Brick and Structural Clay

A Sense of Brick

The Petersen Tegl brickworks is not just a site where the famous Kolumba is made. For more than two centuries, it has also been a family home.

February 1, 2014
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The moment you turn down Nybølnorvej in Nybølnor, Denmark, there is no mistaking what kind of place this is. Works in burnt clay, sample walls, and brick surfaces in all shades and colors lead the way to Christian A. Petersen’s home and brickworks. Brick has been produced here since 1791, when King Christian VII granted the founder of the family business, smallholder Peter Andresen, permission to build a brickworks.

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The brickworks, and the royal assent, have passed down through the generations. Today, Christian A. Petersen and his daughters run the company—the seventh and eighth successive generations to do so. Even the grandchildren are involved. A few years ago, they developed the idea of the Petersen Junior mini-bricks, which are equally suitable for play and decoration.

The beauty of the site is multi-faceted, but the passion for burnt clay is palpable at every turn. The Petersen family’s private home has the unmistakable aura of a building that has been cared for and maintained over hundreds of years. The production buildings predominantly consist of blue-tempered brick and exude a toned-down materiality that contributes to the harmony of the site.

But the architecture is not the only attraction. Artists regularly visit the brickworks and work here for extended periods, often leaving behind examples of their work. These pieces can be found dotted around the site, among well-tended bonsai trees and rose bushes.

In the early days, as now, the 4-sq-mi cove was ideal for brick making. Along its coasts were rich deposits of Ice Age clay, and the cove had a direct, navigable connection to Flensburg Fjord. In the 18th century, the brickworks was located on the other side. In fact, at one point 50 brickworks were located at the cove, the biggest such concentration in Northern Europe. Six remain today—including Petersen Tegl.


Coal-Fired Brick

Petersen Tegl has fared well—even during hard times for the brick-making industry—for multiple reasons. First, the brick it produces are unique. Second, Petersen has a feel for the Zeitgeist, is adaptable and understands the importance of working closely with architects.

Petersen Tegl is the only brickworks in Denmark to produce coal-fired brick. The brick are manufactured on machines—designed by Christian A. Petersen and his staff—that imitate the way brick are made by hand. This is why its brick are all different.

The varied nuances occur during the firing process. The range includes 31 types, encompassing a rich color palette. By customer request, the brickworks also produces coal-fired brick in special colors. As a result of the firing technique, a certain amount of variation may occur in terms of dimensions, cracks and deformations, but these have no effect upon durability. A team of six or seven people inspects and mixes the brick before they leave the facility to ensure that all pallets arrive at the construction site ready for use.


Made by Hand

The Kolumba™ brick that Petersen has been producing for the last eight years is handmade in accordance with centuries-old craft traditions. After processing, the clay is pressed into a wooden mold, dried and then burnt. By using different types of clay and firing them at different temperatures, the brick are infused with a variety of textures and beautiful shades.

The Kolumba™ brick that Petersen has been producing for the last eight years is handmade in accordance with centuries-old craft traditions.

Kolumba was jointly developed in 2002 by Petersen Tegl and Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, who wanted a Roman-looking brick for the Kolumba Museum in Cologne. It is now used in construction projects all over the world. The Royal Theatre Playhouse on the Copenhagen waterfront is the largest Kolumba-built edifice in Denmark to date. The playhouse was designed by the architects Lundgaard & Tranberg, who stipulated specific requirements for their building materials. The architects traveled to Broager, where they personally selected the shades of Kolumba they wanted for the building.

The same architects also designed the Sorø Art Museum, which opened in November 2011. This project was inspired by Min2 Architects in Holland, who a few years earlier had developed a variant of Kolumba to mount as shingles on both the roof and the façade of their private residence in Bergen aan Zee. Lundgaard & Tranberg refined this system for the Sorø Art Museum. The result inspired the following headline above a review of the project in the Danish newspaper Politiken: “Brick just doesn’t get any more beautiful than this.”

In 2013, a new building containing 37 apartments at 14th Street in Manhattan was finished. The building uses a combination of Kolumba and coal-fired bricks in the façade and was designed and developed by DDG Architects in New York. The prior year, a new student housing building at Haverford College in Pennsylvania was also completed using Kolumba. The building was designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Architects, also based in New York.

The success in the U.S. is far from unusual for Petersen Tegl, which has regularly increased its exports, including to Japan, Russia and Australia, over the past decade. However, Europe is still the company’s main export market.

The standard format for a Kolumba brick is 528 x 108 x 37 mm, but it is also available in custom sizes. Kolumba is produced in 28 standard variants, though the brickworks also tries to comply with all requests for special colors or surfaces.


Artistic Partnerships

Petersen Tegl’s close collaboration with architects around the world also means that the company is often involved when brick are required to match the color, structure and format of existing architecture. Petersen’s department for special brick was founded when the old main entrance to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen was restored 22 years ago. The entrance was originally built in 1890, and its intricate brick reliefs needed to be replaced. Petersen took on the job, and since then the brickworks has regularly been commissioned to take on special assignments.

Among its more unusual assignments is Takeo Obayashi’s Yu’un guesthouse in Tokyo, designed by architect Tadao Ando and built in 2007. Ando collaborated on the façade with the artist Olafur Eliasson, who worked with Petersen Tegl to develop the 12-sided rhomboid clinkers, coated with platinum and produced at the brickworks. The unusual clinkers beautifully capture and reflect the light, and cover the entire building’s façade. 

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