Over the years, one unique tradition has been growing among architecture students: building a pizza oven. To help maintain this tradition, we decided to share this small guide for a 1.20m diameter mini-oven. Follow these easy steps and quick tips to build your own crust-worthy oven.
During the first steps, building the base of your oven, you'll have to make a few decisions that will determine how much flexibility and how many choices you'll have later in the process. Here are a few helpful hints:
- Don’t forget to think of a dry place for wood storage.
- Leave a border space greater than the 1.20m of the oven for support.
- The bricks of the base where the pizza is placed should be placed at 45 degrees from the mouth of the oven. This reduces the possibility of getting the pizza peel stuck when handling the pizza. You may want to use refractory brick here, but keep in mind it’ll be a bit more expensive.
- You can make any kind of base you want, but for a conventional U-shaped base, you will need approximately 250 bricks.
Now for the oven:
- 220 bricks
- 12 cans (18 liters) of red dirt or clay, sifted. Tip: Don't use soil.
- 12 kg granulated sugar
Mix the red dirt and sugar, adding water gradually until the mix is sticky.
Reminder: Be careful not to leave the mix too wet, since the oven is made up of a dome and an arch, which are structural elements that transmit their own weight and can overload via compressive forces.
To mix we recommend using your feet.
When the base is ready, mark the center and make a circle where the oven will be using a nail and a nylon thread. This "compass" will be used throughout the process.
The mouth of the oven will be a vault made of bricks, so you'll need a form. This form will be an arch with a diameter of 45 to 60cm. Once the form has been made, position it on the base.
The arch of the mouth should follow the slope given by the form.
With the mark for the oven ready and the form of the mouth positioned, begin placing the rows of bricks with the dirt mixture, always beginning at the mouth. The first row will be parallel to the base, the next should follow the slope given by the compass we used to trace the diameter of the kiln.
Go up one row at a time by alternating the ends and centers of the bricks. Follow this procedure to the end.
- After the 4th row, you’ll notice that the bricks will no longer settle easily. You can break them and use the halves so that there’s not too much space between the rows and it doesn’t take away from the strength of the structure.
- Use small stones and the dirt mixture to fill the gaps between the rows.
After about the 6th row, leave a space to place a chimney in the back of the oven (not directly at the back, slightly to the side). You can use a cinder block.
At this stage, you will notice that the bricks tend to slide more easily. Use a slightly drier mixture. This is the hard part and you will need to ask for help from other people in the process. The most important thing is to never forget the compass and always follow the slope.
After the last brick is placed, you can cover the entire oven with the remaining leftover mixture. It is not a must, but it helps in protecting the kiln from the weather.
When the oven is ready, put wood in and make the first burn. This way, the sugar will melt and improve the performance of the clay mixture. Then, get your pizza party started and enjoy!
Now common amongst South American architecture students, this tradition was born at PUC-Campinas in Brazil, where professor Vitor Lotufo first started teaching architecture students to build pizza ovens. In his classes, Lotufo would construct a pizza oven with his students to explain the structural function of its constructive typologies. Since then, the practice has spread to workshops at various student gatherings and in freshman weeks at a number of schools.
For more pizza-y goodness, check out the ovens made by architect Renato Jeuken (a former student of Lotufo’s), in his web project "My pizza oven." Renato explores various shapes, materials, and supports for building the kiln and talks about the tradition of pizza parties as social experiences.