The History of Masonry

The History of Masonry

Masonry began spontaneously in the creation of low walls from stone or pieces of caked mud from dried puddles. Mortar was originally mud smeared into the rising wall to lend stability and weather tight seal. Where stone lay readily at hand, it was preferred to bricks; where stone was unavailable, bricks were made from local clay and silts. Change came with the passing millennia. People learned to quarry, cut and hand chisel stone with increasing precision. Fires built against mud brick walls brought knowledge of the advantages of burned brick, leading the invention of the brick kiln. Masons learned the art of turning limestone into lime, and lime mortar gradually replaced mud. By the fourth millennium BC, the peoples of Mesopotamia were building palaces and temples of stone and sun-dried brick.

History of Masonry

In the third millennium, the Egyptians erected the first of their stone temples and pyramids. In the last centuries before the birth of Christ, the Greeks perfected their temples of limestone and marble. When control of Western Civilization passed to Romans, they made the first large-scale use of masonry arches and roof vaults in their basilicas, baths, palaces, and aqueducts. Medieval civilizations in both Europe and the Islamic world brought masonry vaulting to a very high and sophisticated plane of development. The Islamic craftsmen built magnificent palaces, markets and mosques of brick and often incorporated glazed clay tiles. The Europeans focused their energies toward fortresses and cathedrals of stone, culminating in the pointed vaults and flying buttresses of the great Gothic churches.

The civilizations of Central America, South America and Asia were carrying on simultaneous evolution in cut stone. During the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America, machines were developed that quarried and worked stone, molded bricks and aided in the transportation of these heavy materials to the building site. Sophisticated mathematics were applied for the first time to the analysis of masonry arches and the art of stonecutting. Portland cement mortar came into widespread use, enabling the construction of masonry buildings of greater strength and durability. In the late nineteenth century, masonry began to lose its primacy among the materials of construction. The very tall buildings of the central cities required frames of metal to replace the thick masonry bearing walls that had limited the heights to which one could build.

History of Masonry

Reinforced concrete, poured rapidly and economically into simple forms of wood, began to replace brick and stone masonry in foundations and walls. The heavy masonry vault was supplanted by lighter floor and roof structures of steel and concrete. The nineteenth-century invention of the hollow masonry concrete unit (CMU) helped revitalize masonry as a craft. The concrete block was much cheaper than cut stone and required less labor to lay than brick. It could be combined with brick or stone facings to make lower-cost walls that were still pleasing in appearance. The brick cavity wall, an early nineteenth-century British invention, also contributed to the revitalization of masonry. It produced a warmer, more watertight wall that was later to adapt easily to the introduction of thermal insulation when appropriate insulating materials became available in the middle of the twentieth-century.

History of Masonry

Over the twentieth-century, there have been many contributions to masonry construction. These include the development of techniques for steel reinforced masonry, high-strength mortars, masonry units (both bricks and concrete masonry units) that are higher in structural strength and masonry units of many types that reduce the amount of labor required for masonry construction. As we enter the 21st century, masonry remains popular. Masonry is the choice of many architects, developers and homeowners because of its beauty, durability and endless possibilities.

A Fundamentals of Building Construction 2nd Edition by Edward Allen

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