The masonry trade is an extreme blend of old and new technology. Consider the situation in undeveloped countries such as Malawi, a small country in South East Africa. Roofs in this village are primarily constructed by lashing sticks together into a crude frame and then covering the frame with bundles of grass to provide minimal shelter from sun and rain. The homes are primarily constructed with mud brick. These bricks are dug from the native soil on site and then baked in a wood-fired oven, also on site, to remove some of the moisture. The end product is a brick that is only slightly stronger than a dirt clod. They are laid in running bond using mud as mortar. They dig a small hole on the site and periodically wet the hole to dig “mortar” for laying the brick. No cement or other additive is used.No Tech Magazine has some good articles on simple-yet-elegant masonry construction solutions.
Dimensional tolerance? Unit compressive strength? Type S or Type N? f'n? These are nowhere to be found. On the other hand, these dwellings illustrate the simple beauty of masonry and the ancient roots of the trade. These structures are surprisingly sound. They have high thermal mass, are termite proof, require no transportation of materials, are 100 percent recyclable, are locally mined and manufactured. In fact they surpass even our best efforts at being “green” and sustainable. One man can mine, manufacture, deliver, and install all the necessary components to build these structures—a remarkable feat.
Since its inception thousands of years ago, masonry has in many ways not changed. It is still practiced today in exactly the same form that it began so long ago. Even at its most basic state, masonry is still a very effective means of providing shelter and security for people all over the world...
In fact, some architectural masonry projects are so complex that their geometry cannot be resolved without an analytical tool. Case in point is St. Mary's Academy, a school project in New Orleans, which involved such complicated geometry that constuctibility and cost issues threatened to jeopardize the project. The design involved more than 140,000 glazed CMUs; more than 100 unique shapes further multiplied by multiple color, score patters and bonding methods to be shipped in various quantities—or more accurately put, 350 unique items. Because of the intended single wythe wall construction, the design was compared to a 140,000-piece 3D puzzle with a photo on each side. When the architects presented the design to contractors, a unanimous vote of “impossible to build” was returned. The only alternative was to build two 4-inch walls to separate the complexity—an approach that was cost prohibitive and not desired by the architects who stood behind their design. Detailed masonry modeling during the design phase, however, salvaged the design, and resulted in precise identification, ordering, and installation of each masonry unit. The technology was used to control costs and preserve the design intent.
Also, here is some info on a sadly neglected architectural movement: Brick Expressionism (Wikipedia)
Bricks Expressionism, a new aesthetic (Zapolote Photography)