The Modernization of Multifamily Housing

Providing luxury living without sacrificing affordability
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Sponsored by Glen-Gery, Hager Companies, New Millennium Building Systems, Quest Windows, and XtremeTrim® by TAMLYN
By Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP
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Brick Masonry

Many multifamily housing projects incorporate brick masonry into the design of exterior and interior walls. The reasons for its use often include durability, aesthetic appeal, and marketability of the project. From a design standpoint, it also offers a wide and diversified variety of types, colors, and shapes that provide architects with a lot of choices and design flexibility. Some of the commonly available choices include the following:

  • Extruded brick: Many building materials are created using the process of extrusion, and that technology has become a part of brick masonry production too. This means that brick can be produced efficiently and economically, while still providing the requisite versatility, strength, and value for multifamily projects. Extruded brick technology has been advanced by brick manufacturers, making it available in a wide spectrum of colors, a multitude of shapes, and even different textures.

  • Glazed brick: While brick has been traditionally thought of in terms of natural, earthen colors, modern brick-making technology allows new options that go beyond conventional color choices. Glazed brick is created by applying a glaze to the outer surface of extruded clay that is carefully fired. Since glazes are available in a virtually unlimited range of colors, the finished, colored look of the brick is equally unlimited. Further, variations in textures are possible with glazed brick from a glossy, glass smooth finish to a mottled, speckled, and rough texture. This range of choices allows brick to be used in dramatic fashion in places where other materials might have been thought of as the only option.

  • Clay-coated brick: In some cases, a matte surface in a defined color spectrum is the preferred choice. Manufacturers can provide this option with a selection of clay-coated brick. From a building performance perspective, the surface of clay-coated brick remains breathable, which can be an important consideration in some wall assemblies. This characteristic allows liquids and vapors to pass in and out without damaging the permeable surface, thus maintaining the classic look of the brick.

  • Molded brick: This traditional method of brick production remains in use to provide individualized brick options. The bricks are typically formed in molds, producing intentionally irregular shapes to provide a different character and appearance to a finished wall. As such, it delivers both large-scale design features and smaller, more intimate touches. Custom molded shapes to achieve unique design details are also available from some manufacturers.

  • Handmade brick: Replicating the centuries-old tradition of brick making craftsmanship, some manufacturers can still provide bricks made by hand to match or create a unique brick character or profile. Such handmade brick is completely customizable using a spectrum of rich colors and shades. The result is a classic style of brickwork that takes advantage of contemporary masonry knowledge and understanding.

  • Thin-brick veneer: Recognizing that there are situations where the look and character of brick masonry is desired but the thickness of conventional brick is problematic, manufacturers have introduced a thin-brick alternative. By providing a thinner and lighter product, sometimes with a coordinated mounting system, manufacturers are providing architects with a modern choice that overcomes other restrictions for interior or exterior walls and design elements. The space-saving and affordability aspects of thin-brick systems mean that real brick surfaces are possible in projects where it previously might not have been considered.

Regardless of the type of brick selected, all of them are available in a variety of sizes, including standard, jumbo, economy, and even custom sizes. Similarly, numerous shapes are readily available for typical building conditions, such as corners, sills, treads, coping, water tables, and others. Color selection and, more typically, blends of colors will vary by manufacturer, so it is important to review availability before finalizing a choice. In that regard, most brick suppliers are quite willing to collaborate with architects on building concepts by providing technical and design support from the earliest stages of design. Ultimately, the selections can be optimized to produce the intended look, meet performance demands, and control costs.

Exterior and interior photos of Chelsea House.

Photos courtesy of Glen-Gery

Project: Chelsea Heights
Location: Washington, D.C.
Architect: Esocoff & Associates Architects

Brick masonry is a durable and attractive choice for both exterior and interior walls in multifamily housing, with a wide range of types, colors, shapes, and sizes available.

Panelized Cladding Systems

Some multifamily building designs are based on an exterior design aesthetic that uses a lightweight cladding over a framed wall assembly. Commonly, this cladding is used in standard-size panels made from fiber cement, engineered wood, or even thin composite aluminum panels. It might also include siding of different types made from some of the same materials. Designing with such materials is fairly straightforward, but attention needs to be paid to detailing the way the panels are secured to the building and how the edges of the panels are addressed. Typically, some sort of trim has been applied to accomplish this using wood, composite, or plastic-based materials. While those are effective and can be good for some buildings, their width, bulk, and ongoing maintenance can make them less desirable for other designs.

As an alternative to traditional trim, many architects are turning to the use of thin, extruded aluminum trim systems. The use of extruded aluminum in buildings is common due to the versatile nature of the material and its durability in both exterior and interior applications. When used to hold the edges of wall panels, it provides architects with a unique means to detail corners, vertical and horizontal joints, and material transitions. Further, it can be specified in common thicknesses and profiles to suit any of the lightweight cladding materials already mentioned, or even for gypsum board and other exterior or interior panel products.

Used on the exterior, aluminum trim aids architects in creating modern, panel-based facade designs that have become more common across the country, particularly for multifamily projects. It is available in a variety of profiles, some of which create a recessed reveal between cladding panels and others that project outward to accentuate the lines of the design. Used in any of these ways, it has typically been shown to be less expensive with a more elegant look than other options. On building interiors, such as communal spaces in multifamily developments, aluminum trim can be used to create bold corners or wall bases in addition to delineating wall panel patterns.

Of course, the color of the trim is an important design consideration, regardless of the location. There is great flexibility available in this regard too. The trim can be specified as primed only ready to be painted in the field or as prefinished in the factory. The prefinished choices vary by manufacturer but typically include durable powder-coat paint, conventional wet paint coatings, or anodized aluminum in standard colors. In this regard, the trim can appear to blend in with the adjacent panels or cladding, or it can be used to highlight all or some of the visual lines it creates. This flexibility using familiar and long-lasting finish options means that both the design and the performance level can be controlled.

Architects who have used this approach include Russell A. Hruska, AIA, principal and cofounder of Intexure Architects in Houston. He points out that “using extruded aluminum trim between panel joints becomes an architectural element and is a way of expressing the joints and defining their deliberate placement. It adds a level of architectural refinement.” From a performance perspective, he adds, “Aluminum trim, when used with fiber cement panels or lapped siding, is more cost effective than stucco and provides long-term durability while achieving our design aesthetic.” Val Glitsch, FAIA, confirms this experience, indicating, “The alternative to premanufactured aluminum trim is wood, which gives a very different aesthetic, is bulkier, and, for water infiltration concerns, can only be used for vertical joints. The best way to get a quality, consistent, properly installed, and cost-effective result is to use extruded aluminum trim designed for that purpose.”

Two exterior photos of Indigo House.

Photos courtesy of TAMLYN

Project: Indigo House
Location: Sandy Springs, Georgia
Architect: Preston Partnership

Exterior cladding panels can be held in place along their edges using extruded aluminum trim that also contributes directly to the facade design.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in May 2017


The Modernization of Multifamily Housing
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