Masonry, the art and craft of building or fabricating with stone, clay, brick or concrete block, is one of the oldest of the skilled trades. It dates back to the use of sunbaked clay brick more than 6,000 years ago. Masonry construction helped build some of the world’s most notable structures, including the Egyptian Pyramids, the Roman Colosseum, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China.
The Early Days of Masonry Construction
The art of masonry began spontaneously in the creation of walls from stone or pieces of caked mud. The first mortar was just mud smeared in between pieces of stone to add stability. Over time, brick and later limestone were introduced in masonry construction.
As long ago as 2600 BC, the Egyptians were using basic masonry to build one of the most impressive structures ever created. They created the Pyramids by stacking large pieces of limestone. Granite was used to construct the roofs and walls of the burial chamber. Gypsum and rubber were used to fill in the gaps and stabilize the structure despite having almost no binding properties. Egyptian workmen likely used copper chisels, drills and saws to cut the limestone.
The Middle Ages
In Medieval times, stone was frequently used to build castles, bridges, cathedrals and other structures that were designed to stand the test of time. Stone gave masons the opportunity to build much higher and support much heavier superstructures. Castles were sometimes built with a combination of masonry stone and limestone plaster, which provided a bright white/yellow color.
The Industrial Revolution
During the Industrial Revolution in America and Europe, machines were developed that made masonry much easier. These technological advances made it simpler to quarry, transport materials and mold bricks. For the first time, sophisticated mathematics was used to create more elaborate structures. Buildings of this area were noted for having greater strength and durability.
The Era of the Skyscraper
The art of masonry somewhat lost its luster in the late 19th Century after metal frames replaced stone bearing walls in very tall building in major cities. However, the development of the concrete block used in such structures can be traced back to brick construction. Concrete block is frequently used today in construction because it is much cheaper than cut stone and requires less labor than laying brick.
Although masons cannot be credited with building the Freedom Tower, the craft is as vital as ever today. Six thousand years after it was first introduced, masonry construction is practiced the world over. It is used in the creation of everything from schools to office buildings to houses. Masonry is still the preferred mode of construction for architects, developers and homeowners, because it is attractive, sturdy and versatile.