In the world of food, the overwhelming dominance of international agribusiness with its overwhelmingly efficient global logistics, has spawned the so-called slow food movement. Not only does the movement place emphasis on organic produce, but also on local differences, artisan skills in the growing and cooking, and an appreciation of discriminating sustenance. Implied in all this is the value placed on labour and time well spent, rather than indiscriminately saved.
Building work is often unfavourably compared to factory-based production, precisely because it retains some of the vagaries of individual building trades. Though the pressures for efficiency have been so great, that few of those trades retain much of their former craft. Many current developments, like building information models (BIM), CAD/CAM and 3-D printing all conspire to eliminate even more people from the production of our built environment. As a trend, this has been going on all my professional life.
One of the iconic elements of urbanscapes, to which I have fondly clung as a kind of talisman of an alternative, has been the brick paved roadways of some parts of Europe, notably the Netherlands. Maybe it is because I live in Australia, where roads have to leap great suburban distances in ribbons of asphalt, laid by thundering machines and phalnxes of dump trucks in the middle of the night. Be that as it may, I have given life to my romantic ideal, by also personally laying several hundred square metres of brick paving in and around several homes I have renovated in my life.
So imagine my shock, when I came across TigerStone, a Dutch company that makes machines to lay drafted brick paving by unrolling it like broadloom carpet.
I am torn between disappointment and fascination. Disappointment at the loss of guys on their knees patiently placing each brick, those wonderful lumps of fired clay exactly the right size for the span of a muscular hand, and weight that you can lift and lay all day. Fascination at the idea that brick paved roads may replace some of that obnoxious blacktop, which the day after it's laid is partially dug up again for extra pipes. Because after all, the other advantage of brick paving – however it is laid in the first place – is that you can pick it up and put it down for centuries, healing the skin of the city, tolerant of the small buckles and wrinkles as it gracefully ages.