Structural Brick Wall Design

From the seventeen hundreds to the nineteen hundreds, load bearing masonry construction was the most popular construction method for large buildings. However, nowadays this method doesn't enjoy the same popularity it did back in the day when it comes to large buildings, but it seems that it is a great choice for small residential scale constructions.

It basically consists of heavy and thick masonry walls made of either stone or brick that support the whole structure. This includes the horizontal floor slabs that can be made of steel members, wood or reinforced concrete.

On the other hand, it seems that the majority of constructions done today are frame structures of strong, yet light materials that are capable of supporting floor slabs. These also have very light and thin external and internal walls.


So what's the main idea behind this type of construction?


The answer is simple: each wall acts as a load carrying element. When it comes to load bearing structures, punching a hole in a wall for connecting 2 rooms is just not possible. By doing so, you're going to damage the structure. The great weight of the walls is what's stabilizing the building against external forces and also holding it together.

In the past, when building European load bearing masonry structures, horizontal planks, joists and wooden beams were used for making the floor slabs. The sloping wooden roofs of these structures were finished with metal plating, stone shingles, wood shingles or clay tile.

However, there were also buildings that featured flat terraces which were built by pouring a layer of concrete over a wooden floor and then using either stone or tile to provide a waterproof and durable finish. Below it, each wall featured a simple continuous strip foundation. In fact, if you visit Europe, you'll probably be quick to realize that the majority of classic buildings there are built using load bearing masonry construction.

Louis Khan, a famous American architect is famous for using load bearing construction for the IIM in Ahmadabad. Instead of concealing it under decorative skins, this structure deliberately expresses the construction system. For this project, he used concrete exclusively for members in tension. These are practically ties which tie together the 2 ends of the brick arches.

Panorama Ahmedabad via Wikimedia Commons
By Mahargh Shah (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Load bearing wall construction and why it's not that popular these days

There are quite a few reasons why load bearing masonry is not used so often nowadays:

  1. Load bearing construction is very material intensive, so constructing one such building requires a lot of bricks. This results in a building that’s definitely not green and one that’s also very heavy as well.
  1. It's very labor intensive, since it's generally built using handmade masonry. Compared to modern construction methods, the construction speed is also very low.
  1. Lastly, such buildings don't perform well in earthquakes and most of the times suffer the greatest damages. If you're currently living in one such building in a seismic area, you may want to think about moving into a modern structure that has better chances surviving and protecting you in case of a disaster.