The Wisdom of the Brick

2007-05-27

While my wife and I were moving a largish pile of bricks today, I was reminded of some words from Stewart Brand in How Buildings Learn (pp. 120-121):

Brick is a superlative building material, the product of 8,000 years of experience in firing clay into modular units that can be mortared together and stacked by hand into unreinforced structures as high as sixteen stories. [insert reference to the Monadnock Building here] .... 'Bricks are heavenly,' says contractor Matisse Enzer, 'because they require relatively little technology to create, build with, and modify. Bricks allow a wonderful variety of patterns and degrees of softness-hardness, permanence-temporariness. Most of all, they are intuitively obvious.' Bricks, more than any other material, look like they were made to fit the human hand. With dimensions of 8 inches by 4 inches by 2-2/3 inches, one brick long equals two bricks wide or three bricks wide (including mortar joints), so a wide variety of bond or decorative patterns is possible....

There is a wonderful stability in long-lived technologies like bricks. Humans have been making and handling them for so long that they do indeed feel natural and intuitively obvious. (To me, books have that same kind of wonderful stability.)


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