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The following is an excerpt from the New Yorker:

The Newkirk Avenue building was nondescript, a hunk of brown brick. “Wow, it’s bleak,” Grant said, standing in the courtyard, which was covered in patchy grass. “The contrast between here and Point Dume of Malibu couldn’t be more extreme.” Grant, who has kept a diary for more than fifty years, has published two gossipy volumes littered with boldface names. “Who, and how, and where people come from so informs everything about them,” he said. “So now I’m in actual Streisand Land.”

-- From Richard E. Grant Hearts Barbra Streisand

Given that we usually say 'a pile of bricks,' my question is why is it 'a hunk of brick' instead of 'a hunk of bricks.'

Similarly, I am not sure if we should say:

  1. A wall of bricks / a wall made of bricks
  2. A wall of brick / a wall made of brick
1

Brick, as an uncountable noun, refers to the material.

The Newkirk Avenue building was nondescript, a hunk of brown brick.

The term hunk refers to the building, which is singular.
Hence a hunk of brown brick = the building was a solidified mass of brick. If we change the material to rock it becomes

The fort was a hunk of grey rock.

As to 1. A wall of bricks and 2. A wall of brick I suspect that both forms are grammatical, but I wouldn't say “a wall of brick” by itself. Instead the wall would be part of a building or construction

  • a house that has a back wall of brick
  • a building with a foundation wall of brick

A single wall that divides a property or land would be (for me)

  1. a brick wall
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From Oxford, definition 1.1:

mass noun Bricks collectively as a building material.
‘this mill was built of brick’
as modifier ‘a large brick building’

In your example, the expression "hunk of brown brick" is language purposefully meant to convey that the building was not pretty. The surrounding context emphasizes that, where the building is described as both "bleak" and "nondescript".

Given what the author has described, I believe they chose the better wording. I suppose we could describe a building as a "hunk of brown bricks," but this almost emphasizes the individual bricks of the building. By using the noun hunk, the author doesn't want to do that; instead, the author is trying to emphasize the building's lack of beauty, and contrast it with the presumably elegant building in upscale Malibu.

In short, it was a stylistic choice, not a grammatical one.

  • I understand the use of the singular noun to refer to bricks collectively. It is perfectly clear that it should be singular when we say 'this mill was built of brick.' It feels very natural. However, it does not feel the same in 'a hunk of brick.' Do we usually say 'a wall of brick' or 'a wall of bricks?' But I think we definitely say 'a pile of bricks.' – Tom Bennett Aug 11 at 4:14
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    @TomB - Ah! That makes more sense. Too bad those important details were omitted from your original question. Anyhow, I've tried to address those concerns in my updated answer. – J.R. Aug 11 at 11:01
  • Thanks for the answer. It makes a lot of sense and explained my question. I upvoted it. – Tom Bennett Aug 12 at 1:18

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