While recent decades have seen the rise of glass-and-steel as architects' favorite materials for new construction, the bulk of New York City's facades remain clad in brick. From last-century red-brick tenement buildings in the Village to 1950s-era white brick high-rises on the Upper East Side, brick is everywhere. And there’s even one commercial building in Manhattan’s Wall Street clad in blue-glazed bricks.
Caring for your brick facade is part and parcel of your building's overall maintenance plan—and it's also the law, thanks to legislation like Local Law 11, which mandate inspections and safety measures for the city's facades, including bricks.
“Brick has been used for thousands of years and there’s nothing more stable,” say Bob Turzilli, president of architectural sales at Belden Tri-State Building Materials in New York.
According to the Mason Contractors Association, brick is man's oldest manufactured product. Sun-baked clay bricks were used in the construction of buildings more than 6,000 years ago. In order to prevent distortion and cracking, chopped straw and grass were added to the mixture. Today, brick is composed of shale and clay that’s baked or “fired” until it’s hardened. The standard brick size is 2 1/2 x 3 3/4 x 8 inches. “Approximately 75 to 80 percent of buildings in New York City are brick or brick masonry,” says Andrew Bardolf of DNA Contracting & Waterproofing in New York City.
“The most common brick is literally called ‘common’ brick,” says Michael Yates of Yates Restoration in the Bronx. “Common brick is the standard reddish-colored clay brick that has been used in our area for centuries, and the one with which people are most familiar. It can be hand-made, machine-made, or made using forms. It’s inexpensive and can be used on the exterior or buildings as a finish brick, or it can be used as a back-up material behind a more expensive or aesthetically pleasing architectural brick.”