☰ Workshops

Tectonics in Building Culture

Brickwork (2008)

To be honest, I was a little bit sceptical the first time I heard about the workshop experiments. The first part of the experiment consisted of stacking ceramic bricks in a storage zone of a brick’s factory.  The two basic architectural issues one had to answer: place and planning weren’t obvious. The location was sterile and the programme was not clear.

The game started with a very simple rule: staking bricks.

Every group had a different type of brick with specific characteristics: format, density, strength, texture and colour. These big differences made the game richer than I expected.

As Dr Albert Cuchi wrote in his article in DAU magazine, “piling up is a game with truthful rules because they are based on physical laws: gravity dominion. If these rules are not followed the wall will fall down. “The worker takes a brick and puts it over the previous one in order to build the wall. There is only one condition that has to be fulfilled; the stone has to remain still afterwards.” Every new stone subjects the previous one to a new forces balance map, a new equilibrium state not proved before, therefore as the wall is built up, the stability of every brick faces a new danger situation as well as the whole structure.”

It is well known that the stability of a brick wall is obtained by the fulfilment of specific rules: if there is any continuous joint it must be perpendicular to load directions, meanwhile the rest of the joints: the wavier they are the better. Finally it is recommended to keep the stones entire, in our case this condition was basic unless accidental situations could happen.

The results obtained challenge all these laws. The whole stability was carried to the end of its possibilities trying to get the maximum expression of the material. The relationship between expression and stability was lead to the limits.

The main target of this first experiment has been the research of the system. System means a theoretical model that fixes the rules of internal way of performing. Once this system has been found, there is only one thing left: to test variability, mobility, versatility of the system in order to build the object.

Basically, these systems are adding formulas; it’s to say: basic models of adding bricks. These basic models repetition brings them to a superior entity. Each type of bricks in the experiment has found the best way to combine itself to show its physical characteristics.

Sometimes the basic unit is stable by itself. Sometimes, the stability is achieved by the whole construction. And in other cases the stability is shown at different scales, that is, the unit is stable by itself, but the combination of this unit draws geometries that give more stability to the construction. These geometries could be obtained by becoming windier and wider as well, the basic unit is a three-dimensional adding formula.

At last, one needs to remark that there is a kind of wall where there isn’t an adding system like in the previous ones: layers of bricks that make the wall stable and they don’t follow any pattern either.  We can say that this kind of construction reminds more a way of weaving than a way of pilling up.

My first fear was absolutely baseless because the repetition of the same experiment made the solutions more sophisticated and more optimized, therefore, the success was inevitable. The combination of two simple variables put to classic apprenticeship system, test-error, makes the solution almost perfect; getting the maximum expressivity of the brick and the stability of unity. But, the result is not as important as the learning process that has enriched us. This is the real achievement.

by Raimon Farre
Universitat Polytécnica de Catalunya, School of Architecture of El Vallès, Barcelona