Design Notes Archive



August is that glorious time of year when the great summer shutdown ensues as masses of Europeans (and more and more Brits) close up shop and head on holiday—oh to be among them! Dreaming of destinations in far flung locales, we found ourselves eying up Mexico. Not only for its palm-tree lined beaches and ancient Aztec wonders but for architectural gems of more humble origins as well. Bricks, that most basic of building materials, are turning up in modern construction with striking results.  

In Mexico City’s historic Coyoacán neighborhood—an artistic enclave home to The Frida Kahlo Museum and The Museum of Contemporary Art—photographer Graciela Iturbide’s studio has become another stop on the must see list, if only to be peered at paparazzi-style from the street. The building, left, was designed by her award-winning architect son, Mauricio Rocha, and constructed using four styles of brick. Each was handmade and sourced from Puebla, a city so closely linked with ceramics you could call it Mexico’s Stoke-on-Trent. Rocha aligned and stacked bricks in varying configurations so that the façade forms an open weave that lets in light and air but with a veil of privacy. Inside, they line the walls and patios to create a connection with the outdoors. The entire concept was guided by Iturbide’s directive for a tranquil place to work. You can see some of that work and more of her studio in Graciela Iturbide, Heliotropo 37, the catalogue from her recent exhibition at the Cartier Foundation in Paris (named after the studio’s address, should you wish to seek it out). 

Further south in the Mexican state of Oaxaca—a region celebrated by designers worldwide for its longstanding crafts scene—artist Bosco Sodi also embraced brick when building a home on the grounds of Casa Wabi, his foundation, artist residency, and exhibition space. Working with architect Alberto Kalach, he opted for exposed bricks that were made by the same local artisans who handcrafted bricks for his 2017 art installation, Muro. As Sodi told Surface Magazine then, “the process of making each [brick] requires Mexican earth, fire, wind, and water. When you burn these bricks, their color and texture changes and each one is unique.” Leaving the brick exposed in the shower, centre, has added benefits—the material is naturally anti-fungal and resistant to mould. If you’re interested in visiting Oaxaca, Sodi’s residence, called Las Marianas, is available for rent on Airbnb or check out Hotel Terrestre or Casona Sforza, two boutique hotels designed by Kalach. Both feature an abundance of locally sourced brick and, even better, Terrestre is solar powered, while 100% of Casona Sforza’s profits go towards supporting the local community.

If you love the look of brick but want a more refined finish, consider brick slip tiles like those designer Michelle Haim used for this shelving unit, right. The tiles, made by Seneca, are fired for a week in a turn-of-the-century brick beehive kiln. Each batch boasts a mix of variegated earth tones, some with naturally occurring iron spots in the clay. Haim installed them in a cross between a basketweave and stacked running bond pattern, juxtaposed against a black terrazzo island. We can just image this combo in a shower with tiled walls and a terrazzo floor. Also consider Balineum’s terra firma brick slip tiles, which are handmade and finished with a palette of neutral glazes, allowing the character of the red and brown clay to show through. And we love Dzek’s ExCinere range, which are glazed with volcanic ash, if you’re looking for something in more of a yellow-orange hue.

Photographs © Ben Sklar, Decada, Kris Tamburello