School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds, UK



As we strive to achieve more sustainable forms of construction, factors such as the thermal mass of a material; its local availability; maintenance demands; ease of maintenance; opportunity for re-use; the amounts of embodied energy and embodied carbon, to name a few, all gain greater significance. Many of these aforementioned factors are inter-dependent and are influenced by durability.

Experience shows that well-fired clay brickwork can be extremely durable. This point is illustrated from a brief review of the performance of two distinctly different structures, both built in the UK, subjected to very severe exposure conditions and a lack of planned maintenance over a prolonged period of time. The first of these is a Saxon church built, in 664, from the remains of an earlier Roman fort. The second is a multi-span railway viaduct built between 1882 and 1884. In both cases the brickwork has remained in excellent condition and, where repair work has been necessary, it has been much easier to implement than is the case with other more commonly used construction materials. The longevity of clay brick construction and the scope to re-use bricks both result in a material that has a very low level of embodied energy per unit of time.

In spite of these potential benefits, clay brickwork now tends to be used in the UK as a non-structural cladding material for buildings. It is rarely used for engineering structures. This is due, primarily, to the long construction periods when compared with steel and reinforced concrete construction. The principal purposes of this paper are to identify the potential of clay brickwork to contribute to sustainable design solutions; to encourage those engaged in building and civil engineering structure design to consider clay brickwork as a structural material for new build and to summarise the main challenges facing designers.

Key words

Bricks, Durability, Low maintenance, Masonry, Sustainability