Designing a Wall for Strength and Beauty

Masonry walls need not always present a solid, unvarying face. Bricks and masonry blocks can be laid in patterns to enliven a wall’s appearance and in open designs to admit light and air while screening a view.


The decorative block patterns shown opposite feature stacked bond and blocks of standard sizes. Bricks, too, can also be used to make open work, but such walls require a skilled mason to make them structurally sound. An amateur bricklayer, however, can build a solid-brick wall with a decorative pattern based on the interplay of headers (bricks laid crosswise on the wall) and stretchers (bricks laid along the length of the wall), like those shown on page 217. Such designs strengthen an ordinary two-course-thick garden wall, since the headers tie the front and back courses of brick together, performing part of the function of joint reinforcement.


Most large brickyards stock many different colors of brick, but to create a simple design, you can use two different colors, one for a back-ground and the other for the pattern (page 218).

To plan the design, draw an outline of a full section of the wall on graph paper. Make the wall an odd number of courses high—the course that serves as a horizontal axis for the design must have an even number of courses above and below it. Find the squares that represent the center brick of the section. Fill in the pattern unit over this center brick, then fill in the rest of the section. You can now tell how many pattern units or parts of units will fit into the section and the wall, and how to begin laying the bricks.



Reinforcing a brick wall

Block walls of stacked bond (right) need both horizontal and vertical reinforcement. The pilasters—thick columns built into the wall—bracing this wall are pairs of double-corner blocks knitted to the wall with continuous stretches of joint reinforcement laid after every second course. Steel rods run up through the cores of the blocks of each pilaster and at 4-foot intervals between pilasters; these cores are filled with grout—a mortar thinned with water for filling spaces.

Strengthening a brick wall

Most traditional brick patterns are developed either from English bond (above, left), in which courses of headers and stretchers alternate, or from Flemish bond (above, right), which has alternating headers and stretchers in each course. Variations of these two bricklaying styles produce an enormous range of ornamental patterns, which can be heightened by using bricks of contrasting colors. In either pattern, alternate courses must begin and end with either a quarter brick, called a queen closer, or a three-quarter brick, called a king closer. The odd sizes can be made by setting bricks more or less halfway into a pilaster or by cutting bricks. If you cut queen closers, locate them near—but not at—the end of a course. To save time, cut all the closers before you start laying bricks. Both types of wall can be braced with pilasters every 8 to 10 feet (page 216).




Decorative walls from blocks

Standard masonry blocks can be arranged to form a number of attractive designs. Despite vertical joints that align, ordinary stretcher blocks in stacked bond (above, left) make a surprisingly good-looking wall. Odd sizes give you more complex patterns. A basket-weave pattern (above, middle) is made from units of four stretchers and a half block. Half blocks laid on their sides (above, right) can be arranged in a wide variety of patterns to form openings for light and air. To allow for vertical reinforcement, the blocks in all these patterns must be laid out so the hollow cores align at least every 4 feet. Work this out on paper before pouring the footing. When you pour the footing, insert a 4-foot length of reinforcing bar into the concrete at 4-foot intervals. As you raise the wall, fit the blocks over the bar and fill the hollows with grout. For a wall taller than 4 feet, attach extra lengths of reinforcing bar with tie wire. Alternatively, add pilasters to your design every 8 to 10 feet. Install horizontal reinforcement after every second or third course.


To determine the number of standard concrete blocks (8-by-16 inches) required for a wall, multiply the square footage of the wall by 1.125.

A typical brick wall needs 14 bricks for every square foot of wall face and 90 more for a capped 6-foot pilaster. For a two-color wall, first diagram the pattern on graph paper. Make each course one square high; let two horizontal squares represent a header and four squares a stretcher. Draw enough courses (usually two or three) to show the bond pattern, count the total number of odd-colored bricks, and multiply the figure by the number of pattern repeats you will need for the wall. Double the number of odd-colored stretchers if the pattern must show on both sides of a wall two courses thick; add the odd-colored headers and subtract the total from the number of bricks needed for the wall. Buy 5 percent extra in both colors to allow for breakage.



English and Flemish variations

Bricks in contrasting colors, and courses with staggered vertical joints, give the traditional bonds shown above a different look. In English cross bond (above, left), a variation of English bond, the stretcher bricks “cross,” or “break joint,” overlapping one another by a half brick in succeeding courses. Color emphasizes the pattern: Stretcher courses alternately comprise a single color and two contrasting colors. In Flemish spiral bond (above, middle), a pattern of diagonal bands is created by the placement of dark headers. Garden wall bond (above, right) consists of Flemish courses in which every fourth brick is a header.

Making pattern units

The more complex designs shown above are based on pattern units of a contrasting color called eyes. The fundamental eye (above, left) consists of a single stretcher with headers centered above and below it. Larger eyes are formed by extending the unit by the width of one header in each course, adding headers at the top and bottom and centering the whole on the middle, or axis, course (above, middle). You can expand the primary unit in this way so that it assumes a diamond shape (above, right).


Combining pattern units

Large wall designs can consist of a number of pattern units defined by colored bricks and arranged in a wall symmetrically. In one widely used design (above, left), eyes abut one another, forming horizontal bands. The bands are emphasized by a course of solid-color stretchers between the rows of eyes. Colored borders made of dark headers can make a simple pattern unit of light-colored bricks into a more complex design (above, right).