travan showing us the brick mould

30.03.15 | introduction to clay tiles

Day Two of the RCA / AA Visiting School has been written up by Alex Assael, a 1st year architecture masters student at the RCA, studying in ADS6 with Clem:

The sunny early Monday morning started with Tai Chi lead by our resident instructor Chi Lam, before we quickly set off to visit H G Mathews brickworks. H G Matthews was established in 1923, producing both hand made bricks and machine-made bricks, using local clay and traditional firing processes. We were given a tour of the facility by Traven Matthews (one of the two brothers currently running the family  business) who begun by walking us through their surrounding land that they used as either arable farmland or for clay mining.

He then took us through the main workshop, introducing us to the various brick they produced which aligned on skillets ready to be dried. The brick were fabricated at the far end of this workshop, where the Heath Robinson like machines conveyed the clay, sifted it and cleaned it ready for use. G H Mathews also has a lot of interest in Eco product development, showcasing their new designs of ‘Strocks’, an unfired brick/straw bale block, used as a structural insulator, and a hemp brick mainly used for temporary structures.

We moved to look at how the bricks were firstly dried and then fired. They used a series of wood chip boilers to gently heat the brick first to avoided cracking, using 5000kg of woodchips per 16000 bricks. From being dried out the brick are then fired in these hugely impressive oil kilns, able to fire around 80000 bricks at a time. It was interesting to see the various colours that occur with this sort of firing process, ranging from dark blues to oranges due to their position in the kiln.  The wood fired bricks were even more impressive in the spectrum of colours and patterns, exaggerated by the smoke and the variations in temperature. The Wood kiln used 60 tonnes of wood over 70 hours in the firing process, producing around 63000 bricks.

Before heading back to the farm we discussed with Traven about the tiles we were designing for the project, and looked at the various moulds they used to gain some insight and tip for the afternoons work. In the afternoon we split in to groups some either prototyping the finger moulds of the main beams and others beginning to design moulds for the tiles. In these initial stages we came up with several different introductory designs for the tiles. Several of us were working with the existing geometry of the lattice structure and trying to emulate the undulating forms of the timber. We also were working with the off-cuts of the timber lattice from the CNC machine, experimenting with their form to create a mould for the clay, which would will save on making lots on new moulds. Both methods, plus experimenting with textures for the tiles, are the main areas to develop on tomorrow.