Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday Visual Inspiration: Your fake brick is showing

I was walking through Cherry Creek recently when I happened upon this alley, onto which fronted the garage access for some very nice condo/townhome units.  When I say nice, I mean  probably not costing less than $700,000 each, two- and three-car garages for each unit, a few blocks from the convenience and bustle of Cherry Creek North.

One of the them appeared to be undergoing some, what?

Let's get a close up of that corner there where the wall and roof meet, shall we?

Jesus, Mary, and Mario Botta help us: that's brick veneer.  It's what we call "lick-and-stick", when a 3/4" or so thick slice of brick is stuck to a grouted surface, the way you might do ceramic tile on a bathroom wall.  The surface now has the look of real, 3"+ thick brick in your wall, but it isn't.  It's a cheap imitation.  Now, to be fair, the lick-and-stick veneer is budget-friendly and also puts less weight (and therefore structural strain) on a building's exterior, and it's not a bad idea if you're doing a brick-looking wall indoors, but don't need the weight and structural heft of a brick, but I still find thin brick veneer to be craptastic.

John Ruskin-ish of me or not, it's dishonest in the most ethical sense.  People have a sense of what brick costs, in that it probably costs more than stucco (and it does), and when they see brick, they have an expectation of how nice, how expensive, and how high-quality the building is upon which they gaze.  Thin brick is the egg tempera mask that an aging Queen Elizabeth I wore in her dotage in an attempt to look young and vibrant.  Thin brick is two pairs of Spanx on your blind date, a borrowed Canali suit on a pizza delivery guy out in a nightclub posing as a playa.  It's a dishonest and inaccurate expression on the cost and craftsmanship of a building.  Someone spent the bare minimum to build it and charged the maximum they could for this cheaptastic building, and they walked off with mad cash.

And the architect, by the way, got none of that mad cash.  The architect was paid for work done, maybe even revamped to be cheaper ("We can't afford brick, so let's use, EIFS! That's perfect!  Come on, stop crying, it'll look fine.").  The architect downed some cheap scotch, finished the drawings, stamped them, and then walked away.  The contractor slapped it together (and also might have been cheated out of the chance to build something really cool, by the way, because contractors do like a challenge now and again), and the developer made a handy profit, selling a thin-brick veneer to unwary yuppies who think they live in a castle when it's really a 2x4 box.  (The developer also probably spent most of the money on finishes inside the building, which means that the owners look at polished granite counters and stainless steel appliances while the rest of the world has to look at a barely-mediocre exterior, which is a disservice to culture and humanity, but that's a rant for a different post.)

So, yes, thin-brick veneer on a building--any building--irritates me because it's dishonest to so many people: the architect, the homeowners, and the public.


FWStan said...

It is not just the peel ans stick. When I sold my last house the real estate agent showed me some comps and one had some brick on the front, mine had some cedar in the same place. Thte agent said that the brick was real brick and the comp listed the house for
$5000 more because of the front of the house was brick. Pointed out that both homes were constructed the same a wood frame with sone accents but he insisted that the other was brick and worth more. Some people are dumb.

Anonymous said...

I can understand the pressure for fake features; no one wants to live in a cheap wooden box and even real wood siding costs a fortune if it's any good. On the other hand, a wood framed building has some advantages over a real masonry structure in a cold climate or an earthquake zone and contrary to common myth, either can be as strong or weak as the builder cares to build it. And, I wouldn't call even 4 inch brick veneer "real" if it's not holding up anything; it's still just there for looks and some protection from storm damage and fire. But, if they are going to fake something as substantial as a brick building, putting a thin layer over Styrofoam is kind of a cheesy way to go about it. Adding even a half-inch layer of hard stucco or cement board would avoid that "Disenyland" feel you get when tapping on the walls of places like this. And where they put these "bricks" didn't make a lot of sense; a real horizontal arch as wide as those doors would never support anything and real horizontal arches are skewed, extend beyond the opening and can't be too close to a corner; they never just look like vertical soldier course. The horizontal soldier courses along the roof line are also a little implausible. If they are going to fake something, I at least want to be surprised when someone cuts it opened and finds it that isn't real. The problem with these thin materials is that, while they can be nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, they also allow "designers" to fake architectural details so implausibly that they can't possibly be real. In all fairness though, any new condo that isn't smothered in hideous vinyl siding is a step up from the current average.