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The Story of Load bearing Masonry Construction

The Story of Load bearing Masonry Construction
July 03
05:19 2014
Load bearing Masonry Construction

Load bearing Masonry Construction

See the above picture for a modern example of load bearing masonry construction. Note the absence of concrete columns and beams. The walls are the main load carrying elements.

Load bearing masonry construction was the most widely used form of construction for large buildings from the 1700s to the mid-1900s. It is very rarely used today for large buildings, but smaller residential-scale structures are being built. It essentially consists of thick, heavy masonry walls of brick or stone that support the entire structure, including the horizontal floor slabs, which could be made of reinforced concrete, wood, or steel members.

In contrast, most construction today is not load-bearing masonry but frame structures of light but strong materials, that support floor slabs and have very thin and light internal and external walls.

The key idea with this construction is that every wall acts as a load carrying element. In a load bearing structure, you cannot punch holes in a wall to connect two rooms – you would damage the structure if you did so. The immense weight of the walls actually helps to hold the building together and stabilise it against external forces such as wind and earthquake.

In traditional European loadbearing masonry construction, the floor slabs were made of horizontal wooden beams, joists, and planks. A joist is a smaller wooden beam that rests on two larger beams.

The buildings were covered with sloping wooden roofs, that could be finished with clay tile, wood or stone shingles, or metal plating such as thin sheets of copper. Other such buildings had flat terraces, that were built by pouring a concrete layer over a wooden floor, and then finishing with some form of tile or stone to provide a strong, waterproof finish.

Every wall had a simple continuous strip foundation below it.

Most classic buildings in Europe are built with load bearing masonry construction.

why is load bearing wall construction not used today?

Load bearing masonry construction is not used today for a number of reasons:

  • It does not perform very well in earthquakes. Most deaths in earthquakes around the world have occurred in load bearing masonry buildings. Earthquakes love heavy buildings, because that is where they can wreak the greatest havoc.
  • It is extremely labour-intensive, as it is built mainly of masonry, which is made by hand. Humans have still not developed a machine that produces masonry! This also makes for very slow construction speed in comparison with modern methods that are much more mechanised.
  • It is extremely material-intensive. These buildings consume a lot of bricks, and are very heavy. This means that they are not green, as all this material has to be trucked around from where it is produced to the site.

The history and development of load bearing masonry buildings

Load bearing Masonry Construction

Load bearing Masonry Construction

Load bearing masonry construction has a very long, bright and interesting history.

To start with, masonry structures were large and solid, like the pyramids.

With the development of the arch, openings were created in these structures, and large structures like the colosseum in Rome were built. The arch was first developed in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iran-Iraq-Turkey-Syria) and was then picked up by the Romans.

In India, builders started using horizontal slabs of stone to construct floor plates. The Taj is built of red sandstone masonry walls faced with white marble. Its walls are 6ft (1.8m) thick in some places.

Europeans built fine stone walled buildings with floor slabs made of wood beams and planks. The buildings had elaborate arched openings and very finely crafted domes. These buildings have lasted hundreds of years, with limited repair in many cases, testifying to the quality of the craftsmanship and the brilliance of the design.

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Homeey.com Team

Homeey.com Team


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