Revolution in brick production

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Revolution in brick production

Modern brick facades mostly consist of homogeneous bricks. The Keller companies and HSLU researchers have developed a production process for bricks that opens up completely new design possibilities for architects. The joint Innosuisse research project arose from an award-winning thesis in the Master Design at HSLU.

Architects and builders are in a clinch: On the one hand, their buildings have to be as cost-effective and standardized as possible. On the other hand, their work should have a personal touch. Not only the building form should be unique, but also the material and appearance. This applies all the more to brick facades, where the building material is particularly important. A joint research project between Keller Unternehmungen and the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts is now giving the construction industry the tools to add this extra touch to brick facades - and thus ensure more variety in the building landscape.

The project focused on the development of modular mold attachments for the design of the brick surface. Until now, it was not possible to additionally modify the surface of mass-produced bricks on an industrial scale. "Brick production is geared toward the manufacture of large quantities of uniform bricks," says Susanne Mühlhaus, head of engineering at Keller Unternehmungen. "To change the design of individual bricks requires a completely new approach."

Questioning the aesthetics of perfection

Thanks to the newly developed system, architects and builders can, for the first time ever, design the surface of the bricks before production. The designs are then implemented during production. Thanks to the new process, the visible surface of the brick can be changed individually and yet in series, explains materials researcher and project collaborator Cornelia Gassler from the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts.

What Cornelia Gassler particularly likes about the newly developed mold system is the "low tech" aspect: "The production of bricks is a technology that is thousands of years old. Our approach with its technically simple attachments reflects this, but at the same time it can be controlled very precisely thanks to the modern digital control system."

During the project, Gassler’s team questioned the common aesthetic norms of industrial production, which strive for homogeneity. Historic bricks have irregularities in texture and color. This gives a building character and makes it unique, the researcher said. "Our goal was to revive and add to these variations, which have largely disappeared in modern brick manufacturing. The natural imperfection of the stone, together with our approach, can now be targeted for design."

Market readiness achieved

The joint research project between the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and Keller Unternehmungen was completed in 2022. According to Susanne Mühlhaus, the resulting designs are now available from Keller Systeme AG under the "kelesto Signa" label.

From Master’s thesis to Innosuisse project

The starting point for the joint research project between Keller Unternehmungen and HSLU was Cornelia Gassler’s thesis for her Master’s degree in design. In it, she explored new production processes for ceramic facade elements. Gassler’s work was awarded the Master of Arts in Design sponsorship prize in 2018. In 2019, it developed into the Innosuisse research project ’ExxE’ in cooperation with Keller Unternehmungen. The federal innovation agency funded the project with around 230,000 Swiss francs. An interdisciplinary research team of product designers, mechanical engineers and architects from the HSLU was involved.

"Rock samples" for download

The process developed by HSLU and Keller Unternehmungen allows bricks to be designed in a very varied way. Some sample samples can be found below. Pictures: Keller Unternehmungen (Download: enlarge images, right click, save as).