There are many building materials that have experienced minimal changes since their initial inception in the field of architecture. However, this does not imply that they are outdated, but rather that their qualities and simplicity make them highly versatile materials also demonstrate the resilience and durability of materials that withstand the test of time. An example of this is brick, a timeless material that has been able to adapt over the years, serving functions such as walls, cladding, and flooring, among others. Under this premise, Louis Khan referred to the expressive possibilities of brick, stating, “Even a brick wants to be something. It aspires.”Thanks to the progress of new technologies applied to materials, disruptive proposals have arisen that converge in new construction systems. On many occasions, these new technologies are combined with materials considered “traditional,” generating new concepts in which materials such as brick find new applications and possibilities. One of these new concepts is Flexbrick, a ceramic textile with an industrialized system that combines flexible sheets to wrap architectural spaces. This opens up new possibilities for applications at the forefront of the parametric architecture revolution, using a flexible, adaptable, and sustainable material.
The world of architecture is undergoing dynamic changes thanks to new trends such as parametric architecture. This cutting-edge approach to design, driven by technological advances in materials and software, is transforming how we conceive and construct buildings. Importantly, parametric architecture goes beyond the traditional association with curvilinear structures. Its essence lies in leveraging algorithms and software to create responsive and adaptive structures and materials through practices that excel in flexibility, customization, and sustainability in construction.
The modular design of Flexbrick systems and their range of custom pieces allow for easy adaptability and flexibility, making it possible to create buildings that mold to any environment. These systems offer several advantages over traditional construction methods, whether for structural elements, roofing systems, pavements, or facades.
Besides its aesthetic contributions, Flexbrick stands out for its ability to expedite the coating process for any surface. It is a large-format fabric, reaching up to 20 meters, composed of small elements that were traditionally installed individually. However, they are now available in expansive formats capable of covering floors and walls efficiently. When applied to facades, it offers a significant financial advantage by eliminating the need for ordinary profiles to secure or align the elements. This is achieved as the elements are vertically aligned using their own weight, resulting in cost savings on additional materials. Furthermore, if longer strips are used, the installation time is significantly reduced.
The pieces of ceramic textile are made by an industrialized system based on an interwoven steel wire mesh, which is enclosed in a mosaic of ceramic clay tiles stacked in horizontal and vertical bands. Its main advantage is that it offers architects and designers an ancient material in a new format that enhances traditional manual piece-by-piece installation. Being highly flexible, the textile can be folded onto pallets for storage and transportation, occupying minimal space and facilitating movement. The long strips make installation easy, quick, and cost-effective.A prime example of the versatility of ceramic textile systems is the Opportunity Pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai, designed by the Kuwaiti-Spanish architectural firm AGi Architects. During its production, biogas was used to avoid CO₂ emissions, demonstrating an environmentally conscious approach and the integration of sustainable practices in parametric architecture. A ceramic layer covers both the floor and facades of the pavilion, creating the illusion that the structure is wrapped in a terracotta carpet. This design not only adds an important aesthetic touch but also emphasizes the pavilion’s public spaces and the way people circulate and interact inside.
In addition to their application in prominent projects such as the pavilion, the ceramic textile system has diverse applications in different building typologies. In residential buildings, their modularity allows for the creation of customized, efficient, and sustainable housing. In commercial buildings, they can be used to build distinctive and visually striking structures. And in public buildings, such as museums, libraries, hospitals, and government buildings, they offer durability, sustainability, and functional design. One example of their application in healthcare is the Maitland Hospital in Australia, designed by BVN Architects.The Maitland Hospital project aims to honor the culture of the Wonnarua, who were the indigenous stewards of the land where it is located. The architectural design of this hospital uses terracotta elements in a meaningful way to create dynamic patterns with different tones, which becomes a powerful cultural allegory.
Particularly noteworthy is the presence of a pergola that embraces the pedestrian area near the hospital’s main entrance. This structure not only fulfills a practical function by protecting pedestrians from direct sunlight and providing them with a shady and comfortable space as they make their way to the entrance but also becomes an artistic element of great relevance. The choice of terracotta as the main material in this project has symbolic importance, as it is rooted in the tradition and history of the Wonnarua, thus establishing a deep link with the land and the local environment through an innovative technological proposal.
In terms of sustainability, Flexbrick systems are designed to be sustainable, with a focus on waste reduction and energy consumption. The ceramics used are manufactured using biogas extracted from landfills. Through this strategy, a reduction of energy consumption and fossil fuels is achieved, significantly reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions (approximately 16,700 tonnes/year of CO₂).Ceramic textile systems use recycled materials and energy-efficient technologies to minimize the environmental impact of construction projects. Simultaneously, these systems are designed to be efficient and cost-effective, making them a smart choice for builders and developers. Their streamlined construction processes and resource management contribute to faster and more economical projects. Additionally, Flexbrick is a recyclable material composed of steel mesh and ceramic elements, which are easy to separate for recycling, reducing its carbon footprint compared to traditional systems. If used as a facade system, it also acts as a natural sunscreen and reduces solar radiation, creating tempered interspaces in buildings.
The emergence of new building systems that use traditional materials in innovative ways significantly impacts the construction industry. Through flexible and sustainable building systems, our perception of architecture is being revolutionized by enabling the creation of adaptable, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing structures. As we move forward, we can expect new and exciting developments in architecture.To learn more about Flexbrick, visit their website or refer to the product catalog.