Category Archives: masonry

Concrete Pleasures

A couple of my current projects have me greatly enjoying the pleasures of concrete.  I love the stuff for a variety of practical and aesthetic reasons.  This is not new – the mesmerizing rotation and great mass of the mixer truck transfixed me as much the next kid.  Now, I am a happy peddler of the upscale modernism that fills the pages of Dwell magazine where the clean lines and muted color palettes make concrete a perennial favorite. I can’t resist.

Just as important to me, the tools of the trade, the remarkable plasticity of the material and the genius with which it has been used all give me great pleasure.    I am a fan of the hidden seismically sound foundation retrofit under my Bay Area home.  I am a fan of greatly celebrated works of concrete architecture by Tadao Ando, Jorn Utzon, Eero Saarinen and a few of their predecessors stretching back to the Ancient Romans. I am a fan of the pedestrian urban sidewalk.

My current concrete work is neither as engineered as a Bay Area house foundation nor as genius as a great work of architecture but it is nonetheless transforming – testament to the potential of even small, strategic installations of the material.  Here are a couple of examples.

In this Berkeley rear yard, I installed only four cubic yards to knit together some really broken circulation patterns between house, deck, rear yard and side yard.  Now it works and looks great.

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In this steep San Francisco rear yard, we’re creating a beautiful terraced garden with smooth concrete seat walls along the side setbacks.  In the near future there will be a lush palette of California native shrubs on the outside perimeter, contained by these serene walls, and two level terraces – one for child’s play and one for adult play.

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Bricks in the Ground, History at Your Feet

photo (6)I’ve spent the last week working on a brick patio for a backyard landscape project on Cedar StreetIt turns out that reusing this brick was no small commitment. The effort required stockpiling the brick in order excavate for a well drained patio base, pressure washing to remove the sticky clay and weed seeds, and carefully executed cuts given the fragile nature and inconsistent sizing of the old fireplace brick.  By contrast, current brick pavers are perfectly uniform and cut consistently without uncontrolled cracking and breakage.

All of this extra time with these old bricks got me to look at them very closely – many of them, very closely…to my delight I began to be reminded of things that I had long forgotten.  My architect father taught me as a child that bricks carry a lot of visible information their surface including the stamped foundry insignia, occasional other stamped insignia, and of course the color and sheen revealing the material content and firing temperature.

This collection of bricks has a rich history, something the owner is thrilled to have gracing the ground plane of their new backyard landscape.

Here are some of the tidbits that I picked up.

Richmond Pressed Brick Company

Many of the bricks are common bricks from the Richmond
Pressed Brick Company that operated from 1907 to 1966, producing 10 Million bricks per year at its peak.  http://calbricks.netfirms.com/brick.richmondpbcobm.html

Carnegie Brick and Pottery Company

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A few of the bricks are higher quality yellow brick from the San Joaquin Hills.  These bricks were
used in many early 20th Century grand building around the SF Bay Area including theaters, hotels, and other edifices worthy of quality brick.  http://calbricks.netfirms.com/brick.richmondpbcobm.html

photo (5)“Union Made” Brick, Tile and Terra Cotta Workers Alliance

A good number of the bricks have a
triangle insignia that piqued my interest.  I am sure that a lot of historians and masons know this but I did not.  This triangle symbolizes the three initials of the Brick, Tile and Terra Cotta Workers Alliance (BTT).  http://theindustrioushistorian.blogspot.com/2009_04_01_archive.html?m=1