Homage To The Humble Brick

Humans have invented amazing things, but some inventions are so ubiquitous that we overlook them. Today I am focussing my attention on one invention that owes everything to the ingenuity and industry of ancient civilizations. I am thinking about bricks. Ordinary, everyday, bricks. They have been around since 7000 BC and we have had fired bricks since 3500 BC.

Between buildings E San Fernando Street, San Jose, CA.

I find red brick buildings particularly attractive, and today I learned that in Victorian England red bricks became popular because red brick buildings were easier to see in the fog than were lighter colored bricks and stones. That makes perfect sense to me.

There are regulations that govern the size, shape, and weight of a brick but no doubt the standard brick evolved from generations of bricklayers figuring out what were the most practical dimensions to handle repeatedly and to be able to lift in useful quantities. That, in itself is a fascinating development. They worked out the optimal unit measurements to create enormous buildings using only manual labor.

They didn’t only design the perfect unit for building, they also found ways to make their collective uses pleasing to the eye. Thank you brickmakers and bricklayers everywhere.




  1. Good discussion and those are lovely buildings; however, to be honest, there are some really ugly red brick buildings too.

  2. And we mustn’t forget the potential history behind (and beneath) The Brickyard! In PA, my elementary school was sort of yellow brick (never lost in a fog as far as I know!), Middle School was grey stone of some sort as was the High School. Those schools still exist and are utilized but all have had remodeling projects of some sort. The High School is now simply enormous! No Prop 13 in Mt Lebanon PA!

    • Yes, indeed. (For those who don’t know us, the condo complex where I live in San Jose and where I met Mary Beth is called The Brickyard. It is located on the site of a former brickyard.)

      I am intrigued by the various colors of bricks and it seems that a combination of types of clay and methods of firing cause the differences. I think red brick has more iron in it, but I need to find out more.

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