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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Mindblowing Masonry

I’ve become more interested in building construction techniques in other parts of the world. I have no use for This Old House type things anymore. I know as much as the hosts, so it’s kinda boring. Ignorance intensifies interest in these matters, or at least unfamiliarity does.

My wife and I watch old UK building shows sometimes. They sorta speak English, so it’s not too hard to follow along with what they’re saying.

We never get tired of George Clarke pronouncing 18 as AAAAAideen with his Cumbrian zest. We like all the people he interviews. They have no idea how to do any kind of construction, but they all honestly believe they’ll be out of their rented caravan and into their newly converted pig barn by Christmas. It’s always by Christmas. It’s already Thanksgiving, they don’t own a shovel, and they haven’t got any pounds, or spondulicks, or coof, or dosh, or tenners, or whatever they call the money they don’t have in the UK, but they have the bravery that blissful ignorance brings. That makes it fun.

The UK is a masonry world first, last, and always, completely different than what I’m accustomed to here in the Northeast US. I was always a wood construction sort of person. I’m familiar with masonry construction of all sorts, don’t get me wrong. But they do things very differently across the pond even when they’re building the same sort of thing we have here. A block house in Florida is not like a house in Bristol.

I’ve gotten interested in what goes on south of our border. Talk about masonry people. It’s all bricks and rocks and blocks and mortar and concrete, and a little steel here and there in Mejico. And they don’t get to the top of the masonry walls and start in with wood very often, like they do in the UK. They favor flat roofs, also made from masonry. And they have guys that can still construct masonry vaults. Here’s the description from the video, translated into English for you:

Diego GarcĂ­a Villena explains in detail how to make a vault without trusses or shoring and achieve upper enclosures using only bricks, without joists as in the past
I find this fascinating. If you want to better understand what he’s doing, you can press on the gear icon on the video and tinker with the closed captioning setting to autotranslate the audio into English. It’s durn interesting.

They’re touting it as bioclimatica. It’s pretty hot in many parts of Mexico, and heavy masonry construction will absorb a lot of heat when it’s too hot, and release it during the cooler hours. It’s a smart approach. And all your tools will fit in a wheelbarrow when you’re done for the day.

I’m know the history of wood-frame housing in the US pretty well, not just building techniques. I have some idea of its origins, whether they be British or Scandinavian or Swiss or whatever. So I’m looking at this video, and trying to scope out the tradition this fellow is a part of. And all I can come up with is medieval Europe. Spain, Italy, northern Africa, that sort of place. He’s making a groined vault, and that might put its provenance back to the Roman Empire. It kinda blows my mind to think about it.

10 Responses

  1. Ah yes, it’s always “by Christmas”. Having been there, I can say, it’s not so much about Christmas, as it is about signing off on all the bank financing documents by New Years. End of the year, you know.
    I think masonry is, at root, about having lots of silt choked rivers. Gotta get the clay from somewhere. And flat topped roofs are a result of not having any precipitation. Once you get into the rainy zone, flat masonry roofs turn into curved masonry tile roof formed over the brickmaker’s thigh, and let me tell you, there is some kinda substantial framing under that. It weighs like a horizontal double layer brick wall, cause it is.
    The vault the guy is building is cool. All those custom cut and fitted bricks, because he’s basically buiding an arch without a form under it. You gotta have faith in your work to do that, because if it fails, you’re at ground zero.

  2. Yeah, and building something like that in an earthquake-prone area is somewhat akin to having a death wish.

  3. Lots of masonry on my new build but lots of glass and zinc too….needed to change my habits a little.

  4. The apartments being built in my neighborhood have very little masonry. Mostly wood frame with thin insulation and such. My condo, fortunately, is made of brick.

    1. Hi Gringo- Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I don’t like the way the formerly varied forms of building in various parts of the country are being stamped out and made uniform. This leads to things like houses in Maine that look like San Diego, and from your report, apartments in the southwest that look like anything but the southeast.

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