Brick by brick

The buildings at London City Island have a distinctive, jewel-like sparkle through glazed brickwork, an architectural detail that dates back to ancient times

It isn’t just location that makes London City Island such a vibrant new neighbourhood, it’s the unique design of its colourful architecture.

One of the many stand-out features is the use of glazed exterior brickwork that reflects light and brings playful interest to the site’s residential towers and townhouses. The exuberant mix of russet orange, cobalt blue and the development’s signature seafaring red are offset by adjacent buildings in sleek matt black and cool white to create a striking landmark.

“A glazed brick is special due to the final step of the production process that gives it brightness and colour,” says Margarita González-Calvo, sales manager for Dutch firm Wienerberger that created the brightly coloured bricks for London City Island. “They can be compared to a piece of jewellery for a building.”

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“The Island is a very singular location and we wanted to create a singular identity that referenced elements of the area’s maritime and industrial heritage”

Daniel Mulligan

The colourful district’s striking modern look is inspired by the brick structures of east London’s industrial past, but also influenced by the Chicago waterfront and Manhattan’s loft-style living. “We didn’t want to mimic another part of London,” says Daniel Mulligan of Glenn Howells Architects, the firm commissioned to design London City Island. “The Island is a very singular location and we wanted to create a singular identity that referenced elements of the area’s maritime and industrial heritage.

”The design draws on visual references as diverse as colourful shipping containers and the tonal subtlety found in the work of Italian still life painter Georgio Morandi. “Character and uniformity in the buildings were created using repetition of form, such as the vertical and horizontal windows and brickwork, combined with varied colour palettes,” says Mulligan. “The bold colours give the buildings a modern finish and graphic-like quality.”

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The Glenn Howells team also made the decision to use eye-catching, blue-glazed bricks on Harmony House and Bridgewater House, located at opposite ends of the Island. Mulligan says the idea was to offer a bright welcome to people entering the neighbourhood or viewing it from the famous red bridge. “It’s important to have that element of sparkle. A bit of bling, if you like,” he says.

Glazed bricks have been adding interest and shine to buildings for centuries. They were used in Iran to build the Elam Temple in 13th century BC, and more than 50 varieties decorate China’s Iron Pagoda, which dates to 1049. Some of the most spectacular examples of glazed bricks are from sites linked to ancient Babylon, including the Ishtar Gate, thought to be built around 575 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar II.

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“The bold colours give the buildings a modern finish and graphic-like quality”

Daniel Mulligan

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This style of brickwork had a surge in popularity during the Victorian and Edwardian eras and was often used on the exteriors of train stations, pubs and hotels. Having dropped out of fashion for a while, glazed bricks have made a comeback in modern architecture. They bring a stylish and contemporary edge to buildings yet are familiar enough to quickly establish a sense of place.

The visual effect of bright, reflective walls has been carried through to the interiors of the Island’s residences and businesses using glazed slip-brick tiles. Homestead restaurant and deli is decorated in classic dark green and white, giving the interiors a strong heritage feel, while the gym has feature walls in an energising bright blue.

Mulligan says one of the prime qualities of the Island’s richly coloured bricks is that they look good, whatever the weather. “Even on the wettest day in winter, it still feels uplifting.”

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