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built episode 6
Clay bricks the ultimate sustainable material.
Research/ script and production by Mike Grant Feb 2012.
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Hi there. Im looking at a building material that I believe is more sustainable and recyclable than any other. It is the humble clay brick. In our rush for new sustainable materials the brick remains largely forgotten
To help understand why I say this I need to give a quick history of the clay brick as an understanding of the past is our only way to image a future.
The clay brick that has been fired to form a ceramic block and used in masonry construction has been dated back to 7500 BC in the Tigris valley. There is good evidence that the chinese were making them 3800 years ago.
In its basic form all it is is a mixture of clay and sand with small amounts of lime and oxide mixed together and fired in a kiln with the higher the temperature the harder the brick.
The romans used this technology extensively and most of the Roman artifacts still in good condition today are ceramic with the majority being bricks or mosaic floor tiles known as tessera.
This Roman brick dates from about 100AD and the imprint on it tells us that is was produced by the First Italian Legion stationed near Moesia an ancient roman province on the Danube River in the Balkans.
My first point is that this ancient artifact is almost 2000 years old and still in mint condition. Clay bricks can last for over two thousand years regardless of the conditions they are kept in.
The Basilica at Trier Germany was built 306 AD and as can be seen here has survived almost intact. The brickwork is a good as the day it was built.
A more interesting building is the Castle at Colchester which built in 1069 Ad on the foundations of a roman temple. What is interesting about this building is that a large amount of roman bricks were recycled in its construction.
So we have bricks that are a thousand years old being recycled and used in a building that is now a thousand years old.
My second point is that the Clay brick is the most recyclable material that there is. They can and has been used over and over again. Many of the Saxon buildings of England are substantially built from recycle roman bricks.
This is a brick made by convicts in Tasmania in about 1830. Like that Roman brick it has been stamped with an arrow to denote that it’s government property.
This brick is simply made from a pug of clay that is pushed into a single mold. Sand is applied to the mold and table so the clay will not stick when it is turned out to dry. When dry the bricks were stacked in a kiln and timber was loaded around and over the top and the whole lot was fired. This resulted in a range of firing temperatures in differing parts of the kiln and thus a variety for grades of bricks. Up to 40% for the where not usable.
The great step forward came in the 1880’s when brick making was mechanised. The clay is worked at a much lower moisture content and the pug was extruded out of a machine and then cut with wire. The bricks were immediately stacked on trolleys which moved slowly through the kiln where temperatures could be finely controlled. This resulted in a quicker process, less handling and uniform brick quality.
Modern bricks have the potential to last much longer than hand made bricks due to a higher firing temperature – as if 2000 years was not long enough.
The third point is that Clay bricks are sustainable. Firstly, there is almost no by product from the mining of clay and secondly the embedded energy in the brick is relatively low and can be depreciated over a considerably longer period than all other building materials.
Well there you have it, Clay bricks are my favorite sustainable building material. Join the discussion by posting a comment below.
If you are a brick lover then I recommend Nathaniel Lloyd’s A history of English Brickwork of 1934. it is the prime reference of brick working history.
Thanks for watching right to then end. Subscribe so that you get my video postings as soon as I down load them. You will also find me at builtwithmike. blogspot . com.au. My next post will be a book review. By for now folks.
Lloyd, Nathaniel. A History of English Brickwork. 1934.
Freeland J.M. Architecture in Australia. A History. 1968.