Reclaiming bespoke’s role

Sourcing bricks and roof tiles for period renovations are a challenge for architects looking to balance aesthetic appeal, regulatory compliance, and heritage requirements. Nigel Dyer of Wienerberger proposes an alternative to reclaimed products

External brickwork and roof tiles are critical to the look and feel of properties, particularly in heritage where architects are inevitably working to strict criteria. Matching bricks is critical to ensuring visual continuity and, in many cases, will be a requirement of planning. However, when it comes to listed buildings, architects will often find that certain heritage bricks or tiles are no longer mass manufactured, and are seemingly unavailable. 

Instead, they will have to source bespoke products, often by taking an original sample and reverse engineering it, to create an effective replica. In many cases they will need to meet Listed Building Regulations and may need approval from Historic England or the National Trust. Detailed planning and craftsmanship is vital to the whole process.

The key is in matching the correct profile, colour and texture to be in keeping with the age and style of a building, as well as its surrounding environment. 

Reclaimed or bespoke?

Reclaimed bricks or roof tiles have often been a solution and many architects will be familiar with the time-consuming process of sourcing suitable products. As well as their often high cost, reclaimed products can come with additional labour requirements for contractors, such as chipping away old mortar. They are unlikely to come with the necessary product testing, certifications and guarantees too, even before you factor in the potential for significant wastage due to variations in colour or shape. 

Fortunately, ‘kiln-fresh’ handmade products have become an increasingly viable alternative, made to the exact requirements of each individual project. Some companies now offer a dedicated heritage service – a specialist conservation and restoration offering that supplies bricks and roof tiles to suit all projects, including bespoke, handmade roof tiles and fittings.

A huge amount of planning will go into such materials for a heritage project, beginning once the architect or project manager approaches their chosen supplier. 

For bricks, a brick matching service is usually offered, or if stock bricks can’t offer a close match, then bespoke products can be considered. Likewise for roof tiles, the team will consider what existing products can be adapted and if a bespoke product is required. 

This process will usually include a series of in-depth meetings to ensure all stakeholders are on board with the proposal. Factory visits can enable the project team to see roof mockups, illustrating the concept and enabling suppliers to design any bespoke fittings.

Other technical aspects might include non-standard installation, which can require special fixings for roofs. In fact, one of the biggest barriers to heritage projects is often the competence of the roofer – suppliers will often work with the site team to offer their expertise. It’s a true collaborative process, one that goes beyond simply creating the product and delivering it.

Of course, heritage bricks and roof tiles are not restricted to period properties and listed buildings. Suppliers are increasingly working with architects and designers seeking to use bespoke, heritage roof tiles on contemporary buildings in an effort to add interest and variety to their designs. 

When it comes to the roof, and in some cases the facade (using tiles to create a brick cladding effect),  this traditional look will usually be achieved by using natural clay – one of the most enduring, appealing and versatile traditional roofing materials available. 

Natural clay combines a mellow appearance with the ability to age beautifully. Tiles are handmade, then air dried and fired using modern kiln technology, to produce high quality colours and textures.

 Nigel Dyer is heritage service manager at Wienerberger UK and Ireland