When Colombian architects Miguel Niño and Johanna Navarro set out to re-engineer the brick, they did so through the lens of sustainability. They wanted to create a mass producible, high-performance material that could be used to build better homes in their country.
Enter Bloque Termodisipador BT from Niño and Navarro’s company Sumart Diseño y Arquitectura SAS. The ceramic bricks naturally regulate temperature, decrease the need for additional building materials (like insulation and finishes), slash construction time, and support existing supply chains, the architects say. The genius lies in the bricks’ irregular shape and semi-hollow core.
Niño and Navarro essentially merged a rectangular and triangular form. By angling one side at 114 degrees, Niño and Navarro designed a brick that reflects sunlight and also shades the surface beneath it, which limits heat transfer. Moreover, the brick’s core is composed of hollow channels that offer ventilation and make it harder for heat to travel through the mass. On a traditional flat brick wall, the entire surface is exposed to harsh sunlight and, because of its solid form, transfers heat easier compared with Niño and Navarro’s design. Rooms become hot and air conditioning—which isn’t always available—becomes necessary for inhabitants to feel comfort.
To make construction time more efficient, Niño and Navarro designed the brick to have a special channel to ensure that the amount of mortar used is consistent—a detail that helps to conserve materials and remove the guesswork from how the bricks should be pieced together to build a wall. The only thing that’s different about creating a wall with the Bloque Termodisipador BT is the use of a spacer to ensure even placement and that no mortar gets between the triangular portions of the brick.
In addition to helping with the transfer, the brick’s shape offers acoustic insulation and can be arranged in sculptural patterns to embellish facades without the need for fancy finishes. Niño and Navarro hope that the building material will improve quality of life for people living in homes built from it.
While there is incredible research happening in experimental materials—like bricks grown from mushrooms, self-assembling materials, and 3-D printing—much of it still remains in the prototype phase or is expensive. By taking a material that’s already widely used in Colombia—ceramic brick—and tweaking its form, Niño and Navarro have engineered something that could be widely deployed. The product shows that simple genius goes a long way, no bells and whistles needed.