My younger nephew is a civil engineer/architect, and his dream was to build
a brick vaulted ceiling similar to those of old churches.
He was designing his future house himself, and so he used in his design a
cross-barrel vault for the ceiling of his basement study/recreation room.
He started building his new house this spring, and the work on his vaulted
ceiling had began just days before I arrived there on July 20, 2010.
To build a larger size vaulted ceiling, one has to start with
a usually wooden formwork of perfect cylindrical shape
which would support the layer of bricks before it could be closed at the
crown. The formwork will stay there till the end of the building
process, till the roof of the house is finished, when everything hardens
well, and settles down. My nephew believes that when that time comes
next year, he designed the formwork support system so that he would
actually be able to lower the formwork onto the floor of
the basement, and salvage the wood used for the formwork, without being
crushed, without having to burn the formwork as was often done in the case
of medieval vaulted-ceiling churches. We'll see next year how it goes.
To build a single vault (nave) is not that difficult, but he complicated
the task by designing three shorter cross barrels that will go
perpendicularly from the main barrel to three semicircular windows, that
would provide the lighting of the only partly subterranean basement.
The difficult part is how to join properly these four cylinders, both
when building the supporting formwork, and when
constructing the brick arches themselves.
He hired two professional carpenters to build the formwork. When I
arrived, they already had a part of the main cylinder (see the first two photos
below). It took them another two weeks plus to finish the job (each week,
they usually worked for about three full long days on and around the weekend,
and three to four more afternoons/evenings after their more regular job).
Then came a bricklayer, who initially spent some time consulting
old books how this job should be done properly. Every brick
along the lines where each of the two perpendicular cylinders are joined,
had to be cut by his helper in usually two different planes to fit
tightly with all the adjacent bricks. They used electric stone cutters
to do this (traditional, usually not so precise method to "cut" a brick
was to tap it with the tip of a hammer along the line where you want it
to break). Once they figured out the values of the cutting planes angles,
the job started to progress faster. Because they were not available on
continual basis, it still took over a month to build the brick arches.
Traditionally, that was usually the end of the process, because not much
load was expected to be put on such a ceiling. Nothing in churches, and maybe
some hay in the old single-storey country houses. But he wants to have
two more storeys above the vaulted ceiling. So he was putting a layer
of reinforced concrete on top of bricks. First we placed a mesh of iron
re-bars on top of the bricks, held a few centimetres above the bricks by
small plastic spacers - to be roughly in the middle of the concrete
layer. Then he ordered a truck of specially formulated thick and
fast-drying concrete. It was interesting to work with it, as it did not
flow at all and could be molded almost as plasticine so one could make of it
relatively easy a layer that followed the curved surface of the bricks.
But it needed to be worked up as fast as possible, and so I was also helping
with it on my very last day there.
After I left, they were still blessed with many warm weeks (albeit interspersed
with spells of cold and rain) over there; and so my nephew still managed to
fill the spaces between the arcs with a lightweight filling mixture
(styrofoam bits, porous ashes, ...), pour a concrete slab on top of
it all, to have a level floor for the next storey. And at the very end of
November he even managed to finish the building of the full height of exterior
walls (no photos yet) before they were finally snowed in with
the most of Europe.
As may be visible in the photos, old recycled bricks were used for the
Good bricks can actually be recycled many times and used in many
consecutive houses for several centuries. The only
problem with that is that before re-use one has to clean them of all the
old mortar, which usually is a tedious and dusty work, which I tend to dislike.
Most often axes are used to scrape old bricks. We also tried to use for this purpose
the brush-like metal scrapers for horse grooming, which worked quite well, but
nowadays new ones are hard to get by.