Sunday, July 12, 2020

Brick Works

Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

The neighborhoods and areas I walk have very few brick walls using the bricks themselves to add texture in ways that catch sun and shadow to reveal patterns and provide relief from sameness. Some of the brick building that do--often low apartment buildings are constructed so that some of the bricks protrude, ends and lengths--none recede--providing what I find interest to the walls. Decorations I like.

Two doors from one such apartment building is a modest house with brick plant box pedestals about a meter high. The bricks gradually and gracefully emerge from the wall as they go upward, becoming wider with each course to create the planter platforms. The only other exterior decorative touch I can see is the placement of vertical bricks just above the basement windows. I like these details although both the top courses of bricks and planters are in a state of serious disrepair.

So, just what can be done with brick walls? More than I ever guessed or imagined. Brickwork in the old city of Tozeur (Tunisia) shows what is possible and writer/photographer Jeff Koehler provides a tour as well as describes the history of these walls. Koehler notes that nearby "guide tours to the nearby Star Wars sets of Tatooine, the fictional original home...of Luke Skywalker." You may recall Luke's words: ‘But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!’

An advantage of bricks include a"low density that allows them to absorb and expel water" and as engineer Nidhal Hedfi notes "'(A brick's) low expansion rate allows it to withstand large thermal amplitudes.'" The decorations add "another level of protection from heat" (it has the highest average temperature of the nation). As Hedfel explains: "'The sets of recesses which characterize the arrangement of bricks allow the creation of minimal fractions of shadow on the entire facade, which minimizes the surface directly exposed to the sun's rays  and consequently reduces the heat that penetrates the wall." The decorative arrangements result in "shifting patches of shade (generating) convections currents, lowering the surface temperature by creating a naturally ventilated wall."

Additionally, these bricks were made by hand--all the steps from the clay and sand mix to the kiln which uses fronds from their famed date orchards to construction. "It can be said," notes eighth generation Tozeur brickmaker Anton Charbor “ that brickwork is the waste disposal industry created by the date industry," a result of the annual trimming of the date palms. Chorba, an eighth-generation Tozeur brickmaker makes some 600 bricks a day.

Here is the story from Aramco World about the patterned brick walls of Tozeur's historic Ouled el-Hadef Quarter (Tunisia).

It has been said that variety is the spice of life. Cultures around the world are one of the main ingredients. Koehler's essay is an example of how people world wide took advantage of what was there, the place they decided to live, and make a society and civilization from it. What masterful chefs!

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