A strategy for managing brickwork in Sri Lanka
Building with burnt clay bricks is part of Sri Lanka's engineering culture. To date, bricks produced by the island's cottage industry have remained the principal building element in the construction of walls. These walls, plastered on both sides, are used mainly as infills or partitions in reinforced concrete buildings except for walls in single storey and two storey buildings carrying light loads. . Neither bricks nor walls in Sri Lanka confirm with standard sizes and vary widely. Brickwork joints too vary also, with significant departures from the norms of other organised construction industries. These variations result in many problems in the industry in what can be described as a disordered or chaotic environment. With material costs far in excess of labour, the status-quo continues without regard to impact on time and costs. The objective of this research is to develop strategies for coping with this 'chaos' and focuses on single brick thick walls. This disorderly environment is profiled with indicators of reasons for departures. Procedures and practices adopted for coping with it are presented as case studies. Methods for computing mortar volumes are developed and validated. The impact of the brick size, joint size, the degree to which the joints are filled, wall thickness, and mortar mix is assessed with respect to mortar consumption, brickwork output, and costs. The study advocates a paradigm shift from the conventional focus of -the 'brick' and the 'joint' to the 'wall' and its 'width. A wall of a given width may be constructed not necessarily with a few discrete sizes of bricks and a standard joint size, but with a variety of brick and joint sizes. This research concludes that the generally perceived 'single best solution' of standardisation is not necessarily the only approach for coping with the existing and emerging future. There are better approaches. It recommends the 'nonstandardisation' route through chaos using its inherent flexibility to advantage in a complex environment. This route is depicted in the form of a map with features of 'universality' of costs, the 'chapparuflexibility' in the wall width, 'geometry of order' in the bed joint, and a 'general specification' for output. The end result is an 'orderly chaos'. The chaos described in Sri Lankan brickwork is different to the 'chaos' as outlined in chaos theory although exhibiting some similarities. This study shows how concepts embodied in chaos theory can be used conceptually and symbolically in furthering understanding on issues related to construction management. The benefits of this research are not limited to Sri Lanka, but are applicable both regionally and internationally. This study whilst laying the foundation for a 'theory on brickwork' suggests that rules for plastered brickwork would not necessarily be the same for exposed brickwork thereby exploring the advantages of such brickwork. It also shows the value of 'decision rules' in coping with chaotic phenomena in an emerging future. It is argued that 'chaos'presents opportunities for a new 'order'.