Saturday, July 28, 2012

Site Finding

I knew I wanted to site my construction at the back corner of the field, far away from the house and looking out over the valley and the wheat field. I'm glad I found a hole left over from a previous earth-casting test- less digging to do. 

The Chilterns are actually chalk hills, and it was only during the last ice age that clay was pushed up from the valleys onto the ridges. Grymsdyke is on one such ridge.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

First Mold

One of the goals I set for myself for my time here at Grymsdyke is to acquaint myself with digital fabrication techniques. This brick mold is my first introduction to the potential of the CNC machine.

I realize how much skill is needed to operate such a machine. You need to have a deep understanding of the behaviour of the material under the drill bit in order to set the speed, depth, and direction of each operation. I had help with this part- hopefully it is something I will learn in the future.

As well, the milled pieces still require a lot of hands-on work, for their finishing, sanding, and assembly. I added notches as handles, and filed the joints.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Brickworks in Buckinghamshire

The 'custom mold' room. An amazing space filled with the legacy of bespoke modules.

 After the desolation of the Warsaw brickyards, the bustle of the H. G. Matthews factory in Chesham was heartening. It was a hot, sunny day- perhaps England will have a summer after all- but they were doing a wood firing as well as making new bricks. 
The forming process is interesting because they have two groups of workers, forming at the same time: one group works with a machine, and the other molds by hand.

The machine-forming group. The worker on the right demolds the bricks that have come out of the machine, and spins them on the turntable to the worker on the left, who shelves them for drying.

The brick-making machinery reminded me of the Charlie Chaplin film Hard Times, all squeaky gears, thick belts, and cogwheels.

The hand-forming group. Wooden molds of four bricks each are filled, scraped, demolded, and shelved.

They fire with both wood and oil; the oil fires can get up to 1300C, which results in some of the bricks being 'overburnt'- they are no longer red, but brown, and the iron inside melts to form black patches.

This is an easier way to mix clay...
I asked them about the flint in their clay. Apparently, there are pockets of clay with flint, and pockets without, and they will excavate until they find a pocket without flint, rather than try to remove it. They have an increasingly hard time finding sources of clean clay, however. Land in this area, so close to London, is extremely valuable, and it is difficult to get permits to dig.

It seems like the demand exceeds the supply- but maybe because there used to be over 20 brickyards in Buckinghamshire, and now there are only two. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Our Lady of Czestochowa

Although Social Realism championed the brick and the bricklayer as a symbol of solidarity and popular labour, optimization and Modernist influences led to a decline in brick construction in Warsaw during the 1970's and 80's. Indeed, at that time, architecture in general suffered due to standardization and centralization. In Poland in 1980, as many as 160 'factories of houses' produced large concrete panels which were used to build over 80% of apartments.

The decade of the 1980's in Poland was a time of low standards and a permanent crisis in all spheres of life [...] The only way to bypass the strict building standards imposed on prefabricated housing construction and an opportunity to show designing skill was when a new church was to be designed and built.

Majewski, Jerzy Stanislaw, Landmarks of People's Poland in Warsaw, Warsaw: Agora, 2010, p. 254

 In many cases, the designers of churches chose to return to brick, and the church of Our Lady of Czestochowa on Łazienkowska street is one example. This church was completed first in 1918, but was mostly destroyed in WW2, and its reconstruction was undermined again by the removal of a facade during the construction of the Łazienkowski highway in 1971. The rebuilding was entrusted to the architects Thomas Turczynowicz, Anna Bielecka, and Peter Walkowiak, who created a neo-medieval post-modernist fusion. This sounds disastrous, but it is actually an engaging and intricate balance of old and new, with a beautiful blend of shades of yellow brick.

Brick was chosen as an affirmation of the human and the individual, in reaction to the machine-produced apartment blocks, as well as its evocation of the archaic and the timeless.