The term brick is often used as a synonym for common clay solid blocks, but there's more to it. Bricks are perhaps the most elementary of building materials and can be used to design modular, optimized, and most importantly, versatile buildings. This article explores the most popular types of bricks according to their use in construction.
Early civilizations first adopted the use of bricks as an alternative to construction in areas where there were no large trees to provide wood for shelter. The most common clay bricks today are made from soft mud and fired to make them durable. Ceramic bricks originated in the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe and have been the foundation for the construction of important structures such as the ancient Indus Valley cities in Pakistan. With the industrial revolution and Britain's imperial century, clay bricks became the main building material, not only in the United Kingdom but all over the world.
Since then, building technology has evolved with new techniques and materials, but the logic behind the use of brick remains the same: it is the smallest building unit in a construction system. Therefore, developing a project according to the brick measurements can save resources and reduce waste by avoiding unnecessary cuts and irregular fills.
There are many different types of bricks according to their materials and forming methods. Here are the 4 most common types:
Traditionally, fired clay bricks are the most common type, made from soft mud and then burned in a kiln. Since clay is a natural raw material obtained from the soil, the color of the bricks can vary depending on the location where they are manufactured. These bricks can be solid, hollow, thin, and can be used for several purposes in construction, such as structure and cladding.
Concrete bricks, on the other hand, are made from a mixture of cement, sand, aggregates, additives, and water, and are usually used as structural masonry blocks, tested to ensure the necessary properties, but can also be used for veneer walls. Along with ceramic bricks, they are also one of the most common materials in construction today.
Foam concrete, also known as cellular concrete, has a different production method, resulting in bricks with special building properties. A mixture of water, cement, lime, and aluminum powder, creates an aerated material that offers excellent acoustic insulation and improved thermal efficiency. Also, since they are very lightweight, building loads are reduced, and it is possible to save money and materials on the structure, for example.
The construction industry is always searching for new eco-friendly materials in terms of production. For example, the ecological brick, also known as modular brick, is a building unit manufactured from a mixture of cement, soil, and water, which is more efficient and less polluting since it is pressed manually, or with a hydraulic press, thus making the process of kiln burning unneeded.
Besides materials and production methods, it is also important to understand the purpose of the different types of bricks in a building. In conventional structural systems with beams and columns, bricks can be used as a veneer, while in buildings with structural masonry, load-bearing brick walls can serve both as a building envelope and structure. Bricks can also be used as decorative elements or as cladding.
In this case, bricks are used only as a building enclosure, not as a structure. It is important to pay attention to the thermal and acoustic characteristics of this material. Sometimes walls need to be insulated before adding the bricks but, in some cases, it is possible to take advantage of the properties of the material, such as the high thermal mass of solid clay brick, for example.
Structural masonry plays both parts, building enclosure and structure, making construction very efficient, which is a great advantage. For this purpose, it is important to observe the properties of each material and also the size of the bricks to ensure a good modulation for the project.
Using exposed bricks as a finish with only a thin layer of water repellent, such as sealants, resins, or acrylics, is a common choice for this type of material, and sometimes, a brick finish doesn't have to mean using whole bricks; brick slips make a great alternative. Some other examples of decorative bricks that can add a unique touch to the project are glass blocks, screen blocks, brick planters, etc.
Regardless of the type of brick, perhaps the most important aspect when considering this element is how to integrate the building material with the project. After determining the building system and building elements in the project, it is possible to shape the design according to that choice, thus saving money in material and labor, rationalizing the construction, avoiding waste and excess residue, and reducing the time of completion.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 13, 2021.