Behold the brick. The red, six-sided rectangle that changed the world.

Its ubiquity renders it almost invisible, a hidden-in-plain-sight part of our built environment, whose fascinating history and radical architectural applications are often overlooked. In Phaidon’s new mini edition of the 2015 photo book “Brick” — sized perfectly for a tweed coat pocket — author and editor William Hall pays homage to “the humblest thing imaginable … [a] brick is after all just earth.”

Yet the 168 eye-catching photos of this small, brick-size book — featuring buildings spanning millennia and continents, and highlighting modern architects from Alvar Aalto to Peter Zumthor — prove otherwise.

A brick is anything but ordinary; it’s an essential building block of humanity’s story.


In the book’s opening essay, Hall's collaborator, art historian and BBC television presenter Dan Cruickshank, writes that the first cities made by man — such as the 6,000-year-old urban center of Uruk in Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley cities from 4,600 years ago — utilized bricks. In the ancient Sumerian ruins of Uruk, Cruickshank still finds kiln-fired bricks that “were as sound as the day they were made.”

While a computer is useless after just a few years or an iPhone goes out of date — planned obsolescence, of course — a brick can last for centuries; it’s the best technology we have ever developed.