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Fig. 51: Flemish bond

Fig. 52: Flemish bond, filled

Fig. 51: Flemish bond

Fig. 52: Flemish bond, filled

Monk bond (flying bond, Yorkshire bond) Similar to Flemish bond, in monk bond there are two stretchers between each header, and the headers in successive courses are offset by the length of one brick.

Variation on English cross bond

Dutch bond

This bond is distinguished from English cross bond by the fact that it alternates between courses of headers and courses of alternating headers and stretchers. But as in English cross bond the stretchers line up.

Fig. 53: Monk bond

Fig. 53: Monk bond

Fig. 54: Dutch bond

Tying and reinforcing double-leaf masonry walls

- Spread moilar

- Place wall tie in mortar and lay masonry unit on top

- Push insulation over wall tie, cast tie into bed joint of second (facing) leaf

- Spread moilar

- Place wall tie in mortar and lay masonry unit on top

- Push insulation over wall tie, cast tie into bed joint of second (facing) leaf

Mi iiill, nil

Fig. 57: Wall ties for bed joints, for concrete and masonry

Wall ties and reinforcement

The wall ties of stainless steel or plastic must be able to transfer tensile and compressive forces perpendicular to the plane of the masonry. The behaviour of the two leaves varies. Owing to the fluctuating temperature effects, the outer leaf moves mainly within its plane. But the inner floor and wall constructions behave differently - deforming due to loads, shrinkage, and creep. Wall ties must be able to track these different movements elastically. For practical reasons the wall ties are fixed in horizontal rows, generally two or three rows per storey, at a spacing of 80-100 cm. It is fair to assume roughly one wall tie per square metre.

As each row of wall ties effectively creates a horizontal loadbearing strip, it is recommended to include bed j oint reinforcement, either in the bed j oint above or below the row of wall ties, or in both of these bed joints.

Reinforced masonry for controlling cracking

Most cracks are caused by restricting load-related movements, e.g. shinkage, and/or temperature stresses. Such cracks can be prevented, or at least minimised, through the skilful inclusion of reinforcement. The number of pieces or layers are calculated in conjunction with the bricks/blocks supplier or the structural engineer depending on the stresses anticipated and the complexity of the external wall.

Furthermore, it should be remembered that expansion (movement) joints must be provided at corners and in sections of wall exceeding 12 m in length.

Other measures

In order to avoid stress cracking in masonry, other measures may be necessary at eaves, lintels, transfer structures, etc., e.g. cast-in rails with dovetail anchors, support brackets, expansion joints, etc.

Fig. 57: Wall ties for bed joints, for concrete and masonry

Systems In architecture

The skill of masonry construction

Katja Dambacher, Christoph Elsener, David Leuthold

Figure 60: Masonry wall


"Masonry is a building component made from bricks and blocks that are joined by mortar and therefore function as a coherent unit."1 Well, that's the definition - which could hardly be briefer - by the Swiss standards authority. But from this constrained condition a whole host of applications have developed.

We understand masonry to be a single- or multi-layer component assembled from natural or man-made stones that interlock with each other and are completed with mortar as the adhesive or filler.

Masonry components can be constructed from quarry or river-bed stones, dressed stones, man-made moulded, fired or unfired bricks and blocks, a mixture of the foregoing (e.g. in a faced wall), or cast and compacted masses such as cob, concrete, or reinforced concrete.

We distinguish masonry according to the method of construction and whether it is solid or contains voids.2

Art history aspects

In cultural terms masonry represents a constant value - neither its functions nor its significance have changed substantially over the course of time. Acknowledged as a craft tradition in all cultures of the world, it is always based on the same principle despite the huge number of different architectural forms. And owing to its strength, its massiveness, and its stability it presumably represents the same values of safety, security, durability, and continuity - in other words tradition - as well as discipline and simplicity always and everywhere. Distinct levels of importance are achieved through choice of material and surface finish. For instance, structures of dressed stones exude monumentality and durability (e.g. the pyramids of Egypt). Contrasting with this, the clay brick is an inexpensive, ordinary building material which is used primarily for housebuilding and utility structures (e.g. for Roman aqueducts, as the cheap industrial material of the 19th century).

Masonry has undergone continuous change due to technical progress. Throughout the history of architecture the response to mass-produced industrial articles has always given rise to different strategies. The Expressionist buildings of Germany were using hard-fired bricks in the sense of a pointed continuation of the northern tradition of facing masonry at the same time as most of the brickwork of white Modernism was being coated with plaster and render to diminish the differentiation.

Facing masonry

What masonry shows us is the materials, the building technology and the process-related quality of the jointing and coursing. Various elements determine the architectural expression of a wall of facing bricks. "First, the unit surface - its colours created by fire, shine, cinder holes, blisters, tears, and grooves; next, the j oint - its colour, surface and relief; and finally the bond - its horizontal, vertical and diagonal relationships and interactions as visible reminders of invisible deeds."3

If we speak of solid facing masonry, it seems sensible to differentiate between facing and core. The hidden core of the wall can be filled with (relatively) unworked, inexpensive stones or bricks in such a way that it forms an effective bond with the facing. The design of the facing, the surface of the wall with its structural, plastic, material, coloured and haptic properties, embodies the relationship and link with the masonry body.


"Like all simple devices or tools, the masonry unit is an ingenious element of everyday life."4

The shape and size of the individual masonry unit are part of a system of governing dimensions; the part - frequently designated the first standardised building element - is a substantial part of the whole. The individual masonry unit determines the laws of masonry building, i.e. the bonding, the bond for its part enables the regular distribution of the joints. As soon as we choose our individual brick or block, with its defined ratio of length to width to height, we establish an inevitable, prevailing system of dimensional coordination for every design, which leads to a prevailing relationship among the parts. Masonry thickness, length, height, right up to positions and dimensions of openings are defined as a consequence of multiples of the basic module.


Masonry units are usually in the form of rectangular prisms, although the actual dimensions have varied from region to region over time. However, their production has remained virtually identical throughout history. And history shows us that the fired masonry unit has seldom exceeded a length and width of 35 cm or a height of 11 cm in order to guarantee proper firing of the units and prevent excessive distortion during firing. The construction of a complex masonry bond (see "Masonry bonds") generally requires a masonry unit whose length is equal to twice its width plus one j oint. However, many different dimensions are available today (see "Swiss clay bricks and blocks") because many walls are now executed in stretcher bond to satisfy building performance requirements and structural principles dictate other dimensions (e.g. half- and one-brick walls).

In addition, masonry units must be (relatively) easy to handle so that the bricklayer can lift and lay a unit with one hand. Apart from a few exceptions, this rule still applies today. The factory production of bricks has led a standard size of approx. 25 x 12 x 6.5 cm becoming established for facing bricks, although different specifications as well as regional differences among the raw materials and production techniques still guarantee a wealth of different masonry units with diverse shapes, sizes, colours, surface textures, and properties. The various - larger and smaller - formats render a subtle, individual approach to the desired appearance or character of a structure possible. However, besides aesthetic necessities there are also practical reasons behind the various masonry unit formats. It is precisely the small formats that lead to greater freedom in the design of relatively small surfaces, thereby making it easier to overcome the rigidity inherent in the, initially, fixed form of the brick or block. The choice of a particular masonry unit, its format and appearance, therefore proves to be a very fundamental decision.

Colours and surface finishes

The colours of bricks and blocks are influenced by the chemical composition of the raw material (clay) plus the firing temperature and firing process. These conditions lead to a wide range of colours and lend the masonry a direct vividness and very specific quality. To use the words of Fritz Schumacher, every brick is highly individual thanks to its "corporeal" as opposed to its "non-corporeal" colour. "For in the actual material the colour is not merely a shade, but rather this shade has its own life. We feel that it exudes from inside the material, is not adhering to the outside like a skin, and that gives it extra strength."5 The term "colour" differentiates between colour as material and colour as a shade.

So no brick is exactly like any other. And it is precisely this lack of an absolutely perfect, smooth, sharp-edged, right-angled, dimensionally accurate and identically coloured brick, whose standard size, form and quality are merely approximate, that gives masonry its overwhelming fascination. The objective modularity of an individual masonry unit is balanced by the subjective composition within the masonry structure.

One traditional form of surface treatment and improvement for bricks and blocks is glazing, which can be applied when firing the unit itself or in a second firing process.


The erection of a wall is carried out according to a basic conception intrinsic to masonry: the bond. The bond is a system of rules with which a "readable, but largely invisible composition"6 is produced. The heart of this process is "exposing the invisible".7

The art of facing masonry lies in combining relatively small units by means of a solid, mass-forming but also artistic interlocking arrangement to form a structure such that the vertical joints of successive courses do not coincide. Every brick or block must be linked to its neighbours above and below in order to achieve masonry with maxi mum stability and consistency. This applies, above all, to the "core" of the wall which is later hidden. The masonry units interlock, carrying each other.

The arrangements of stretchers and headers create patterns stretching over several courses (rapport), and their repetition becomes a crucial design element, determining the character of the resulting surface. And the "weave" of the masonry units in every course determines whether this regular repetition takes place after two or three or, at the latest, after four courses, thus creating our stretcher bond, header bond, English bond, English cross bond, Flemish bond, etc. (see "Masonry bonds").

Strength through the bond

Masonry is a composite material - bricks/blocks plus mortar - with high compressive and low tensile strength. The load-carrying capacity is due to the bond which interlocks the wall in three dimensions. When applying a compression load to a masonry body held at top and bottom it is the bond in conjunction with regular mortar joints that ensures an even distribution of the compressive stresses. The mortar cannot resist any tensile stresses. This therefore restricts the load-carrying capacity of masonry and hence the height of masonry structures. The highest masonry building constructed to date, the Monadnock Building in Chicago, has merely 16 storeys and measures 60 m in height. (Prior to that the tallest masonry structures had just 10 storeys.) Correspondingly, the ground r loor walls of this "ancient skyscraper" (A. Moravansky) are two metres thick.

Figure 61: Various formats, colours and surface textures

Alvar Aalto: experimental house, Muuratsalo (FIN), 1954

Figure 61: Various formats, colours and surface textures

Alvar Aalto: experimental house, Muuratsalo (FIN), 1954


The effects of the various masonry bonds vary in their character. The choice of bond together with the material's character and the surface characteristics complement each other and determine the appearance of the racing masonry - but to differing degrees, depending on the observer's distance from the wall.

The brick itself creates the scale for the size of the ornamentation, and the pattern can be developed out of the module itself. The ornamentation created by the rapport is the outcome and also the expression of the production and jointing process; it is, as it were, itself inherent in the principle of the masonry wall.

Fritz Schumacher, for example, relies in his designs exclusively on the effect of attractive hard-fired materials in skilfully constructed walls. His ornamentation is purely superficial, the result of the alternating positions and interweaving of the bricks. However, ornamentation can also take on the form of subtly protruding individual bricks or courses, or make use of special forms such as brick-on-edge topmost courses.

Fritz Hoger, the architect behind the famous Chile House in Hamburg, regards brickwork as a material with which he can achieve outstanding large-scale ornamentation by allowing individual bricks to protrude over whole surfaces to achieve extraordinary plays of light and shadow. His masonry surfaces employ r elief, are even sculpted.


In facing masonry the significance of the joint is frequently underestimated. The j oint reveals the connection, "the bond", as the true concept of the masonry. Mortar and bricks are the materials of a wall; but joint and bond determine their nature. The joints cover the surface like a dense network and give it scale. According to Gottfried Semper's "clothing theory" it is the appearance of masonry that determines its technology, and not the other way round (see "The pathos of masonry").

Without joints, masonry would be inconceivable. The j oint and the masonry material enjoy a fundamental but variable relationship with each other, each influencing the other. The network of joints can be designed in terms of dimensions, colouring, and form; the relationship between joints and masonry units determines the strength of a masonry construction and also its architectural expression. But the strength of masonry depends essentially on the thickness of the joints; the masonry units are generally more efficient than the mortar, meaning that wide joints, in principle, can reduce the overall strength of a masonry construction.

Emphasising the joints to a greater or lesser degree gives us the opportunity to harmonise the effect of the surface in terms of colouring and vividness. Identical bricks can look totally different with the joints in a different colour. Furthermore, the variable position of the j oint surface with respect to the visible surface of the brick, i.e. whether the joints are finished flush, recessed or projecting, has a critical influence on the appearance of a masonry surface. Joints struck off flush in a wall of bricks with irregular edges, for example, can conceal the irregularities and make the pattern of the joints even more conspicuous. One special way of emphasising the joints is to recess them to create regular, delicate lines of shadow.

Summing up, we can say that the joint pattern is a significant component in the masonry surface and its three-dimensional quality, either highlighting the structure of the masonry bond or giving it a homogeneous effect.

The opening

The solid and protective shell of a masonry wall initially forms a hard boundary separating interior from exterior. Mediation takes place via perforations punched through the fabric of the wall. Their form, size, and positioning is directly related to the individual module and is consequently embedded in the strict, geometrical, modular whole. Every opening must fit into the scale prescribed by the masonry shell, and requires a careful consideration of the surfaces within the depth of the wall (head, reveals, sill, threshold); in other words, the opening is a hole in a fabric which must be "bordered". Wall and opening form an indivisible, interrelated pair in which the former must express its inner consistency and corporeality by - of all things - an "empty space" within the masonry structure,

Figure 64: Expressively sculpted facade

Fritz Höger: HannoverscherAnzeiger newspaper building, Hannover (D), 1928

Figure 64: Expressively sculpted facade

Fritz Höger: HannoverscherAnzeiger newspaper building, Hannover (D), 1928

whereas the dimensions of the opening, primarily height and depth, but also the width, will always be bound by the modularity of the masonry bond. On the other hand, the opening represents a disruption in the masonry, and the wider it is, the more permanent it seems to be. Although the opening itself is dimensionless, it is still subject to the laws of gravity because it has to be bridged by a loadbear-ing structure spanning its width.

Openings in masonry for windows, doors, or other large apertures are spanned by lintels or arches.

Openings up to about 1.5 m can be achieved without any additional means of support, simply by wedging the smallest units against inclined abutments. This produces an extremely shallow, cambered arch.

Horizontal lintels can be provided in the form of small beams of clay or concrete, with either prestressed or conventional reinforcement. Clay lintels enable openings to be spanned with little extra work and in the same material as the rest of the wall.

The arch, on the other hand, is without doubt the typical solution for solid and masonry construction when it is necessary to span larger openings or topographical features. The phenomenon of the mass and weight of the building material plus the physical principle of gravity

Figure 65: Joint and bond used to create an autonomous Image

Sigurd Lewerentz: St Peter's Church, Klippan (S), 1966

Figure 65: Joint and bond used to create an autonomous Image

Sigurd Lewerentz: St Peter's Church, Klippan (S), 1966

are superimposed here to generate strength and stability at the macro-level (building element "arch"); the arch is a structure purely in compression. At the micro-level the inherent strength, as already mentioned, is achieved through interlocking and hence the frictional resistance between brick and mortar ("adhesion effect").

Horizontal lintels over larger openings are built exclusively with steel or reinforced concrete beams. In his brick houses Mies van der Rohe was using concealed steel beams with a cladding of, as it were, "levitating bricks" as early as the 1920s in order to achieve window openings of maximum width and with minimum disruption to the horizontal coursing of the masonry units.

The position of the window within the depth of the wall represents another important element in the overall effect of a masonry structure. Whether the theme of the "wall"

or that of the "masonry" becomes noticeable at the design stage depends essentially on the extreme positions of windows fitted flush with the inside or outside face, indeed depends on any of the intermediate positions and possibilities within the depth of the opening. Basically, a "neutral statement" on this theme is impossible.


"Monolithic masonry"

"If walls are not to express any of their own weight, if we cannot see their mass, if mass only suggests stability, then those are not walls for me. One cannot ignore the powerful impression of the loadbearing force."8 That was the view once expressed by German architect Heinz Bienefeld. (Note: He means "masonry", the term "walls" is misleading here.)

Solid brick walls are fascinating not only in the sense of being building elements with a homogeneous structure in which the bricks are interlocked with each other in three dimensions, but also because they can take on all the functions of separating, supporting, insulating, and protecting, even storing thermal energy. The mighty masonry wall regulates the humidity in the interior and achieves a balanced internal climate. Compared with the ongoing breakdown of the double-leaf wall construction into highly specialised but monofunctional components, this multiple functionality proves to be particularly topical and up to date. This enables the development of new design strategies that look beyond the technical, constructional, and building performance issues.

The impressive, homogeneous masonry wall guarantees an imposing separating element between interior and exterior spaces. Windows positioned deep within the openings and powerful reveals divulge the massiveness of the material, which provides opportunities for plastic modulation but also the inclusion of spaces.

The insulation standards for the building envelope that have been demanded since the late 1970s have made traditional, solid, f acing masonry practically impossible, and so this form has almost disappeared. The problem of thermal i nsulation is solved with pragmatic systems, e.g. half- and one-brick walls composed of perforated masonry units built up in a synthetic, polyfunctional layer that favours exclusively the aspect of good i nsulation. This is at the expense of the visual quality of the masonry bond: for reasons of vapour diffusion and weather protection, half- and one-brick walls must always be rendered outside and plastered inside, and the maximum size of opening is restricted, too.

Double-leaf masonry walls

Building performance requirements simply put an end to the f acade as we knew it and divided our monolithic masonry into layers. In the course of the European oil crisis

Figure 66: Lintels

Figure 66: Lintels of the 1970s and the subsequent demands for masonry constructions with a better thermal insulation performance double-leaf masonry walls, which were originally devised to protect against driving rain, experienced a growth in popularity. Double-leaf masonry walls have several distinct layers separated strictly according to function and this optimises the performance of individual aspects, e.g. improved insulation and sealing, more slender leaves and better economy. Both leaves, inner and outer, are generally half or one brick thick. The originally homogenous building component, the external wall, with its inherent laws stemming from the material properties and methods of working, has been resolved into discrete parts. The outer, visible leaf has been relieved of loadbearing functions and has assumed the role of a protective cladding for the insulating and loadbearing layers. Consequently, the double-leaf system has a structure that comprises mutually complementary, monofunctional layers: loadbearing, insulating, and protective.

That results in new material- and construction-related design options. In particular, the thin, outer masonry leaf with its exclusively cladding function can be featured architecturally. Expansion joints separate the wall divided into bays, whereas the lack of columns is a direct indication that the outer leaf has been relieved of heavy building loads. The original interwoven whole has been resolved into its parts.

Double-leaf constructions can be especially interesting when the independent development of the slender masonry leaves gives rise to new spaces with specific architectural qualities. In climatic terms such included spaces form intermediate zones which, quite naturally, can assume the function of a heat buffer.

Pragmatic optimisation has brought about "external i nsulation". The external leaf of masonry is omitted and replaced by a layer of render.

Bonds for double-leaf masonry walls A wall split into two, usually thin, leaves for economic reasons is unsuitable for many masonry bonds; the half-brick-thick facing leaf is built in stretcher bond - the simplest and most obvious solution. What that means for modern multi-storey buildings with facing masonry is that they can no longer have a solid, continuous, loadbearing external wall. On the other hand, solid, bonded masonry (see fig. 63, house by Hild & K) is still possible for single-storey buildings (internal i nsulation). And there is the option of building the external leaf not in a masonry bond - which is always three-dimensional - but emulating this and hence forming a reference to the idea of a solid wall (see fig. 69).

Figure 67: Whitewashed masonry

Heinz Bienefeld: Schütte House, Cologne (D), 198C

Figure 67: Whitewashed masonry

Heinz Bienefeld: Schütte House, Cologne (D), 198C

Facing masonry and modern energy economy standards The characteristics of solid masonry can be resolved into layers only to a limited extent. Expansion joints divide the non-loadbearing external leaf into segments and the deception of the solid outer wall (which is non-loadbearing) is usually unsatisfactory. In recent years we have therefore seen the development of new strategies to build solid facing masonry.

One approach is to combine the characteristics of facing, bonded masonry with the advantages of thermally optimised half- and one-brick walls (see "Buildings -Selected projects" - "Apartment blocks, Martinsbergstrasse, Baden; Burkard, Meyer + Partner"). This approach is currently very labour-intensive because two different brick formats have to be combined in one bond and adjusted to suit.

Another strategy exploits the solid masonry wall as a heat storage element and integrates the heating pipes directly into the base of the walls. This enables the construction of uninsulated facing masonry (see "Buildings - Selected projects" - "Gallery for Contemporary Art, Marktoberdorf; Bearth + Deplazes").

Design potential and design strategy

Both the office-based design team and the site-based construction team must exercise great care when handling exposed concrete. Every whim, every irregularity is betrayed with ruthless transparency and cannot be disguised. Designing and constructing with facing bricks therefore calls for a precise architectural concept in which the artistic and constructional possibilities of the material

Figure 68: Solid masonry without additional layer of insulation

Bearth & Deplazes: Gallery for Contemporary Art, Marktoberdorf (D), 2001

Figure 68: Solid masonry without additional layer of insulation

Bearth & Deplazes: Gallery for Contemporary Art, Marktoberdorf (D), 2001

plus its sound, craft-like workmanship form a substantial part of the design process from the very beginning.

Initially, it would seem that the means available are limited, but the major design potential lies in the patient clarification of the interrelationships of the parts within a structured, inseparable whole. The brick module as a generator implies a obligatory logic and leads to a governing dimensional relationship between the parts.

The work does not evolve from the mass but rather assembles this mass in the sense of an "additive building process" from the small units of the adjacent, stacked modules. A great richness can therefore be developed on the basis of a precise geometrical definition, a richness whose sensual quality is closely linked with the production and the traces of manual craftsmanship. Fritz Schumacher expressed this as follows: "The brick does not tolerate any abstract existence and is unceasing in its demand for appropriate consideration and action. Those involved with bricks will always have the feeling of being directly present on the building site."9

The effect of the material as a surface opens up many opportunities. Tranquil, coherent surfaces and masses help the relief of the masonry to achieve its full effect, an expression of heaviness, stability, massiveness, but also permanence and durability. By contrast, the network of joints conveys the image of a small-format ornamental structure, a fabric which certainly lends the masonry "textile qualities".

The part within the whole

Bricks and blocks can look back on a long tradition citing the virtues of self-discipline and thriftiness - and architecture of materiality and durability. The structure of facing masonry reveals a system of lucid and rational rules based on a stable foundation of knowledge and experience.

The image of the brick wall is the image of its production and its direct link with the precise rhythm of brick and joints. The relatively small brick is a winner thanks to its universal functionality: it can assume not only a separating, supporting, or protective role, but also structuring and ornamentation. Facades come alive thanks to the age and ageing resistance of masonry materials, their manual working, and the relationship between the masonry body with its legitimate openings.

A wall of facing masonry is a work indicating structure, assembly, and fabric. The face of the architecture almost "speaks" with its own voice and enables us to decipher the logic and the animated, but also complex, interplay in the assembly of the fabric. It is precisely the limits of this material that embody its potential and hence the success of masonry over the millennia.

In conclusion, we would gladly echo here the confession Mies van der Rohe once made: "We can also learn from brick. How sensible is this small handy shape, so useful for every purpose! What logic in its bonding, pattern and texture! What richness in the simplest wall surface! But what discipline this material imposes!"10

Alejandro Sota Casa Doctor Arce

Figure 70: The plastic effect of the surface

Alejandro de la Sota: Casa Calle Doctor Arce, Madrid (E), 1955

Figure 70: The plastic effect of the surface

Alejandro de la Sota: Casa Calle Doctor Arce, Madrid (E), 1955

Figure 69: The pattern of English cross bond In double-leaf masonry

Hans Kollhoff and Helga Timmermann Kindergarten, Frankfurt-Ostend (D), 1994

Figure 69: The pattern of English cross bond In double-leaf masonry

Hans Kollhoff and Helga Timmermann Kindergarten, Frankfurt-Ostend (D), 1994


1 Swiss standard SIA V177, Masonry, 1995 ed., corresponds to new SIA 266:2003, 266/1:2003 see also: DIN V105 pt 1 & 2, 2002 ed., and DIN 105 pt 3-5, 1984 ed.

2 Wasmuths Lexikon der Baukunst, Berlin, 1931

3 Rolf Ramcke: "Masonry in architecture", in Masonry Construction Manual, Basel/Boston/ Berlin, 2001.

4 Rolf Ramcke, ibid

5 Fritz Schumacher: Zeittragen der Architektur Jena, 1929.

6 Rolf Ramcke, ibid

7 Rolf Ramcke, ibid

8 Wolfgang Voigt: Heinz Bieneted 1926-1995 Tübingen, 1999.

9 Fritz Schumacher: Das Wesen des neuzeitlichen Backsteinbaues, Munich, 1985

10 Excerpt from his inaugural speech as Director of the Faculty of Architecture at the I IT Chicago

Types of construction

Fig. 71: Compartmentation as a principle: elevation (top) and plan of upper floor (right)

Adolf Loos: Moller House, Vienna (A), 1928

Fig. 71: Compartmentation as a principle: elevation (top) and plan of upper floor (right)

Adolf Loos: Moller House, Vienna (A), 1928


The building of compartments is a typical trait of masonry construction. By compartments we mean a system of interlinked, fully enclosed spaces whose connections with one another and to the outside consist only of individual openings (windows, doors). The outward appearance is, for a whole host of reasons, "compartment-like". However, at least this type of construction does present a self-contained building form with simple, cubelike outlines. The compartment system uses the possibilities of the masonry to the full. All the walls can be loaded equally and can stabilise each other, and hence their dimensions (insofar as they are derived from the loadbearing function) can be minimised. The plan layout options are, however, limited.

Of the categories presented here, compartmentation is the oldest type of construction. Contraints were imposed naturally by the materials available - apart from the frame we are aware of coursed masonry and, for floors and roofs, timber joists as valid precepts up until the 19th century. Over centuries these constraints led to the development and establishment of this form of construction in the respective architectural context. In fact, in the past the possibilities of one-way-spanning floor systems (timber f oist floors) were not fully exploited. Today, the reinforced concrete slab, which normally spans in two directions, presents us with optimum utilisation options.

The following criteria have considerable influence on the order and discipline of an architectural design:

- the need to limit the depth and orientation of the plans;

- and together with this the independence of horizontal loadbearing systems (timber joists span approx. 4.5 m) at least in one direction;

- and together with this the restriction on the covered areas principally to a few space relationships and layouts;

- openings in loadbearing walls are positioned not at random but rather limited and arranged to suit the loadbearing structure.

Systems In architecture

Although today we are not necessarily restricted in our choice of materials (because sheer unlimited constructional possibilities are available), economic considerations frequently force similar decisions.

But as long as the range of conditions for compart-mentation are related to the construction itself, the buildings are distinguished by a remarkable clarity in their internal organisation and outward appearance. Looked at positively, if we regard the provisional end of compact compartment construction as being in the 1930s (ignoring developments since 1945), it is possible to find good examples, primarily among the residential buildings of that time. After the war, developments led to variations on this theme. The compartmentation principle was solved three-dimensionally and is, in combination with small and mini forms, quite suitable for masonry; through experimentation, however, it would eventually become alienated into a hybrid form, mixed with other types of construction.

Box frame construction

This is the provision of several or many loadbearing walls in a parallel arrangement enclosing a large number of boxlike spaces subject to identical conditions. The intention behind this form of construction might be, for instance, to create repetitive spaces or buildings facing

Fig. 72: Box frames as a governing design principle

Le Corbusier: private house (Sarabhai), Achmedabad (India), 1955

Fig. 72: Box frames as a governing design principle

Le Corbusier: private house (Sarabhai), Achmedabad (India), 1955

Fig. 73: Uninterrupted space continuum

Marcel Breuer: Robinson House, Willlamstowr (USA), 1948

in a principal direction for reasons of sunlight or the view, or simply the growing need for buildings - linked with the attempt to reach an aesthetic but likewise economical and technically simple basic form. In fact, box frame construction does present an appearance of conformity. After all, a row is without doubt an aesthetic principle which is acknowledged as such.

In terms of construction, a box f rame is a series of loadbearing walls transverse to the longitudinal axis of a building, which are joined by the floors to longitudinal walls which stabilise the whole structure. To a certain extent, a true box frame is not possible owing to the need for stability in the longitudinal direction, which is laid down in numerous standards. Therefore, box f rame construction is frequently used in conjunction with other categories (compartmentation and plates). The following criteria preordain box frame construction for certain building tasks and restrict its degree of usefulness:

- Restrictions to width of rooms and building by spans that are prescribed in terms of materials, economy, etc. (e.g. one-way-spanning floors).

- Heavy - because they are loadbearing - partifi ons with correspondingly good insulation properties ("screening" against the neighbours).

- External walls without restrictions on their construction, with maximum light admittance, option of deep plans and favourable facade-plan area ratios.

The first examples of true box frames originated on the drawing boards of architects who wanted to distance themselves from such primary arguments; the large residential estates of the 1920s designed by Taut, Wagner, and May, influenced by industrial methods of manufacture.


In contrast to the parallel accumulation of boxes, we assume that plates enable an unrestricted positioning of walls beneath a horizontal l oadbearing structure (floor or roof).

So, provided these plates do not surround spaces (too) completely - i.e. do not form compartments - we can create spaces that are demarcated partly by loadbearing

Fig. 73: Uninterrupted space continuum

Marcel Breuer: Robinson House, Willlamstowr (USA), 1948

walls (plates) and partly by non-loadbearing elements (e.g. glass partitions). This presupposes the availability of horizontal loadbearing elements which comply with these various conditions in the sense of load relief and transfer of horizontal forces.

We therefore have essentially two criteria:

- A type of spatial (fluid) connection and opening, the likes of which are not possible in the rigid box frame system, but especially in compartmentation.

- The technical restrictions with respect to the suitability of this arrangement for masonry materials; inevitably, the random positioning of walls leads to problems of bearing pressure at the ends of such wall plates or at individual points where concentrated loads from the horizontal elements have to be carried.

Only in special cases will it therefore be possible to create such an unrestricted system from homogeneous masonry (using the option of varying the thickness of the walls or columns).

Nevertheless, we wish to have the option of regarding buildings not as self-contained entities but rather as sequences of spaces and connections from inside and outside. As the wall is, in principle, unprejudiced with regard to functional conditions and design intentions, the various characteristics of the wall can be traced back to the beginnings of modern building.

The catalyst for this development was indubitably Frank Lloyd Wright, who with his "prairie houses", as he called the first examples, understood how to set standards. The interior spaces intersect, low and broad, and terraces and gardens merge into one.

Mies van der Rohe's design for a country house in brickwork (1923) is a good example (see "Masonry; Masonry bonds"). Here, he combines the flexible rules of composition with Frank Lloyd Wright's organic building principles, the fusion with the landscape.

The plan layout is derived exclusively from the functions. The rooms are bounded by plain, straight, and right-angled, intersecting walls, which are elevated to design elements and by extending far into the gardens link the house with its surroundings. Instead of the window apertures so typical of compartmentation, complete wall sections are omitted here to create the openings.

Richard Neutra and Marcel Breuer, representing the I nternational Style, provide further typical examples. The sublimation of the wall to a planar, loadbearing element that completely fulfils an enclosing function as well is both modern and ancient.

We have to admit that pure forms, like those used by the protagonists of modern building, are on the decline. Combinations of systems are both normal and valid. A chamber can have a stiffening, stabilising effect in the sense of a compartment (this may well be functional if indeed not physical).


Fig. 75: Reduction of the structure

Karl Friedrich Schinkel: Academy of Architecture (destroyed), Berlin (D), 1836

Fig. 75: Reduction of the structure

Karl Friedrich Schinkel: Academy of Architecture (destroyed), Berlin (D), 1836

The box frame can be employed to form identical interior spaces. And the straight or right-angled plate permits user-defined elements right up to intervention in the external spaces.

Schinkel's Academy of Architecture: an example of a grid layout

A close study of the plan layouts of the (no longer existent) Academy of Architecture in Berlin reveals how Schinkel was tied to the column grid when trying to realise the actual internal layout requirements. The possibility of creating interiors without intervening columns, as he had seen and marvelled at on his trip to England in 1826, was not available to him for reasons of cost. The factories in Prussia could not supply any construction systems that

Owing to the faulted subsoil, the chosen form of construction led to major settlement problems because the columns had to carry different compression loads. Flaminius described the problems that occurred: "There are no long, continuous walls with small or even no openings on which the total load of the building can be supported and where the cohesion of the masonry transfers such a significant moment to balance the low horizontal thrust that every small opening generates; instead, the whole load is distributed over a system of columns which stand on a comparatively small plan area and at the various points within their height are subjected to a number of significant compression loads acting in the most diverse directions... Only after the columns collect the total vertical load they should carry and, with their maximum height, have been given a significant degree of strength should the windows with their arches, lintels, and spandrel panels be gradually added and the entire finer cladding material for cornices and ornaments incorporated. Only in this way is it possible, if not to avoid totally the settlement of the building or individual parts of the same, but to at least divert it from those parts that suffer most from unequal compression and in which the effects of the same are most conspicuous."

permitted multi-storey buildings with large-span floors. He therefore had to be content with a system of masonry piers and shallow vaults (jack arches).

The Academy of Architecture was based on a 5.50 x 5.50 m grid. The intersections of the grid lines were marked by masonry columns which, as was customary at the time, narrowed stepwise as they rose through the building, the steps being used to support the floors. Some of these columns were only as high as the vaulting on shallow transverse arches provided for reasons of fire protection. The continuity of the masonry columns was visible only on the external walls. This was a building without loadbearing walls. It would have been extremely enlightening to have been able to return this building to its structural elements just once. It must have had fantastic lines!

The building was braced by wrought iron ties and masonry transverse arches in all directions, joining the columns. A f rame was certainly apparent but was not properly realised. At the same time, in his Academy of Architecture Schinkel exploited to the full the opportunities of building with bricks; for compared with modern frame construction, which can make use of mould-able, synthetic and tensile bending-resistant materials (reinforced concrete, steel, timber and wood-based products), the possibilities of masonry units are extremely limited. Schinkel managed to coax the utmost out of the traditional clay brickwork and accomplished an incredible clarity and unity on an architectural, spatial, and building technology level.


Barbara Wiskemann

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