BIA National News

Add to Google


New Webinar Offers Continuing Education, CM Credits to Planners

Did you know you can get a CM credit just by watching our free webinar on YouTube? The Brick Industry Association has offered in-person seminars and conference sessions for credit for years, but this is our first online offering. Click here to be taken to the webinar.

This session focuses on the role that good design plays in smart growth. It offers a unique perspective on design guidelines (AKA design standards or architectural standards), discussing their impact beyond simple good looks.

Enjoy the session, and look for new ones to arrive in the coming months on BIA's YouTube channel.


Lee’s Summit, Missouri Demands Brick for Downtown

Brick will continue to be the primary cladding material on buildings in downtown Lee’s Summit, a suburb of Kansas City.  On March 14 the Lee’s Summit City Council adopted an ordinance that seeks to protect the historic character of the area by ensuring that new construction will meld well with existing buildings.

Design standards incorporated into the ordinance provide a concise, interesting history of the downtown’s development which was shaped by two fires leading to the construction of primarily brick buildings in the area.  The ordinance requires new infill structures to follow that historic pattern by utilizing brick cladding and limiting other materials to minor facades and trim.  Exterior Insulation and Finish System (EIFS) and metal cladding are prohibited outright.

Beyond the materials requirements, Lee’s Summit’s new ordinance calls for the use of brick screen walls at the sidewalk edge of open sites between buildings (often utilized for parking) “to avoid the appearance of missing teeth along the street.”

The design standards can be viewed here.


Wisconsin Masonry Alliance announces award winners, launches new website

The Wisconsin Masonry Alliance (WMA) held its annual Excellence in Masonry Awards Breakfast in conjunction with the annual AIA Wisconsin Convention at Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin on May 3, 2012.  Over 40 Wisconsin based projects in clay, concrete and natural stone masonry were submitted to this year’s competition.

Preliminary judges John Klett, AIA and Elizabeth (Zibby) Ericson, FAIA, LEED-AP of Zimmerman Architectural Studios narrowed down the selection to six finalists.  A special thanks goes to the over 120 architects that participated in the new, interactive voting process.  Projects were judged based on design creativity, visual impact and acceptance, inspiring material usage and lastly the utilization of masonry. The winners were:

●  Excellence in Clay Masonry
St. Paul Catholic Church, Mosinee, WI; Architect Blue Design Group, LLC

●  Best of Clay Masonry
UW Oshkosh Sage Hall, Oshkosh, WI; Architect Berners Schober

●  Excellence in Natural Stone Masonry
Okauchee Residence, Okauchee, WI; Architect Patera, LLC                                   

●  Best of Natural Stone Masonry
ProHealth Care Sussex, Sussex, WI;
Architect Connolly Architects

●  Excellence in Concrete Masonry
Marathon City Fire Station, Wausau, WI; Architect Short Elliott Hendrickson

●  Best of Show / Best of Concrete Masonry
Mars Cheese Castle, Kenosha, WI; Architect MSI General

The WMA also recently launched a new website at  The site will allow members to renew their WMA memberships online, register for WMA meetings and events, and connect to industry links and resources.



A custom brick home for the price of a vinyl-sided tract home?

Builder Clay Chapman says it’s possible, and he’s documenting his effort to build such a house on his blog Hope For Architecture.
Frustrated with the disposable houses that have dominated in recent decades, and aware that his building of high-end custom homes for a handful of wealthy people would do little to change things, Chapman set out to build a permanent, energy-efficient, quality home for around $80 per square foot. In brick. Structural brick. $80 per square foot!
Chapman’s story is well covered in Better! Cities & Towns by Scott Doyon. What’s amazing is that Chapman, by rethinking the home from the ground up, doesn’t sacrifice anything to stay at $80 per square foot. His home is custom-designed, generous with craftsman-built details, beautiful, and will stand for perhaps centuries. As Doyon puts it, “...a home of true permanence, capable of lasting for as long as it remains loved, at a price suited to the middle class.”
Progress photos from Chapman’s blog do a nice job of showing the thick, load-bearing, structural brick walls which are quite different from the full brick veneer and thin brick applications more commonly used.
Could Chapman's model be the future of affordable housing?  We'd love to hear your comments.  Give us your feedback!

What is Thin Brick?

Last week the Des Moines, Iowa City Council approved public incentives for two new downtown hotels that will be faced with thin brick.  The decision went against the recommendation of the City’s Urban Design Review Board which had insisted on full brick despite claims by the developer that the additional cost of full brick – which he projected at $400,000 – was a deal breaker. 
The controversial project raised the question among the public and city officials, “Just what is thin brick?”  Let's start by discussing what thin brick is not: 
  • Thin brick is not an artificial product made of concrete or fiberglass masquerading as real brick.  Thin brick are made from clay and are fired in a kiln just like full brick.  Therefore, it’s not accurate to describe the choice as being between thin brick and “real” brick.  They are both real.  Non-clay, unfired products made to imitate brick, however, are not real.
  • Thin brick is not the structural component of the wall, but neither is full brick in most cases.  While brick can be used to hold up the loads of the building, it is much more common for brick – thin or full – to be used as a veneer applied to the outside of the load bearing structure.
  • Thin brick is not significantly less expensive than full brick.  Yes, thin brick is, well, thinner than full brick (less than one inch in depth) and one would therefore assume it to be much cheaper.  But thin brick typically requires at least one extra step in the manufacturing process and its installation has its own cost variables.  It’s also important to note that both full brick and thin brick are a relatively small part of the cost of the overall wall system.
What's the difference?
To better understand the differences between full brick and thin brick, it’s helpful to visualize how each are applied.  The masonry cavity wall (below) is a time-tested wall design for the application of full brick.  It calls for a gap between the structural wall and the brick façade, which is critical for managing any moisture that may find its way in. Water is channeled down the inside of the cavity and out the bottom of the wall.  The cavity necessitates that brick be stacked up from the foundation, supporting its own weight, with mortar binding each unit together.  The brick façade is anchored to the structural wall behind it with ties that span the cavity between.

Thin brick applications are many and varied, but a common characteristic is that they forgo the traditional wall cavity to adhere the thin brick directly to some other wall surface.  Thin brick's lighter weight makes this possible, but water must be managed in some other way.  Because large-scale thin brick applications are so varied, there is not yet a universal standard so proven as the cavity wall system used with full brick.

Thin brick can be adhered to the sheathing of building walls with lath and a mortar bed, usually done onsite, or can be set into pre-fabricated panels.  Often made of concrete, these panels can be designed to be load-bearing or may be attached to the side of the structure as a veneer (above).  The concrete approximates mortar lines between the thin brick units on the surface.  Once complete and at the job site, thin brick panels install quickly with the help of machinery and can sometimes speed up construction and reduce costs.  But those savings are typically only realized on very large projects with unique constraints.  Thin brick often finds its way into stadiums and parking facilities for this reason (minimal interior finish demands may also play a role).
What's best for my community?
Though thin brick does a respectable job of giving the appearance of full brick, there’s nothing quite like a brick wall hand-laid from the foundation by a mason.  The nature of the district in which a building is proposed should greatly impact whether thin brick is allowed as a substitute.  Where charm, character, history, or authenticity is highly valued, full brick should reign. Where thin brick is deemed an aesthetically adequate substitute, the proposed wall system should be closely examined to ensure that all of the benefits provided by full brick (e.g. water management, thermal mass, impact resistance) are delivered in some other way.
Communities should also expect full brick when public funding is on the table.  When taxpayers are footing part of the bill, the public should expect the developer to go the extra mile.  With respect to the Des Moines hotel project, however, the public financing carrot had already been leveraged to convince the developer to alter project plans in other, more fundamental ways, leaving the brick vs. thin brick debate to rage on.
If you'd like more information about any of these issues, or about building materials in general, please contact one of our AICP planners for free assistance. 866.644.1293 or