Cladding fit for the future

With the Government targeting net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, Paul Richards from Aquarian Cladding Systems looks at why brick cladding systems might prove to be an ideal solution

With architects under pressure to be cleaner, faster, and safer, one of the most important decisions to be made on future building projects will be whether to achieve a brick finish using traditional brickwork, or a brick cladding system.

And as the desire increases to reduce both construction cost and build time, as well as build more sustainably, the widespread use of the humble brick is likely to find itself being confined to the past, and nostalgia.

Its legacy, however, will live on as brick facades remain as popular as ever in British architecture, with the use of modern brick cladding systems increasingly being used to achieve a natural finish which looks and weathers exactly like conventional brickwork – but without the limitations that come with brickwork installation.

The benefits, however, are much more far-reaching than just providing a traditional brick facade, and shelter from the weather.

Reduced installation times and cost
The process of laying bricks by hand is messy and weather dependent, so can therefore be slow and unpredictable.

Lightweight brick cladding systems can be installed in almost all weather conditions, and installation is typically much faster than traditional brickwork, dramatically reducing installation times.

By eliminating the need for masonry supports, the method offers a reduction in foundations, structural frame and ‘prelim’ costs (including replacing scaffolding with mechanical access equipment and fewer storage requirements). It also offers greater flexibility of build sequence and earlier project completion, ultimately leading to less risk of programme over-runs.

Using brick cladding can also reduce the impact on the environment, due to the use of brick slips, which typically require 80 per cent less volume of clay and mortar.

Thinner pieces of clay require less embodied energy to produce them, and less mortar means a reduction in the supply, use and storage of sand, cement, and water.

Due to the reduced volume of materials, deliveries to site are also reduced by up to 75 per cent, improving sustainability by reducing the impact on global resources and adding value to local communities, with less waste disposal on site too.

A better build
Brick cladding systems improve thermal efficiency and, when used as a rainscreen with a cavity, can provide healthier, breathable buildings; they dry out quicker and are therefore less prone to the risks of interstitial condensation than thicker, conventional brickwork.

Thinner walls also mean that the internal floor area can be increased, providing commercial benefit via the real value of space.

As brick cladding panels are factory-made, the quality of workmanship is higher than traditional brickwork, allowing for greater quality control throughout the process and therefore a more consistent and predictable product.

A design for life
Brick cladding systems can enable the designer to achieve a brick facade without compromise. With a wide choice of natural colours and finishes, they provide a wealth of design opportunities to be creative and, it could be argued, provide even greater design flexibility, allowing the designer to achieve more with a brick cladding system than with conventional brickwork.

From a weathering perspective, you can expect brick facades, when designed and built well, to improve with age, unlike other facade materials that can react negatively to UV light and show degradation from the elements over time.

Brick cladding systems also provide an improved quality of appearance compared with brickwork, which can vary wildly. With an ageing workforce, bricklaying is a skill that isn’t as widely available in the market today, so using a cladding system enables you to achieve greater productivity and a higher standard of bricklaying, while still giving you a building that’s built to last.

A viable alternative
The choice of whether to go with traditional brickwork or a brick cladding system depends on many factors, but importantly specifiers now have another option when considering the cost, buildability, programme, and complexity of design to achieve a perfect brick wall.

The typical ‘go-to’ solution of conventional bricklaying to achieve a brick facade now has a serious competitor. Brick cladding systems are a perfect hybrid alternative, combining all the benefits of a traditional appearance with an offsite solution that can be adapted onsite. Welcome to the fourth industrial revolution.

Paul Richards is managing director of Aquarian Cladding Systems