Louis Khan was famously quoted as saying " 'What do you want Brick?' And the Brick says to you, 'I like an arch.'..." Much of Khan's work was rooted in the honesty of heavy materials such as concrete and brick. His comment, moreover, belies his belief that all materials contain certain physical characteristics that define their usage. Brick was invented as load-bearing unit masonry and for much of it's history was used as such. However, in recent years, the meaning of brick has become convoluted in modern buildings. No longer used as a load bearing unit, brick has become a skin applied to the surface of structure. Ironically, it is the meaning of 'brick' that sustains it's usage. Technologically, brick does not function well as building skin. The units themselves are small, heavy, and require internal structure to carry their weight. However, brick is still used as skin in modern buildings because of the meaning and familiarity behind it. A brick wall recalls the idea of permanence and strength. It is a material of comfort in spite of the fact that today, unbeknownst to the user, the system is literally hanging over them.
However, the very properties that make brick a perverse choice for skin, may also enable a renaissance in it's usage. Capitalizing on the very fact that it is a small, unitized system, new technologies are revolutionizing the three dimensional capabilities of it's stacking. Using digitally defined algorythms and computer controlled robotic stacking devices, complex forms are able to be generated. At the 2008 Venice Bienale Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler constructed an installation entitled 'Structural Oscillations' that consisted of 14,961 individually rotated bricks in a 100 meter-long wall (pictured above). Here, the modern technology used to create this wall redefines the idea of the 'brick wall', while using the very properties of traditional brick. The individual units are rotated in space, creating spatial surfaces yet still rely on their load-bearing capacity for support.