Dan Cruickshank – The First Cities

I’ve pursued it around the world. 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, a soft, ephemeral and ‘base’ material – mud – 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 the ancient pedigree, of brick. And 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 a hot summer 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 recognized by mankind at a verydistant time. Indeed, as far as it is possible to tell, bricks are the oldestman-made building material. The first cities made by man – such as Uruk in Mesopotamiawhich was founded around 6,000 years ago, and Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in theIndus Valley dating from around 4,600 years ago – utilized brick and other clayproducts. Both these locations were near deposits of alluvial soil, which wereideal for brick- making, and the lack of timber or stone suitable for buildingmeant that brick technology had to be developed. The bricks used in thesecities were typical of early brick construction: both sun-dried and kiln-fired.

The rest of Dan’s editorial will be published in the January – June 2020 issue of I-MAGAZINE.