The study of the Chinese (grey) brickwork in the vernacular buildings in Hong Kong

by Ho, Chi-ching

Abstract (Summary)
(Uncorrected OCR) Abstract of dissertation entitled The study of the Chinese (grey) brickwork in the vernacular buildings in Hong Kong submitted by HO Chi Ching, Ivan for the degree of Master of Science in Conservation at The University of Hong Kong in September 2002 The study begins with the description on the making of clay bricks. Brick making in the West is well documented and there is ample written literature on the subject. The kiln firing of the Chinese grey brick is no different from that of the red brick, except in the last stage of firing in which the oxidation flame is changed to reduction flame by the pouring of water as reduction agent into the kiln, thus altering the valency the of iron ions in the brick, which gives the distinct character and colour. This method of changing the firing chemistry was recorded in the Ming dynasty. Every area in China possesses its own traditions in architecture as well as in brick making. The local brick making is no different and this is also examined in Chapter 1. The development and technology, such as methods of laying and the types of bonding for both the red bricks and the grey bricks are examined. In the West, the emphasis is on the production control of the bricks to achieve uniformity in size, colour, shape and strength and there are two types of brickwork, that is, the fair-face brickwork and the ordinary brickwork. The brick is used as is after manufacture and it is seldom that the brick is cut or ground, except in a few features. Though there had been 'gauged and rubbed' brickwork, this had been abandoned due to labour intensiveness. The principle of Chinese brick laying is different, 'ground the brick and matching the joint' (JfffSS'lt), is the common approach, that is, every brick is gauged, rubbed and ground. The whole wall surface is ground and touched up after completion. Uniformity of the colour of brickwork and the joints is the rule for Western brickwork. For the Chinese, the work is more exaggerated, and a seamless brickwall is the highest level of brick technology. Chinese brick laying is divided into - '-pffil dry laid' (ground bricks seamlessly jointed), *$j$Jt silk thread joint' (grounded bricks with the joint as fine as silk thread), 'tfq}E=l rippling white' (partially ground bricks with joints pointed up), and 'ffiflfjSi rough laid brickwork' (bricks rough laid, with no grinding and the joints are relatively large). 'Dry laid' brickwork can hardly be found in Hong Kong, but there are examples of 'silk thread joint' work. The Chinese term 'brick' covers wall building bricks, floor paving tiles and even the roof boarding tiles. A piece of wall building brick can be given various names according to the size, usage, method of making and place of production, so the names of the bricks quoted in the literature can be very confusing. A specific name is given to a piece of special brick for each type of return or decorative feature. The size of bricks is not unified throughout the entire country. Imperial brick dimensions are different from vernacular bricks as well as the difference found in each dynasty. Every location has its own tradition in architecture and size of bricks produced. This adds difficulty to the study of Chinese brick. The study on brickwork would be deficient without a chapter on lime and joints. The lime cycle and various products, such as non-hydraulic lime, hydraulic lime, hydrated lime, and the local practice of producing and using 'raw lime', and 'cooked lime' are explained. The difference between jointing and pointing is also explained. With such complicated methods in the laying of brickwork, it is not surprising to find this also applies to Chinese lime putty and mortar. 'Nine lime putty and eighteen mortar' is the oral code, which reflects the complexity of the Chinese lime system. The understanding of Chinese brickwork is essential in conservation work in this region. Most of the conservation work examples stated are far from satisfactory and the authenticity of some of the works has been lost. The best type of brickwork found in Hong Kong is the 'silk thread joint'. Greater variety brickwork examples can be found in Macau. Even the ancestral halls, the most valuable pieces of architecture in the villages built by the clans, do not exhibit the highest skill seen in Chinese bricklaying. This may due to the position of Hong Kong away from the mainland, because of which the orthodox tradition is not followed, and due to ignorance of previous repair. The latter is seen in many of the recent repairs. Since there is little written literature on Chinese grey brickwork and even the brick sizes may not be generalized, an in-depth study on the local brickwork could broaden the present knowledge of the brick conservation, which may help dating of the buildings through the knowledge of the bricks used, as well as providing the information for the drafting of a conservation guideline on the local brickwork including jointing. This paper represents a pioneer attempt to study Chinese grey brickwork and mortar materials in Hong Kong and I hope that this will initiate further systematic study on the subject.
Bibliographical Information:


School:The University of Hong Kong

School Location:China - Hong Kong SAR

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:vernacular architecture china hong kong conservation and restoration brick houses


Date of Publication:01/01/2002

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