Prefabricated Brickwork

Project partner: Brick Development Association
CASE EPSRC student at Kingston University: Jennifer Hogg

Currently very little use is made of prefabricated brickwork and the vast majority of brickwork is constructed using traditional skills employed directly on the building or engineering site. This aspect of the procurement of brickwork has not changed over many decades. Whilst many brick manufacturers and merchants do supply special brick units to be made into small pre-assembled building components, such as minor brickwork arch sets, no recent attempt has been made in the UK to produce and supply larger prefabricated brickwork elements on a consistent and regular basis. Prefabrication does hold out the opportunity for significant improvements in overall building construction efficiency, quality and greater economy over traditional site constructed work. At the same time it is important to maintain the basic characteristics and attributes of brickwork as a construction material including attractive appearance, longevity, low ongoing maintenance and sustainability.

A small number of one-off projects has recently demonstrated the technical feasibility of providing both loadbearing and cladding brickwork elements through the use of industrial production techniques employing either off-site factory production or on-site prefabrication. The Inland Revenue Building at Nottingham and the Powergen Building at Coventry are good examples of each approach. Although both were highly successful projects, the full realisation of the potential improvements to the construction process resulting from the use of industrial production methods was not achieved because the prefabrication systems put in place to service these buildings were created and disbanded for each respective project. The major advantage of prefabrication should be the repeatability of the approach for many different building projects - not just for one project.

Although there are obvious parallels with precast concrete industrial production methods, brickwork is different in its make up, character and method of assembly. The transfer of brickwork craft skills to a factory production unit creates its own needs and the way in which designs might be called-off and translated into manufactured elements will be different. These aspects need to be investigated in a rational way in order to assess the best methodologies to use to transfer craft skills to a factory based environment.

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