The Mighty Brick!
Houses nowadays can be built out of nearly anything - concrete, wood, steel, glass, stones. You might have heard that ecological houses are built even out of straw-bales… crazy, right? However, when we have a look into the wide range of building materials, bricks are kind of standing out - they are solid, heavy, often red and literally everywhere, though in some countries more visible (like the UK) than in others. Why are they so freaking popular?
Bricks have been used across the world for thousands of years as an easily available (local) building material that can be produced with a low energy investment. Dig some earth, add some clay, mix with straw and water and it is ready - easy as that. This way millions of people were able to create their own building materials that were actually totally sustainable.
You would not do that yourself today - but you will be encouraged to think as if you were building a truly original, ecological and sustainable self-built home where such a material makes perfect sense.
This activity is an experiment in a self-made brick production. You might get hooked and produce some building material for your garden house, bedroom interior and even neighbours - who knows?... Construction is a serious business, and it takes a lot of knowledge and experiments, especially when it comes to well-forgotten sustainable methods and materials. But let’s play at first! It might be more fun to do this activity with your friends to compare who is a better brick-producer.
Individual or group / Experiential
2 days, with several days apart
To gain a notion about sustainable building materials and methods
To learn the basics about building material properties
To have a notion about the energy / labour investments in the building industry
Required Materials and Tools:
Tools: spoon, bowl, milk cartons
Materials: soil, water, straw / dry grass / pine needles
Gather some straw. If you do not have straw you can use dry grass, or dry pine needles.
Put the straw, soil from your yard, and water into a bowl and mix it well.
Take an empty milk carton. Pour the mixture into the carton.
Mark each of the cartons used to record the information about the ingredients and other specific conditions.
Place the milk carton in a sunny and dry place and leave it there for several days to dry.
When the brick is firm and dry, peel off the carton.
Do the tests.
Try out different straw - soil - water proportions when making different bricks.
Find a recipe for the right proportions (beware - there are dozens of opinions) on the internet.
Take soil without organic matter from underneath the fertile top-soil layer.
Try adding clay and sand if available.
Testing - how mighty is your brick?
Place the bricks on a solid surface (concrete). Test the strength by stepping on the bricks. Try to load as much weight as possible. Take a pencil or any other sharp object and try to press through it.
Leave the bricks outside exposed to various climate conditions. Observe and see how durable they are without protection.
Dip the brick into the water which is just before freezing. Use the freezer to test the freeze-thaw cycles. Take the frozen brick out of the freezer, thaw and test its strength.
Compare - which model / brick has been the strongest in various tests (pressure, bending, water, frost)?
How could the model / brick be improved?
How can this material be used in your climate conditions?
What material would you use for building your own house? Why?
What traditional and sustainable building materials used in your area can you name?
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