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  • Shropshire Brick and Stone UK

The Construction and Characteristics of Brick Arches


As with many other brick constructions, brick arches have been around for thousands of years. These impressive and, to those who don’t work in construction, almost baffling construction features still remain popular today, offering an element of traditional grandeur into a building’s architecture.


Constructing arches using bricks requires meticulous technique to ensure structural stability without compromising on visual appeal. In this article, we’ll explore in more depth some of the common designs you can expect to see of brick arches, along with how they’re constructed and typical characteristics you can find in these.


What are Brick Arches?


A brick arch refers to an architectural structure, whereby bricks and mortar are used to create an open archway. Their use can be for both decoration and supportive purposes.

Evidence suggests that the creation and use of brick arches dates back as far as approximately 4,000 BC in Babylon, however it’s widely accepted that their use as structural openings was largely accelerated and popularised by (unsurprisingly) the Romans.

Since then, arches have been commonly used in British architecture across each period, being used to span both windows and doorways.


Looking more at their purpose, there are various benefits that they offer that lend them to being so popularly used throughout time - including in modern day. This includes:


●      Structural support

●      Load bearing

●      Space division

●      Aesthetic appeal


Structural Support


In terms of structural support, brick arches are able to more evenly distribute the weight above them compared to other construction methods, such as flat lintels or beams. Due to their curved shape, the arch is able to direct the load down and outwards along this curve, thus transferring it to the supporting walls or columns instead - which are able to handle such loads much more soundly.


Furthermore, the inherent strength of bricks combined with this curved form allow these arches to efficiently resist compression forces. This is why you often see arches spanning openings, such as doorways and windows, since it’s essential that the weight above these areas is well-supported to avoid sagging or, in the worst case scenario, collapsing.


Load Bearing


Depending on the architectural design of the building, some brick arches can be engineered to bear significant structural loads without the need for additional support columns and beams. This allows for larger open spaces to be created, creating a sense of openness and continuity within internal spaces, subsequently allowing architects to facilitate versatile floor layouts and express architectural creativity.


Nowadays, modern construction techniques will often incorporate brick arches into the overall structural system of a building and utilise them as load-bearing elements. This is done by making advanced engineering calculations and methods, ensuring that the arches meet today’s rigorous safety standards whilst fulfilling their load-bearing function.


Space Division


As a creative element, brick arches are strategically used to frame various architectural elements, including doorways, windows and passageways. Arches help to accentuate the importance of these elements within the overall spatial composition of a building, creating focal points that attract your gaze as well as guide your movement logistically through a building.


They can also be used to create a sense of spatial hierarchy. By outlining different areas within a building, they help to establish a sense of organisation within the architecture. For example, archways used to frame grand entrances convey a sense of arrival and importance, whereas smaller arches better represent more transitional spaces, such as corridors or alcoves.


Aesthetic Appeal


Lastly, brick arches make for great decorative features. The combination of their graceful curves, textured surface and organic colours work together to enhance the visual appeal of buildings by adding depth, dimension and character to it, which ultimately creates a sense of timeless elegance.


Their aesthetic also holds cultural significance. They have been emblematic of various architectural styles and cultural identities throughout history, whether that be from the famous arches of Roman aqueducts to the intricate horseshoe arches associated with Moorish architecture. Ultimately, their enduring presence across various architectural traditions reflects their significance and universal appeal.


Characteristics of Brick Arches


The design of brick arches can take various forms, including semicircular, segmental, pointed or elliptical arches.


A semicircular arch is the simplest of these designs, reflecting half a circle. As for segmental arches, these have a slightly shorter radius in comparison, resulting in a gentler curve. A pointed arch could be commonly found in Gothic architecture, and this is where two separate curves meet to create a point at the apex of the arch. Lastly, elliptical arches have a flatter curvature and wider span, often being seen used in bridges over railway lines because of this.

Regardless of these varying designs, there tends to be a number of characteristics found in all arches. This includes the:


●      Keystone: This is the centre-most block used at the apex of an arch. It is usually wedge-shaped and is often the final stone to be placed during its construction, locking all the other stones into position.

●      Voussoir: Voussoirs are the stones that form the semicircle at the top of the arch. They tend to have curved bases and are placed between the keystone and the imposts.

●      Impost: The base stones that form the straight sections on each side underneath the voussoirs of the arch are known as the imposts.


How are Brick Arches Constructed?


Due to their shape, most brick arches will only hold once the structure is completed. Because of this, they are typically constructed on what’s known as a centring, which is a timber frame in the same arched shape that is then removed once the mortar has sufficiently set.


With the frame in place, the bricks are added from the side upwards, with the first bricks being placed on top of the impost at either side. They are then added one at a time, altering between each side, before reaching the top, which is when the keystone is added. This will then lock all of the bricks into place and transform the tension from the centring to the arch itself.


Whilst this is the basic principle for constructing an arch, there are two separate construction types in particular that can be differentiated between various arches. These are rough arches and gauged arches. The main difference between the two is the shape of the bricks and the mortar.


Gauged


Gauged arches use bricks that are specially created to the curved shape of the arch. These voussoirs are cut and shaped with meticulous precision so that they’re tapered at the bottom and stay wider at the top. This allows them to naturally sit in a curved position, with the mortar in the joints between each brick being parallel to one another.


Rough


In comparison, a rough arch essentially works in the opposite way to a rough one. Rather than having shaped bricks, the bricks are all the same size - instead, it’s the mortar that’s tapered between the brick joints, allowing for the arch shape to be created.


Due to the extra work and precision required from using the gauged technique, this naturally takes more time and costs more money. As for the rough technique, this is sometimes covered with some form of render, since it’s considered to be less aesthetically pleasing.


From Brick Cutting to Portico Designs: Cast Stone Suppliers in Shropshire


As you can see, brick arches are impressive and timeless architectural structures that require patience and skill to make. If you’re looking to incorporate an element of grandeur into the architecture at your property, then you may decide that a brick arch is the way to go.


We can help here at Shropshire Brick & Stone. Using our expert brick cutting services, we can create bespoke brick shapes and sizes to suit your personal needs, whether you’re looking to use the gauged or rough technique of arch construction. Our specialist in-house design team can meet your brick cutting needs to exceptional standards.


As well as brick cutting, we also offer a range of bespoke cast stone products, including stone window headers, copings, pier caps and more.


If you’d like to learn more about the services that we offer, or to discuss your personal requirements with a member of our helpful team, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today.

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