Homebuilding in the UK is constantly influenced by a range of trends and architectural styles and naturally enough, it is consumers that lead the way in dictating what these will be. Starting with the building blocks, the bricks, customers are now realising that traditional manufacturing methods can really help add character to new homes. The distinct look of bricks that have been hand-made and wood-fired in a kiln is helping to create traditional looking new-build homes from scratch that have the look and feel of a vintage property.
And this is something that's very much 'on-trend', given that at one time, the fashion was to discount everything in the past and look to the future in terms of designing the overall style of contemporary property. The 1960s saw a swath of new architectural thinking that turned its back on the more traditional styles such as Victorian gothic design, for example, that was still very popular in the period up until the Second World War. And this was understandable, given that the war cast a long shadow that meant people wanted to look to modern design as a way to look to the future.
What is great, however, is that there are still a number of landmark historical buildings that were saved from the wrecking ball. This was, in part, thanks to the efforts of the general public, celebrities and even poets, making the case for their continued existence. One of the best known examples is St Pancreas Station and the iconic hotel that surrounds it in Central London. Both came under threat in 1966 when plans to combine Kings Cross and St Pancreas stations were tabled. Poet Laureate John Betjeman took up the cause and highlighted the need to protect the buildings. Subsequently, the Government stepped into protect the station and hotel by granting both Grade I listed status. This demonstrates the importance of safeguarding architectural treasures like these for future generations to enjoy and be inspired by.
However, the sixties was a long time ago and today, contemporary thinking associates traditional design and building methods with quality and reliability, as well as attention to detail that somehow got lost in the mass production methods of the 1960s and 70s. So much so, that in addition to period properties coming into vogue, the styles that these buildings carry are being translated into designs for modern properties.
Traditional techniques are an important factor in creating brickwork, mouldings and facias that replicate such styles closely. However, this has to be properly managed by experts that understand how to achieve the look without it appearing forced, or going against the overall impression created by a modern building. Specialised providers are able to combine old and new styles in a way that bridges the gap between old and new in a stylish, seamless fashion.
One key consumer demand that has increased, alongside the current desire for traditional looking properties, is the need for building processes to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Our handmade wood-fired bricks are fired in a kiln using wood instead of oil as the fuel - which in itself is kinder to the environment. A brick dried using wood chip is a material that's welcomed by the Government's Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme. These bricks are then used within the restoration of historic and heritage properties, as well as being used within new builds, in order to provide a more traditional look.
Our on-site sustainability is driven by using closed loop systems that cover the sourcing of clay from land owned by the firm, as well as the sustainable biomass we use to dry the bricks. In addition, the construction industry in general has a firm commitment to assisting in reaching targets included in the Government's Code for Sustainable Homes, which challenges the construction industry to build in the most environmentally sustainable way possible. One of the main areas of focus within the code is materials, so use of bricks manufactured in this way throughout a variety of property types is a clear advantage.
Demand for traditional building techniques like this is clearly on the rise, both in the UK and abroad - at HG Matthews, we have been exporting bricks to the U.S, China and Japan.
What's fantastic, however, is that many brick makers are finding innovative ways to meet the need to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the production process - something that is no longer an 'optional extra' but is instead a core requirement of any building process, no matter how traditional, or how much demand there is for it.
Jim Matthews is the third-generation owner of HG Matthews