After a stop-start two years due to the pandemic, the first quarter of 2022 will go a long way to shaping the rest of the year for businesses in the industry. Julian Venus, Business Development Director of leading external brick cladding systems supplier Aquarian Cladding Systems discusses the current cladding landscape.

Julian, how has the first quarter of 2022 been for Aquarian Cladding Systems?

It has been a very, very busy start to the year with enquiries and it does seem that projects that were put on hold last year are now moving forward.

Whereas we have always prided ourselves on being able to forecast accurately it has been challenging this year as new enquiries are coming in unexpectedly and are often being converted to orders far quicker than we would normally expect.

One thing that has helped us take advantage of these opportunities is our ability to offer the right brick cladding solution to architects and specifiers, whatever the project, thanks to our non-combustible A1-rated brick cladding systems MechSlip and NaturAL-X, and our B-rated Gebrik insulating brick cladding system.

What trends are you seeing?

We are seeing a lot of enquiries come in from people who are making late decisions to move away from conventional brick work to brick cladding for their project which is welcomed but often challenging as, although there is no difference in the external finish (brickwork), there is big difference in how the two are achieved! We would always encourage early engagement to ensure the true benefits of brick cladding are realised but appreciate under current conditions this may not always be possible, so the trend of late engagement looks likely to continue as issues with supply and labour bring people to look at alternative solutions.

There is also an increasing awareness of the environmental impact of construction and we’re having conversations with a broad range of customers who have this high on their agenda. The benefits of slip manufacture are now being looked at by brick manufacturers, with Ibstock announcing a £50m investment with the launch of ‘Ibstock Futures’ at the end of last year, and we’d expect this to be followed by others as the use of brick slip facades is a rapidly expanding marketplace.

Do you think conventional bricks are becoming a thing of the past?

There has always been a love for real brick in the UK as it adds a durable, warm, and natural facade to a building and there are no signs to suggest it is losing its popularity.

The difference now is brick cladding systems are no longer a ‘new’ solution and with the pressure to reduce both construction costs and build-time on projects brick cladding systems are a perfect alternative to traditional bricks, offering the same benefits of a traditional appearance with an offsite solution that can be installed in a fraction of the time and cutting vehicle movements by up to 75% to name just two of the benefits.

The choice of whether to go with traditional brickwork or a brick cladding system depends on many factors, but importantly companies now have another option when considering the cost, buildability, programme, and complexity of design to achieve a perfect brick wall.

Do you expect current global events to have an effect on the industry?

The world we live in today, and the tragic events in Ukraine, will impact things from one week to the next making things very difficult to forecast.

Our MechSlip and NaturAL-X solutions both use an aluminium secondary support system and with Russia being the second largest supplier in the global market after China and accounting for around 6% of the market, there is volatility of prices which will have an effect throughout the supply chain.

Raw materials in general are either unavailable, so you have to wait longer for them, more expensive, or both so the only certainty as we move forward is the uncertainty!

As key distributors of Gebrik, MechSlip and NaturAL-X, Aquarian Cladding Systems is one of the UK’s leading suppliers of brick cladding systems. Working with architects, contractors, developers and installation specialists, Aquarian’s cladding systems have been used on many award-winning buildings across a wide range of sectors. For more information, call 0808 223 9080, or email info@aquariancladding.co.uk.