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2009 Award of Excellence

Sangiin Dalai Monastery

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Technical Brief

Manufacturing Traditional Bricks and Tiles

Bricks and tiles were introduced to Mongolia by the dual influences of Tibetan and Chinese architecture. Purely Tibetanstyle buildings are built from rammed earth or stone, while Chinese and hybrid temples are built from baked bricks and tiles. The Mongolians adopted both building styles and applied these to their own architecture from the seventeenth century onwards.

Roof tiles

Roof tiles are a main feature in Mongolian-style Buddhist architecture, stemming from traditional Tibetan and Chinese designs and structures. It is believed that in the past glazed tiles and bricks were imported from China rather than made in Mongolia.


Mongolian Buddhist structures used two main kinds of bricks: sun-dried mud bricks and grey baked bricks known as “blue bricks”, which are used for both construction and decorative purposes. The Sangiin Dalai monastery had the unique feature of blue bricks decorated with the soyombo (national symbol of Mongolia). While mud bricks can be produced easily, without special facilities, the production of blue bricks and tiles requires a kiln for the baking process.

Setting up a Kiln

For the Sangiin Dalai restoration project, brick makers from Tianjing, China, built a kiln in cooperation with Mongolian participants. The kiln, a circular building with an arched entrance, was constructed with local materials, sun-dried bricks made of local mud, along with imported baked bricks. The kiln was situated close to a source of water (a well). The site was marked and excavated according to the size of the oven (2.8 metres in diameter, 4 metres in height, with a capacity to bake between 6,000 and 10,000 bricks at a time). Baked bricks were used to build up the 2.5 metre high inner kiln wall and the interior was plastered with a mix of mud and grass. Following the completion of the kiln’s inner wall, an external wall was built around it using mud bricks. The gap between the inner and the outer wall was filled with soil, which was compacted by a heavy boulder repeatedly dropped from a height of about 40 centimetres onto the soil filling. Soil was built up around the entire structure, while leaving the roof open to function as a chimney.

Reproducing Historic Bricks and Tiles

Moulds for bricks and tiles were made by local Mongolian carpenters, who created them based on original bricks and tiles used in the Sangiin Dalai buildings. The carpenters used woodcarving techniques to create moulds with a flower decoration. For more elaborate bricks and tiles, such as dragonshaped roof ends, the moulds were made using gypsum.

Producing the Bricks and Tiles

For the production of bricks and tiles, different types of soil were necessary: ordinary soil (without sand) for bricks, refined soil (without sand and sieved through an iron mesh) for making flower tiles and other tiles with simple decorations, and refined soil mixed with mud (soil containing clay) and a type of grass (madao) for making the more elaborate tiles and dragon-shaped roof ends. Both the soil and mud were soaked in water overnight then mixed together. The correct mixing of water and mud (and sometimes grass) was essential for the quality of the bricks.

Coating the timber moulds with sand before filling in the soil prevented the wet tiles and bricks from sticking to the moulds. The newly formed bricks and tiles were dried for five to six days in a well-ventilated area. After a day of drying they were turned around and straightened with a wooden board, after which they were left to dry for another four to five days. For the dragon-shaped roof ends, the drying process was about seven days and they were covered with plastic foil to prevent them from drying unevenly and too quickly. After the drying process the pieces were ready for baking in the kiln.The baking was a very long and delicate process. The bricks and tiles were placed inside the kiln in a fishbone pattern, and piled carefully to ensure equal distribution of heat. After the bricks were piled up, the entire kiln was covered with soil and the kiln was fired continuously for seven days. After a few days of firing, water was poured in from the top to create steam, giving the tiles and bricks their famous grey-blue colour. On the eighth day, the oven was cooled down with water, a process that took two to three days. After this, the bricks and tiles were ready for use as building materials.

Adapted from “Sangiin Dalai” UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards entry submission