Brick Building Blocks: The First Cities

Brick is a wonderful material. There's an alchemy about brick - about all building materials made from fired clay - where the elements of earth and water are transformed by fire into a material that can be more durable than stone. Through fire, mud - a soft, ephemeral and base material - is transmuted into the hard, the eternal and the beautiful. Perhaps it is the beauty of bricks that is the starting point of my love affair. Many materials can be hard - wrought iron, steel, or concrete - but they don't have the character or ancient pedigree, of brick. As well as hardness, history, beauty and character, brick possesses great subtlety.

A brick's colour and texture is the result of the mix of clay from which it is made, perhaps with the addition of other materials, and of the manner in which it has been fired - primarily the temperature, length and regularity of the firing process. Also, unlike many other hard building materials, bricks breathe, almost as living beings. Their open-cell structure makes them wind-proof but breathable, which means they are the ideal material for homes. They also offer superb insulation, helping interiors remain cool during hot summers and warm in cold winters. Since they also function as heat reservoirs because of their high heat-retention capacity, bricks can actively help warm a room. In a brilliant manner, the heat stored during the day is gently released when outside temperatures fall.

The inherent qualities of brick - aesthetic, economic, environmental and structural - seem to have been recognised by mankind at a very distant time. Indeed, as far as it is possible to tell, bricks are the oldest man-made building material. The first cities made by man, such as Uruk in Mesopotamia which was founded around 6,000 years ago, and Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley dating from around 4,600 years ago, utilised brick and other clay products.

In the 21st century, brick continues to play a creative role in the making of sound, functional and delightful architecture. Indeed, in this age of ever-increasing concern over ecology, sustainability and energy conservation, bricks - with their long-life span and splendid insulation characteristics - remain an ideal building material.

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