Masonry and bricklaying all began around ten thousand years ago, just as early human civilizations began farming, and subsequently, became less nomadic. Masonry took hold as a means of building more permanent structures. Remnants of some of these earliest structures still survive to this day! The process of mixing sand, clay, and other locally sourced materials gave rise to a craft that is still a huge part of modern construction. Though the materials and methods have evolved since the stone-laying methods used to build the great pyramids of Egypt, the art of creating magnificent structures from the earth remains. Throughout the centuries, masonry has been regarded as a noble craft since masons are responsible for some of the most awe-inspiring structures ever built.
The Romans are credited with making the craft what it is today. From the coliseum to their basilicas and aqueducts, they were truly innovative. Though most of us most commonly think of the pyramids and ancient Greek architecture, masonry was being used all over the world. The builders of the Great Wall of China in Asia and the Mayan Temples of South America were also using mud, stone and bricks to create structures that are still standing thousands of years later. The use of hand-made bricks also allowed people living in areas without rocks to build without importing materials over long distances.
Evolution of an Art
Becoming a mason takes years of hands-on experience and training by a journeyman or master mason. The craft is becoming increasingly rare due to advances in technology and materials. Where we once had to hand form each brick and let the sun dry them, we now have fully automated factories that produce any shape or color brick by simply dumping the materials into one end. The way we construct buildings has also changed dramatically. Instead of placing stones or bricks one at a time by hand, we now use pre-formed, steel reinforced concrete. This has allowed us to build taller and more massive buildings, both faster and more cost-effectively.
There is still a demand for masons, particularly in the field of restoration. In a process known as tuckpointing, a craftsman removes old grout between bricks or stone and applies new grout in its place. This can extend the life of a building by many years, as well as preserve its original design. There is also a high demand in certain areas of the country in home building. There is no automated substitute for the work of a bricklayer, and it is still done the way it has been done for millennia.
Masonry has remained an extremely popular building method despite the rise of wood and steel. There is a beauty to brick and stone that cannot be duplicated by any other material. It truly is an art form that has been developing since man began living in permanent cities. Human civilization is represented by the things we have built, and masonry has outlasted all other building materials by thousands of years. The craft is becoming more specialized but is likely to last for many more years.