Brick and Structural Clay

Sustainable Construction

Potomac Valley Brick brings attention to the sustainable properties of brick through its BrickStainable International Design Competition.

"BRICK BRICK BRICK BRICK" earned an honorable mention in the Integrated Building Design category.

Take a moment and recall playing in a barn in the summer, exploring a vacant building, or visiting an old church on a hot day. Remember the cool relief of a church interior, or the warmth and humidity of a greenhouse on a crisp fall afternoon?

These buildings' construction materials contribute to their behavior in different climates and add to our sense of comfort, whether thermal, acoustical or aesthetic. Buildings that provide the most stable thermal environment are typically constructed with masonry, materials that humans have used for 3000 years.

For the past two years, Potomac Valley Brick has brought attention to the sustainable properties of brick through its BrickStainable International Design Competition. The competition is held in pursuit of design solutions that exploit the unique properties of brick masonry construction and seek new ideas in the development of this age-old building material. The competition is organized in two categories:
  • Integrated Building Design Competition-The 2010 competition challenge was set in an urban location where entrants created integrative design solutions that exploited the thermal qualities of brick masonry construction to create a passively heated and cooled building. The target: Net zero.
  • Technical Design Competition-Entrants must design a single element of a building that provides a sustainable solution to real-world environmental challenges.
BrickStainable is open to teams of architects, engineers, material scientists, landscape architects, ecologists, students and others from around the world. This year, teams from 62 countries entered the competition.

"EcoCeramic Masonry System," winner in the Technical Design category.

Why Brick?

Brick's characteristics include passive solar energy potential through thermal mass, as well as durability and flexibility. Passive solar design does not require mechanical equipment to create temperate interior living conditions. Instead, it uses the building's materials to regulate the temperature indoors.

Masonry buildings absorb the heat of the sun into the mass of their walls during the day. This helps to stabilize the interior temperature whether it is hot or cold outside. At night, the stored heat radiates to the interior and exterior of the building (depending on the climate), once again helping to maintain a stable thermal environment within.

This reduction in a reliance on mechanical heating and cooling systems saves energy throughout the life of the building. Tests conducted by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory have shown energy savings as high as 13%.

Next, this durable material can last hundreds or even thousands of years. Other than stone, no other construction product lasts as long as brick. This construction durability adds value to any property when considering lifecycle costs. Masonry durability reduces both the monetary and environmental costs of maintenance, as fewer new resources are needed to repair the structure over long periods of time. In addition, the durability of homes and buildings built with brick adds a generational sense of community to towns, cities, villages, and neighborhoods all over the world.

Finally, brick can be used to achieve sustainability goals in every type of building-from single-family homes and high-rise condominiums to office buildings and public institutions. Within a location, brick can be used as an interior wall, floor, ceiling, fireplace and as a passive solar energy collector. In addition, brick is used around the world in every economic region. The abundance of clay-the natural, predominant material in brick-contributes to its universal manufacturing and application.

"Climate Camouflage" earned an honorable mention in the Technical Design category.

Award Winners

In BrickStainable, jurors looked for evidence of the project's performance and the use of building information modeling (BIM), as well as energy, solar, and daylight modeling software.

This year, Jamillah Muhammad and her team at Perkowitz & Ruth (Ronald Moore, Dindo Mabana, Tou Boran Pek, Kathleen Stover and Boryana Fileva) won the Integrated Building Design category with "Net Zero in Baltimore." Muhammad described her entry as "sited to maintain the urban fabric of the streets and sidewalks to the north and east, maintaining pedestrian connections to the boardwalk and water taxi to the northwest. The hardscape is made from recycled brick and is 100% permeable, with pathways that display some of the indigenous bio-fuels that Mass Energy is developing."

In the Technical Design category, Kelly Winn and his team, including Associate Professor Jason Vollen and other members at the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE) in New York, won with "EcoCeramic Masonry System." Winn noted his entry "uses composite fibers and resins as an integral tensile layer replacing steel and mortar, increasing tensile strength and flexural ability."

Three honorable mention winners in the Integrated Building Design category also presented valuable ideas. Cal Poly Pomona students Heather Midori Santos and Jillian Christina Schroettinger's "Mass Energy Science Center" nests an office campus into the landscape and has building occupants and visitors wandering up a series of ramps exploring bio-fuels and water-absorbing design features. The project features water capture strategies, energy solutions and trombe walls.

University of Texas, San Antonio student Shane Valentine's "Texas Cultivating Energy" contains a compelling and poetic reference to the notion of agricultural links between the outdoor landscape solutions and the building rhythms, with expressive views of vistas beyond the city.

San Casciano, Italy, student Robert Kane's "BRICK BRICK BRICK BRICK" engages brick as a structural material, not just a veneer. The structural elements have thermal characteristics, as well as geothermal heat exchange and rooftop solar thermal. This brick structure is integrated with novel thermal systems. A series of marching facades, the building orientation, a highly crafted process of laying brick, and the expressive design are all exemplary facets of this entry.

The two honorable mentions in the Technical Design category focused their efforts on specific aspects of the material. Kelly Winn, Jason Vollen and Ted Ngai of CASE submitted "Climate Camouflage." This entry demonstrates an advanced use of geometry and material science, illustrating much potential for the further development of energy savings. The concepts behind these units involve a great deal of science.

Rizal Muslimin, a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a 2009 winner, returned this year with "BrickBead." His interesting analysis of porous walls in urban conditions responding to change in microclimates in and around buildings results in a joyful expression using ceramic materials. It gives craftsmen the ability to modulate environmental factors such as sunshine, wind, thermal mass and evaporative cooling.

Expanding Possibilities

Humans have used clay brick's assets to construct long-lasting livable, attractive structures since the ancient empires of Mesopotamia, Rome and China. As architects and contractors now look for ways to reduce energy consumption and construct long-lasting, low-maintenance structures, brick should be considered an essential building material to effectively achieve today's sustainability goals, creating a stronger environment for tomorrow. The BrickStainable International Design Competition is an example of how much possibility exists.

For additional information, email the authors at and

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to Ceramic Industry Magazine.

You must login or register in order to post a comment.



Image Galleries

December 2014 Issue Highlights

Our December 2014 issue is now available! Posted: April 27, 2015.


Ceramics Expo podcast
Editor Susan Sutton discusses the upcoming Ceramics Expo with event director Adam Moore.
More Podcasts

Ceramic Industry Magazine

CI May 2015 cover

2015 May

Our May issue covers bulk batching, pneumatic conveyors, high-temperature furnaces and more! Be sure to check it out today.

Table Of Contents Subscribe

Daily News

We know where you find the latest ceramic industry news (ahem), but where do you catch up on the rest of your daily news?
View Results Poll Archive


M:\General Shared\__AEC Store Katie Z\AEC Store\Images\Ceramics Industry\handbook of advanced ceramics.gif
Handbook of Advanced Ceramics Machining

Ceramics, with their unique properties and diverse applications, hold the potential to revolutionize many industries, including automotive and semiconductors.

More Products

Clear Seas Research

Clear Seas ResearchWith access to over one million professionals and more than 60 industry-specific publications,Clear Seas Research offers relevant insights from those who know your industry best. Let us customize a market research solution that exceeds your marketing goals.


facebook_40px twitter_40px  youtube_40pxlinkedin_40google+ icon 40px


CI Data Book July 2012

Ceramic Industry's Directories including Components, Equipment Digest, Services, Data Book & Buyers Guide, Materials Handbook and much more!