Buckinghamshire-based designer, Ellie Birkhead, has created a variety of bricks from wool, straw ash, human hair, horse manure, spent grain and glass. Her project entitled ‘Building The Local’ is a response to how globalisation poses an economic threat to small-scale industries. Undertaken for her MA in Social Design at the Design Academy Eindhoven, Birkhead’s project reflects how local manufacturing is embedded into cultural identity and explores how innovations in brick design can strengthen local relationships whilst also recycling waste materials.
In Building The Local, Birkhead used materials from Chiltern Hills in the South East of England, once a prominent centre for brick-making in the UK. The original Chiltern Hills bricks are made from local clay and are a distinctive orange-tinted colour. In her project, Birkhead incorporated waste products from local industries into the clay, reimagining traditional brick making in an attempt to rebuild local manufacturing practices.
In her project, Birkhead made six fired and unfired bricks. To make her unfired bricks, also known as strock, Birkhead collected leftover hair from local Chiltern Hills hairdressers, manure from horse stables, and wool from nearby farms. Separately combining the materials with the Chiltern Hill clay, Birkhead used these waste products as a fibre to bind the clay together (as an alternative to the straw that is traditionally used). In one of her fired bricks, Birkhead used straw ash (collected from a local farmland) to create a glazed brick and added crushed glass (from a local pub) to another. For her sixth brick, Birkhead added spent grain (a waste product from a brewery) to the mix, which burned away during the firing process, resulting in a porous and insulating brick.
To learn more about Birkhead’s work and to view a film about her project, click here.
Words by Anna Marks.