Tag Archives: architecture

Opus spicatum, the Roman legacy of bricklaying

Small Roman bricks (opus spicatum) floor in Trajan’s Market in Rome. By MM via Wikimedia Commons

Opus spicatum, which translates to “spiked work,” were small ceramic bricks the Romans laid in a herringbone pattern for pavement. Remains of such work can be found in many areas of the world even today. When aligned in this pattern, they are nearly impervious to foot traffic. According to Will Belcher, in Opus spicatum: A History of Herringbone, “when the chevrons are pointed in the direction of traffic the pattern becomes extremely strong under compression as the chevrons are able to spread the load over twice as many bricks. This inherent ability to absorb compression of movement makes it a remarkably resilient paving pattern.” Such technology was lost after Rome fell, though, and not rediscovered till much, much later in history. Belcher states that when opus spicatum was rediscovered,

the herringbone bond was taken from the horizontality of landscape and began to find its self in the motifs of architecture. The pattern became the fundamental backbone of Brunelleschi’s great Duomo in Florence. By incorporating the interlocking pattern into the structure of the dome, much like keystones in an arch, Brunelleschi disposed of the need for a central support system. The interlocking system gave the dome its unique shape and allowed it to defy the rule of quinto acuto, or ‘acute fifth,’ a mathematical concept that had previously been used to divine the curvature of architectural domes.

Because the opus spicatum is part of the dome’s infrastructure, the sections with the brickwork cannot be seen by the casual viewer. So, I’m very happy to have come across photos that show the masonry in the article “The Great Dome of Florence” in Counterlight’s Peculiars. Just scroll down the page till you reach it.

Eglise Savennières Opus Spicatum

Opus spicatum in the face of the church Savennières, in Loire Valley, France. By Kormin via Wikimedia Commons

I like the idea of creating something durable and decorative using this design. I want to see if we can pave an area outside using opus spicatum. At pavingexpert.com, I found precise information about creating herringbone patterns with bricks. Al McCormack & Son, the paving consultants who run the site, state that “all block paving for trafficked areas, such as driveways, should be laid in a fully interlocked pattern.” The site includes diagrams, photographs, and contact information. Another site, Houzz, has a photo gallery that has 5,530 photographs of brickwork patios! I felt like weeping just after seeing the first page because the patios are so beautiful and the areas so well-landscaped. Yet, I have to remind myself of the region in which I live, as unglazed brick does not fare well in our freezing thawing cycles during the cold season. Still, we could use concrete pavers that look like brick. I’ve seen it around. But could we find alternatives this small? Opus spicatum = small bricks. If we could find materials, the job would take much longer, but we would end up with something much more durable. To make such a solid pavement, we would also have to take great care with the preparation underneath…leveling, layering sand, etc. To my mind, to be able to walk on pavement with such a history would be well worth the effort….

Knightia alta 01

Knightia alta, an eocene fossil fish of the herring family (Clupeidae). ca. 56 Ma. Colorado USA.33 mm long. By Keith Edkins via Wikimedia Commons

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Arcosanti, Cosanti and Paolo Soleri’s Windbells

Arcosanti panorama. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever had a dream? One you fully believed in? For 50 years exclusively? Meet Paolo Soleri. If Arcosanti and Cosanti mean anything to you, maybe you already know about him. I was in high school in the early 70s when I first heard about this man and his endeavors…back in the days when we read Buckminster Fuller and E. F. Schumacher. The world has changed so much, but I still have the idealism of a Baby Boomer and Soleri bells are a part of that dream. Soleri is now 91 years old and his work continues. His project is unfolding, slowing but surely, to his exact specifications.

Cosanti work room where bells are made. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Soleri, a gifted architect, came to the United States from Italy in 1947, where he lived at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesen West and East for a year and a half. Forever changed, he returned to Italy, where he received a commission to build a large ceramics factory, “Ceramica Artistica Solimene.” Much later, he would begin making ceramic bells to help support Arcosanti. A desert town/community north of Phoenix, Arizona, Arcosanti began being built by Soleri in the 1970s, after he developed his theories about “arcologies” in the 1950-60s. The town is built on a 4000-acre preserve, but it takes up little of that space, by design. Arcologies are a “concept of cities which embody the fusion of architecture with ecology,” according to the project website. If you’d like to read more, here are some articles and multi-media about Soleri and Arcosanti in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and PBS.

Cosanti Gift Shop Entrance. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Soleri started a movement that continues today, partly funded by windbells. The bells, originally made of clay, are now ceramic and bronze. “Soleri first lived in Sante Fe, NM, making and selling ceramic pots,” according to Archidose‘s John Hill. “Some local merchants approached Soleri to carry on the production of wind bells for them after another maker passed away,” he continued. “Even without a background in making this type of pottery he agreed, not knowing it would become a permanent part of his life.” Cosanti is Soleri’s home, studio, and gallery, located north of Phoenix. If you ever have listened to a newscast, video or movie footage of Arcosanti, surely you have heard a Soleri bell. They are wonderful and one of them can become part of your life, too. For more information, click here. Ceramic windbells cost from $28-$121 US. For more information, their toll-free number is 1-800-752-3187 and they are open from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, Mountain Time. Local number: 480-948-6145. You can also email them at email@cosanti.com. Take a moment to see some of Soleri’s windbells in the following video. Thank you, Paolo Soleri.


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Founder of the Bauhaus School & the TAC Tea Service

Table of Contents

  1. Walter Gropius
  2. Bauhaus Movement
  3. Bauhaus School
  4. The Bauhaus Pottery
  5. TAC Tea Service


1. Walter Gropius

“Our guiding principle was that design is neither an intellectual nor a material affair, but simply an integral part of the stuff of life, necessary for everyone in a civilized society.’ — Walter Gropius

Walter Gropius

2. Bauhaus Movement

3. Bauhaus School

4. The Bauhaus Pottery

5.  TAC Tea Service

Rosenthal line designed by Gropius.

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