Masonry Design and Detailing

Masonry Design and Detailing for Architects and Contractors

Brick is the oldest manufactured building material, invented almost
10,000 years ago. Its simplicity, strength, and durability led to extensive use,
and gave it a dominant place in history alongside stone.
Rubble stone and mud bricks, as small, easily handled materials, could
be stacked and shaped to form enclosures of simple or complex design. Handshaped,
sun-dried bricks, reinforced with such diverse materials as straw
and dung, were so effective that kiln-fired bricks did not appear until the
third millennium B.C., long after the art of pottery had demonstrated the
effects of high temperatures on clay. Some of the oldest bricks in the world,
taken from archaeological digs at the site of ancient Jericho, resemble long
loaves of bread with a bold pattern of Neolithic thumbprint impressions on
their rounded tops (see Fig. 1-1). The use of wooden molds did not replace
such hand-forming techniques until the early Bronze Age, around 3000 B.C.

Perhaps the most important innovations in the evolution of architecture
were the development of masonry arches and domes. Throughout history, the
arch was the primary means of overcoming the span limitations of single blocks
of stone or lengths of timber, making it possible to bridge spaces once thought
too great. Early forms only approximated true “arching” action and were generally
false, corbeled arches. True arches carry their loads in simple compression
to each abutment, and as long as the joints are roughly aligned at right angles
to the compressive stress, the precise curve of the arch is not critical.

The excavation of ruins in Babylonia exposed a masonry arch believed
to have been built around 1400 B.C. Arch construction reached a high level of
refinement under the Romans, and later developments were limited primarily
to the adaptation of different shapes. Islamic and Gothic arches led to the
design of groined vaults, and eventually to the high point of cathedral architecture
and masonry construction in the thirteenth century

Renaissance architecture produced few significant innovations in structural
building practices, since designs were based primarily on the classical forms of
earlier eras. The forward thrust of structural achievements in masonry
essentially died during this period of “enlightenment,” and masonry structures
remained at an arrested level of development.
With the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution, emphasis shifted to
iron, steel, and concrete construction. The invention of portland cement in
1824, refinements in iron production in the early nineteenth century, and the
development of the Bessemer furnace in 1854 turned the creative focus of
architecture away from masonry.

By the early twentieth century, the demand was for high-rise construction,
and the technology of stone and masonry building had not kept pace
with the developments of other structural systems. The Chicago School had
pioneered the use of iron and steel skeleton frames, and masonry was relegated
to secondary usage as facings, in-fill, and fireproofing. The Monadnock
Building in Chicago (1891) is generally cited as the last great building in the
“ancient tradition” of masonry architecture (see Fig. 1-2). Its 16-story unreinforced
loadbearing walls were required by code to be several feet thick at the
base, making it seem unsuited to the demands of a modern industrialized
society. Except for the revivalist periods following the 1893 World’s Columbian
Exposition and the “mercantile classicism” which prevailed for some time, a
general shift in technological innovation took place, and skeleton frame construction
began to replace loadbearing masonry.

During this period, only Antonio Gaudi’s unique Spanish architecture
showed innovation in masonry structural design (see Fig. 1-3). His “structural
rationalism” was based on economy and efficiency of form, using
ancient Catalan vaulting techniques, parabolic arches, and inclined piers to
bring the supporting masonry under compression. His work also included
vaulting with hyperbolic paraboloids and warped “helicoidal” surfaces for
greater structural strength. Gaudi, however, was the exception in a world
bent on developing lightweight, high-rise building techniques for the twentieth


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