Fired clay is among the most versatile and robust building materials available today – and one of the oldest. For centuries, clay building products have been used across the building envelope in the form of bricks, blocks, roof tiles and pavers. Clay bricks and tiles are deeply rooted in Australia’s cultural history and architectural identity, with countless examples of iconic clay-built structures across the country.
Clay bricks have stood the test of time due to their enduring qualities. When fired through a kiln, the clay unit goes through a vitrification process which fuses the clay particles together. The result is a highly resistant and strong building material that can last many decades – even in the most challenging of climates.
The appeal of Littlehampton clay bricks goes beyond their strength, longevity and performance. With numerous environmental benefits, clay bricks are an excellent choice for the sustainable buildings of the future. Not only are clay bricks made using natural raw materials that are in abundance, but they can be reused and recycled after a structure has served its initial purpose.
In addition, the countless design options offered in today’s market have enabled architects to create beautiful brick structures with striking features and timeless aesthetics.
Of course, not all clay brick products are the same. Clay bricks are widely manufactured across Australia. Manufacturers employ a wide range of production and finishing techniques, resulting in products that have different levels of quality, looks, textures and consistency. It is important for designers and specifiers to understand such differences and choose the right manufacturer and product to achieve their design vision.
In this whitepaper, we examine why Littlehampton clay bricks remain the premier building material and consider the benefits of handcrafted bricks over their mass-produced equivalents.
How clay brick is made
The fundamentals of brick manufacturing have not changed much over time. Brick is made of clay and shales formed, dried and fired into a durable building product. The clay used in brick manufacturing must possess some plasticity so that they can be shaped or molded when mixed with water while having enough wet and air-dried strength to maintain their shape after forming.
Bricks are produced by first mixing ground clay with shales and water, then forming the clay into the desired shape. The brick shape can be formed in three ways: extrusion, molded and dry-pressed. After the brick is formed, it is dried then fired for 10 to 40 hours, depending on the kiln type and other variables. When subjected to very high temperatures, the clay particles fuse together. After the bricks are fired, they are cooled for a prescribed time and unloaded from the kiln. Finally, the bricks are sorted and graded to ensure quality, uniformity and consistency.
The basic principles of brick manufacturing are fairly consistent across the industry, but individual manufacturers tailor their production to fit their particular raw materials, operation and product requirements. Most bricks are mass produced using a tunnel kiln, a type of continuous kiln that is typically open on both ends and heated centrally, and is suited for a continuous and/or automated product line.
Boutique brickmakers like Littlehampton opt for traditional-style batch kilns and handcrafting to produce unique, one-of-a-kind products in small batches. Traditional batch kilns can achieve exceptionally high temperatures for longer than other types of modern kilns. These high temperatures, and the way bricks are stacked in a batch kiln, produce natural variations, flashes and shades.
Variations in brick products can also result from different colouring and blending techniques. For example, colours may be baked into or applied to the face of the brick to create unique effects and finishes. Manufacturers can also blend different clays to achieve desired aesthetic and performance properties.
What the architectural benefits of clay brick
Clay bricks are among the most durable of man-made materials – they do not rot, tarnish, puncture, fade, rust, scuff, peel, erode or burn. They can also withstand severe climate zones and industrial areas where high acid or alkaline discharges occur. While not completely waterproof, bricks resist water penetration, which helps minimises mould growth, wood rot and infestation by insects, and corrosion. These qualities ensure bricks can last for generations with the average lifespan of a clay building estimated at more than 100 years.
The Brick Industry Association. “Manufacturing of Brick.” Go Brick. https://www.gobrick.com/docs/default-source/read-research-documents/technicalnotes/9-manufacturing-of-brick.pdf?sfvrsn=0 (accessed 13 February 2022).
Clay brick has impressive mechanical properties including high load-bearing capacity, dimensional stability and compressive strength. These strength properties limit cracking, ensure structural integrity and reduce the likelihood of structural defects during construction. Once constructed, a brick structure is incredibly robust and should not deform or crack even under prolonged stress.
Thermal mass is the ability of a material to store heat and then slowly release it. Clay bricks have a high thermal mass, which contribute to a comfortable indoor climate in all seasons. In summer, brick structures stay cool during the hottest part of the day. In winter, bricks store heat and radiate it back to the inside of the building. Both effects can help reduce the use of mechanical heating and cooling systems thus reducing energy consumption.
During production, clay bricks are fired to temperatures between 1000°C and 1200°C, so they are capable of resisting high temperatures without damage. This natural resistance to fire makes brick an ideal choice for Australian construction as non-combustibility is a critical requirement for building elements under the National Construction Code.
Health and wellbeing
Clay bricks are the building blocks of healthy buildings. During their in-use phase, they do not emit volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde or allergens nor do they emit toxic fumes when exposed to fire. Their thermal efficiency helps regulate indoor temperatures and maintain indoor air quality. In addition, the density and mass of clay bricks makes them a natural sound barrier. All these properties help create comfortable indoor environments that are conducive to productivity, learning and health.
Clay bricks require little to no maintenance, which saves owners time and money year after year. Their structural integrity and durability ensure clay brickwork can withstand difficult conditions while protecting the building structure from moisture and wind-blown debris. Littlehampton bricks also do not discolor or ‘fade’ over time.
Why choose handcrafted over mass produced?
In response to growing construction demand, the mechanised form of mass production of clay brick slowly took place during the first half of the 19th century. While it has made brick more affordable, mass production has its drawbacks. The focus on uniformity means that bricks look the same, and are often only available in a limited set of sizes and colour options.
With architects and designers seeking greater freedom to create unique individual designs, handcrafted or bespoke solutions have become more attractive. Handcrafted bricks offer incredible flexibility as bricks can be made to any specification. Some manufacturers like Littlehampton use different brick blends, clays, shapes and sizes to make something genuinely bespoke.
One aspect of clay brick that has kept it among the most popular building materials is its ability to incorporate and reflect a broad spectrum of existing architectural styles, and the countless design options that enable architects and designers to achieve unique aesthetic effects. Inventive patterns, color choices, unit sizes, and surface finishes can be used in various configurations to evoke a sense of modernity or tradition.
In particular, Littlehampton’s handcrafted bricks add a unique warmth and character to any architectural design. The natural variations in the handcrafting process impart a special distinctiveness to every brick which cannot be replicated by mass production techniques. No two Littlehampton bricks are identical – each has its own individual character, shade and texture.
The combination of handcrafted aesthetics with the high performance of the highest quality ceramic products are ideal for matching legacy brickwork in heritage restoration projects or in modern builds with a heritage, industrial or rustic style. Special shapes can be achieved, including corners, radials, bullnoses, sloped sills, headers, coping caps, which can be used for dramatic angles and curves.
Adding to its aesthetic versatility, clay brick’s natural colour fastness ensures hues and textures retain their beauty for a lifetime. Some brick products have colours applied to the faces of the brick or paver to create a unique effect or finish. Finishes are specially formulated slurries and mixes applied to the bricks which fuse with the base brick during the firing process. This locks the colour pigments into the brick so they do not fade or discolour over time.
Smooth or sand-finished textures on brick products can be produced by the dies or molds used in forming. Some manufacturers produce textures using devices that cut, scratch, roll, brush or otherwise roughen the surface as the clay column leaves the die.
Boutique Production Means Higher quality
Mass production can result in lower quality bricks due to the sheer volume of product being made and the impacts of cost-cutting over a large-scale operation. This is one of the reasons boutique brick manufacturers focus on small batch production. Producing bricks in small batches allows the manufacturer to individually hand-grade each individual brick, allowing optimal quality control and minimal wastage.
Handcrafted bricks can increase the longevity of the built environment. The flexibility and aesthetic options available for Littlehampton handcrafted bricks allows architects and designers to preserve the unique heritage style when repairing or extending an older building. Bespoke bricks can be made to match old imperial or antique bricks, including heritage shapes and profiles found only in older Australian buildings.
An environmentally responsible choice
Recent advances in brick manufacturing and processes have enabled manufacturers to significantly reduce their environmental impact. Littlehampton Brick have implemented energy efficient technologies within their facilities, including machinery powered by solar energy and kilns fired on recycled waste-oil. Over the years, there has been an increased focus on using off-cuts and recycling unusable bricks in the manufacturing process, rather than discarding them. Littlehampton produce bricks using only natural local materials, further reducing their carbon footprint while helping support local economies.
The resilience and longevity of clay bricks helps reduce its lifecycle environmental impact. The cumulative environmental cost of sourcing, manufacturing and using clay building products are amortised considerably over the products’ over 100-year lifespan. Owners can further reduce their carbon impact by preferring local suppliers.
The end-of-life phase of clay bricks also offers positive environmental outcomes. Clay bricks can be salvaged and reused when the existing structure has outlived its usefulness. For example, old bricks can be recycled and re-used in another building or crushed and reused as aggregate for road construction, sub-base or non-toxic landfill and site leveling.
Littlehampton Bricks & Pavers Australia
With over 120 years’ experience in handcrafting boutique bricks, Littlehampton have the expertise, knowledge and friendly staff that are happy to help you with your project. Littlehampton handcrafted products have been chosen for many world-leading projects and continue to innovate in bespoke design and range of colours.
Littlehampton’s clay bricks and pavers are fired in their traditional small-batch kiln, which imparts each product with the unique character, texture and quality that the company is renowned for around Australia and the world. The handcrafted production processes have been in the company since inception in the late 1800’s and are constantly
Littlehampton is constantly redeveloping their product range to ensure they are keeping updated with current styles and trends. The range includes the Sincero Design Series, a unique range that provides sincere handcrafted design, elegant and rich colour blends and subtle face textures – from the industrial chic of Blush and Light Earth to the earthy textures of Siena and the bold finishes of Impresso and Midnight. Glazed Bricks feature in a vibrant range of colour, all with a unique texturing and glazed finish. Kiln-fired Clay Pavers offer rich earthy tones and natural character to help create beautiful landscapes, and can be mixed to form interesting design statements.
Coming soon is the ‘long’ awaiting Milan Series – a brand new range of long-format linear bricks 100% designed and manufactured here in Australia using local, natural clay and minerals.
- Unique textures. Distinct rustic textures and colours that are completely bespoke and individual to Littlehampton.
- 100% Hand-graded. Every brick is hand-graded for optimal size, colour and quality consistency.
- Baked, not painted. Forever-lasting finishes, with colours fused into the brick.
- Quality materials. Littlehampton source their clay and minerals from the finest local Australian quarries.
- Hard-fired. Bricks are fired in a unique traditional batch kiln that reaches temperatures over 1100℃, resulting in products that are more robust than most other bricks.
- Special shapes for heritage projects. Littlehampton is one of just a few master brickmakers in Australia who continue to make heritage shapes and profiles to match old buildings.
- Eco-Friendly manufacturing measures. A focus on renewable energy, local materials and recycling waste during the manufacturing process.