Man has used brick for building purpose for thousands of years. Bricks date back to 4000 BC, which makes them one of the oldest known building materials. They are such a common part of the built environment around us, so join me in discovering the fascinating history behind this building block of society.
A brick is a type of block used to build walls, pavements and other elements in masonry construction. Properly, the term brick denotes a block composed of dried clay, but is now also used informally to denote other chemically cured construction blocks. Bricks can be joined using mortar, adhesives or by interlocking them. Fired bricks are one of the longest-lasting and strongest building materials, sometimes referred to as artificial stone, and have been used since circa 4000 BC. Air-dried bricks, also known as mudbricks, have a history older than fired bricks, and have an additional ingredient of a mechanical binder such as straw.
Related: Do Brick Wall Hooks Actually Work?
The History of Bricks
They were discovered in southern Turkey at the site of an ancient settlement around the city of Jericho. The first bricks, made in areas with warm climates, were mud bricks dried in the sun for hardening. Ancient Egyptian bricks were made of clay mixed with straw. The evidence of this can be seen today at ruins of Harappa Buhen and Mohenjo-daro. Paintings on the tomb walls of Thebes portray Egyptian slaves mixing, tempering and carrying clay for the sun dried bricks. The greatest breakthrough came with the invention of fired brick in about 3,500 Bc. From this moment on, bricks could be made without the heat of sun and soon became popular in cooler climates. The earliest fired bricks appeared in Neolithic China around 4400 BC at Chengtoushan, a walled settlement of the Daxi culture. These bricks were made of red clay, fired on all sides to above 600 °C, and used as flooring for houses. By the Qujialing period (3300 BC), fired bricks were being used to pave roads and as building foundations at Chengtoushan. The carpenter’s manual Yingzao Fashi, published in 1103 at the time of theSong dynasty described the brick making process andglazingtechniques then in use. Using the 17th-century encyclopaedic text Tiangong Kaiwu, historian Timothy Brook outlined the brick production process of Ming Dynasty China:
…the kilnmaster had to make sure that the temperature inside the kiln stayed at a level that caused the clay to shimmer with the colour of molten gold or silver. He also had to know when to quench the kiln with water so as to produce the surface glaze. To anonymous labourers fell the less skilled stages of brick production: mixing clay and water, driving oxen over the mixture to trample it into a thick paste, scooping the paste into standardised wooden frames (to produce a brick roughly 42 cm long, 20 cm wide, and 10 cm thick), smoothing the surfaces with a wire-strung bow, removing them from the frames, printing the fronts and backs with stamps that indicated where the bricks came from and who made them, loading the kilns with fuel (likelier wood than coal), stacking the bricks in the kiln, removing them to cool while the kilns were still hot, and bundling them into pallets for transportation. It was hot, filthy work.
The Romans preferred to make their bricks in spring, then they stored them for two years before selling or using them. They only used white or red clay to manufacture bricks. The Romans succeeded in introducing fired bricks to the entire country thanks to mobile kilns. These were bricks stamped with the mark of the legion who supervised the brick production. Roman bricks differed in size and shape from other ancient bricks as they were more commonly round, square, oblong, triangular and rectangular. The kiln fired bricks measured 1 or 2 Roman feet by 1 Roman foot, and sometimes up to 3 Roman feet with larger ones. The Romans used brick for public and private buildings over the entire Roman empire. They built walls, forts, cultural centre, vaults, arches and faces of their aqueducts. The Herculaneum gate of Pompeii and the baths of Caracalla in Rome are examples of Roman brick structures.
During the Early Middle Ages the use of bricks in construction became popular in Northern Europe, after being introduced there from Northern-Western Italy. An independent style of brick architecture, known as brick Gothic (similar to Gothic architecture) flourished in places that lacked indigenous sources of rocks. Examples of this architectural style can be found in modern-day Denmark, Germany, Poland, and Kaliningrad (former East Prussia). This style evolved into Brick Renaissance as the stylistic changes associated with the Italian Renaissance spread to northern Europe, leading to the adoption of Renaissance elements into brick building. A clear distinction between the two styles only developed at the transition to Baroque architecture. In Lübeck, for example, Brick Renaissance is clearly recognisable in buildings equipped with terracotta reliefs by the artist Statius von Düren.
Long-distance bulk transport of bricks and other construction equipment remained prohibitively expensive until the development of modern transportation infrastructure, with the construction of canals, roads, and railways. Production of bricks increased massively with the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the rise in factory building in England. For reasons of speed and economy, bricks were increasingly preferred as building material to stone, even in areas where the stone was readily available. It was at this time in London that bright red brick was chosen for construction to make the buildings more visible in the heavy fog and to help prevent traffic accidents. Red brick became a standard building material in areas where it was not red clay that was natural in the earth. In opposition, in places like India and Pakistan, red bricks are common because they clay there is natural red. There are still brick makers in those regions that are making them by hand, a part of a long tradition of construction and architecture Tarth has formed much of the build environment in South Asia.
The transition from the traditional method of production known as hand-moulding to a mechanised form of mass-production slowly took place during the first half of the nineteenth century. Possibly the first successful brick-making machine was patented by Henry Clayton, employed at the Atlas Works in Middlesex, England, in 1855, and was capable of producing up to 25,000 bricks daily with minimal supervision. His mechanical apparatus soon achieved widespread attention after it was adopted for use by the South Eastern Railway Company for brick-making at their factory near Folkestone. The Bradley & Craven Ltd ‘Stiff-Plastic Brickmaking Machine’ was patented in 1853, apparently predating Clayton. Bradley & Craven went on to be a dominant manufacturer of brickmaking machinery. Predating both Clayton and Bradley & Craven Ltd. however was the brick making machine patented by Richard A. Ver Valen of Haverstraw, New York, in 1852. Similar to many other inventions, there isn’t necessarily one clear inventor, as there were many people innovating in the field around the same time, in conjunction with advances in technology.
The 3 Brick Making Methods
These bricks start with raw clay, preferably in a mix with 25–30% sand to reduce shrinkage. The clay is first ground and mixed with water to the desired consistency. The clay is then pressed into steel moulds with a hydraulic press. The shaped clay is then fired (“burned”) at 900–1000 °C to achieve strength. This process can also be done by hand in many cases.
For extruded bricks the clay is mixed with 10–15% water (stiff extrusion) or 20–25% water (soft extrusion) in a pugmill. This mixture is forced through a die to create a long cable of material of the desired width and depth. This mass is then cut into bricks of the desired length by a wall of wires. Most structural bricks are made by this method as it produces hard, dense bricks, and suitable dies can produce perforations as well. The introduction of such holes reduces the volume of clay needed, and hence the cost. Hollow bricks are lighter and easier to handle, and have different thermal properties from solid bricks. The cut bricks are hardened by drying for 20 to 40 hours at 50 to 150 °C before being fired. The heat for drying is often waste heat from the kiln.
3. Dry Pressing
The dry-press method is similar to the soft-mud moulded method, but starts with a much thicker clay mix, so it forms more accurate, sharper-edged bricks. The greater force in pressing and the longer burn make this method more expensive. This process includes drying the clay in a drum-drier for about 10 to 15 minutes, then using a crusher to grind it into powder, and then, finally, putting it into a toggle press to make the finished bricks.
5 Types of Materials Used for Bricks
1.Burnt Clay Bricks
Burnt clay bricks are the classic form of brick, created by pressing wet clay into molds, then drying and firing in kilns. This is a very old building material, and found in many of the ancient structures of the world. In appearance, these bricks are solid blocks of hardened clay, usually reddish in color. Burnt clay bricks are typically sold in four classes, with first-class offering the best quality and most strength. These high-grade burnt clay bricks have no noticeable flaws and naturally cost more than lower classes. When burnt clay bricks are used in walls, they require plastering or rendering with mortar. Uses for burnt clay bricks include masonry walls, foundations, and columns.
2. Engineering Bricks
Engineering bricks are used primarily in civil projects where strength and resilience against the elements are essential. They are clay-based and can be mixed with many other materials. What sets engineering bricks apart from other types is their extreme durability: They are fired at excessively high temperatures to produce a brick as hard as iron. They also have very low porosity and are used in places like sewers, retaining walls, manholes, foundational work, and underground tunnels, where resistance to water and frost is crucial.5 They come in two classes, A and B, with A offering higher compression strength and lower water absorption for the toughest conditions.
3. Concrete Bricks
Concrete bricks are made from solid concrete poured into molds. They are traditionally used in internal brickwork, but are more frequently being used in exterior work, such as facades and fences, to provide a modern or urban aesthetic. Concrete bricks can be manufactured in different colors if pigments are added during production. Due to their durability, concrete bricks can be used in almost any type of construction, except underground, since they tend to be porous.
4. Sand Lime Bricks
Sand lime bricks (also known as calcium silicate bricks) are made by mixing sand, fly ash, and lime. Pigments may also be added for color. The mixture is then molded under pressure to form bricks. Sand lime bricks are not fired in kilns in the same manner as burnt clay bricks; instead, the materials bond together by a chemical reaction that occurs as the wet bricks dry under heat and pressure. Sand lime bricks are most often used in structural foundations and walls, exposed brick and pillars, and, when pigment is added, for ornamental uses.
5. Fly Ash Clay Bricks
These clay bricks are manufactured with clay and fly ash—a byproduct of coal burning—fired at about 1,832°F. This type of brick is sometimes described as self-cementing, since it contains a high volume of calcium oxide and therefore expands when exposed to moisture. This tendency to expand, however, can also produce pop-out failure. Fly ash clay brick has the advantage of being lighter in weight than clay or concrete brick.
Famous Buildings around the World Made in Brick
Unquestionably, we have come a very long way from that era of mud sun-dried bricks. Now, designers and architects are challenging in design contests using clay bricks one of their main medium and taking it to totally new heights. Proof are these astoundingly wonderful famous buildings made with bricks, let’s explore them, as well as some of the incredible brick buildings from history.
1. National Assembly Building, Dhaka
Modernist architecture is traditionally understood to be utilitarian, sleek, and most of all without context, such that it can be placed in any context and still stay true to aesthetic principles and its functional requirements. However, Louis Kahn’s National Assembly Building of Bangladesh in Dhaka is an extraordinary example of modern architecture being transcribed as a part of Bangali vernacular architecture. The National Assembly building, completed in 1982, stands as one of Kahn’s most prominent works, but also as a symbolic monument to the government of Bangladesh. It is amazing to see this combination of styles and methods of constriction, resulting in something unique and beautiful. The National Assembly Building was conceptually conceived in 1959 by the government of Pakistan as an extension to their parliamentary headquarters. It wasn’t until 1962 that Louis Kahn was commissioned to design the governmental headquarters. However, in March of 1971 construction was halted as Bangladesh had declared independence from Pakistan. Originally, Kahn had intended to make a building of monumental presence, but after Bangladesh had officially broke from Pakistani rule in December of 1971 the project became much more of a symbol of democracy and pride for the Bangali people. The building was finally completed in 1982 at more than double the initial estimated cost for completion at $32 million.
2. St Anne’s Church, Lithuania
This intricate and beautiful example of brickwork is a Roman Catholic church in Vilnius’ Old Town, on the right bank of the Vilnia River established circa 1495–1500. It is a prominent example of both Flamboyant Gothic and Brick Gothic styles. St. Anne’s is a prominent landmark in the Old Town of Vilnius that enabled the district to be included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, and is one of the most interesting examples of Gothic architecture in Lithuania. The present brick church was constructed on the initiative of the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Alexander I Jagiellon in 1495–1500; the exterior of the church has remained almost unchanged since then.
3. Puni Distillery, Italy
Puni is one of the first and the only whiskey distillery located in Italy. What makes this distillery unique is that it keeps its barrels inside old military bunkers. The building is a reminiscent red brick cube planned and designed by the South Tyrolean architect Werner Scholl. Inspired by traditional farmhouse architecture, the brick-red checkerboard exterior walls are striking and look a lot like a glowing lantern. And yes, all the bulk of the production of whiskey happens beneath these brick formations.
4. Tate Modern, England
Opened in 2016, the new wing of the Tate Modern is designed by Herzog & de Meuron. This structure presents a striking combination of the raw and the refined and stands as a strong illustration of the 21st-century architecture. The façade of this new wing uses brick to match the surface of the existing structure and creates something completely new – i.e. A Perforated Brick Lattice that allows the interior lights to glow in the evening.
The former Bankside Power Station was selected as the new gallery site in 1994. The following year, Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron were appointed to convert the building into a gallery. That their proposal retained much of the original character of the building was a key factor in this decision. The iconic power station, built in two phases between 1947 and 1963, was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. It consisted of a stunning turbine hall, 35 metres high and 152 metres long, with the boiler house alongside it and a single central chimney. However, apart from a remaining operational London Electricity sub-station the site had been redundant since 1981. In 1996 the design plans were unveiled and, following a £12 million grant from the English Partnerships regeneration agency, the site was purchased and work began. The huge machinery was removed and the building was stripped back to its original steel structure and brickwork. The turbine hall became a dramatic entrance and display area and the boiler house became the galleries.
5. The Brick House, India
Located amidst rural settlements in Wada, near Mumbai, the Brick House designed by iStudio architecture is a farmhouse set within hills and farms. The House is constructed using materials like bricks, bamboo, wood, stone, and Ferro-cement – And interestingly they are all in their naked form that adds an earthy feel to the built-up space. The structure offers myriad of different views and altitudinal relationships, with each volume flowing metrically into the next – following the curved lines and forms which defines the project. The brick house was much inspired by works of Laurie baker and Nari Gandhi Designed by I studio architecture. The spaces were designed in such a way that every of the room connects to the central open courtyard. beautiful play of jallis and arched openings allow light and the wind to penetrate inside. The entire house gives an earthy feel while also contributed to the low cost of the project.
Brick is an extremely ancient and versatile building material, that has been revolutionized and made mass producible for much of our current residential construction projects. It is less utilized in larger scale building now, as it is more labour intensive on a large scale. It is a material that can produce incredible intricacy and beauty when arranged in detailed patterns, or produce clean simplicity when arranged in uniform patterns.