Written by GJ Stott
Walls, with a wall history dating back thousands of years and having a multitude of designs and forms, are one of the most basic components of construction. In terms of construction applications, walls can have two main purposes: to act as a support for a structure and to divide or enclose an area. This article deals primarily with the latter: walls that are typically detached from other structures and serve as a barrier to divide and enclose areas. A wall can be constructed from a variety of different materials while employing numerous techniques, some of which are discussed in the Wall Construction Methods section below. At the end, modern day wall applications and uses are described.
Walls, including the Great Wall of China, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, or the Berlin Wall, have been an integral part every society in written history. In fact, one of the oldest walls still standing today is the Great Wall of China, which began construction as early as 300 BC.
Walls originally kept in animals and other belongings and kept out enemies. Early cities used various types of wall as a necessity to defend from attacks. Later, walls served as decorative fence barriers dividing land and marking property. This is seen today in residential areas where yards and properties are adjacent and privacy is desired, or to act as retaining walls.
Early walls were made from dry stone construction, also called stone fences or dykes. This simple construction method was being used in parts of Africa and South America as early as 1300 BC; today examples of this type of mortar-less wall can still be seen in the United Kingdom and the United States.
The use of mortar in wall construction was first developed by the Chinese and later popularised by the Romans. A wall that is built with mortar is much stronger and durable than its dry stone counterpart. With the introduction of mortar, brick, block and other types of earth became more popular in wall construction.
A more recent development in wall construction is the use of concrete and precast concrete in the building of walls. A concrete wall can be poured in place; in this process, a cement fence form is brought to the site, and the concrete is poured directly where it will stand. Precast concrete walls are similar but can be cast in a molding facility and later shipped and lifted into place.
The wall is expanding in its types of applications. Walls can be used in the classic defence barriers or land markers as well as for sound and wind barriers, artful decorations and a wide variety of other uses. Walls are as staple a construction today as they have been for thousands of years.