating: It was awarded the highest level of Platinum by the DGNB and received the Crystal Award for particularly high user satisfaction from ÖGNI. A hotel with 152 rooms and a restaurant are integrated into the administration building with 24,570 m² of office space for 1,350 workplaces. It stands on the edge of the so-called "Biotope City" with over 500 flats and various retail spaces on the former Coca-Cola factory site and has a green roof and green facade elements. The building is characterised by low energy consumption, low maintenance and life cycle costs, a strict avoidance of harmful substances and a very flexible use of space with many meeting, retreat and recreation areas for the people working here. In particular, the clinker facade will practically not age and could be reused to a high standard in the event of demolition.

Good examples from Belgium and Spain

Architect Paul Vermeulen, chairman of the heritage association in Ghent, reported on the building of the Flemish Environmental Administration in Aalst, which was completed 15 years ago. For him, it is an example of responsible use of the existing building stock, because a former hospital was integrated here and the new buildings were inserted carefully. The training and recreation rooms are intelligently used several times, the traditional brick building fits in well with the surroundings and still shows no damage after 15 years. A completely different brick building was presented by the Catalan architect Benjamin Iborra from the Mesura office in Barcelona. It is a private country house "Casa Ter", which in his opinion preserves the "genius loci", i.e. the spirit of this special place, among other things through the ubiquitous use of locally fired bricks. Bricks were used here for walls, traditional clay ceilings and the paving of both the interior and exterior. The combination of tradition, low tech - for example in ventilation and cooling - and aesthetics represents for him the desired relationship between building and site. Finally, Mario Kubista from Wienerberger Austria reported on the technical development of their masonry bricks and on the 15-year history of natureplus certification of Wienerberger products.

Lively debate

Already during the presentations, a lively discussion about the sustainability properties of bricks developed among the more than 50 seminar participants and with the speakers. There was criticism that the decarbonisation of production was proceeding too slowly and that the material cycle of bricks was not being closed. It was explained that the first climate-neutral factories would be built in the next five years, but that the complete conversion of the hundreds of brick factories in Europe would require an enormous investment volume, for which state aid would also be needed. It is already possible, he says, to incorporate 10 to 15% old material into the products. On the other hand, it is much easier to completely reuse the very hard facade and floor clinkers, which is already practised in many places. The long durability of several hundred years without interim maintenance is the most important environmental argument for bricks.

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