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Durability in Construction: Traditions and Sustainability in 21st Century Architecture Paperback – June 30, 2015
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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For anyone who wants to know how the sustainability debate can lead to a world of better buildings and places, this is an essential read. (Robert Adam, author; practicing architect)
This beautiful book deserves to be studied by everyone who is seeking an architecture that lasts. (Roger Scruton, author; professor)
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Okay, so how what? This book attempts to make an argument for traditional construction and stylistic standards. I would say this is a relatively pre-emptive argument. Why do I say pre-emptive? Because quite simply, society still tolerates contemporary architecture's rate of failure, as long as our cities maintain a historical architectural fabric to anchor them into a recognizable "place." In my opinion, this tolerace is because a vast swath of society doesn't understand that the traditional stone and brick buildings they cherish are simply unfeasible within the current IECC codes and furthermore, are not economical for developers, since the difficulty of building with permanence does not often translate to profitability. So in that sense, the public has become the major loser of contemporary architecture, as the beauty and cultural identity to be seen in the durability of construction at the street level has been sacrificed.
This book makes its argument in a couple different ways. There are some essays from various luminaries that articulate this predicament in depth. There are built examples from various countries that demonstrate these traditional practices in action. There are modestly-technical descriptions of projects that wade in the murky waters of building codes and planning commission politics. Unfortunately, this is a topic that requires in depth technical discussion, because technology is ultimately the means that must validate this way of architectural thinking, and since the attack on traditional architecture has always been waged on a functional/technological front, it's this same front in which traditionalists must fight back to gain traction within code standards.
From my vantage point, I see 3 or 4 prescriptive paths offered in this book for building durable, solid architecture with a natural and timeless materiality.
1) Using load-bearing stone and brick masonry as an INDEPENDENT facade system, in which self-supporting, water-absorbent heavy
masonry is tied to a concrete or steel frame. This allows the building to be topped out and weather sealed BEFORE the external facade has been finish, which allows interior work to proceed and speed up construction time. The failure of early 20th Century efforts to suspend brick and stone on a steel frame was caused by the uneconomical practice of being dependent on that cladding's completion before interior work could proceed.
2) Extruded clay blocks used in monolithic single-leaf masonry (see: Porotherm) that can increase the insulation value of masonry while allowing a simultaneous depth for traditional detailing (reveals, corbels, pediments, etc.). The drawback to this means of construction (besides its relative lack of availability in America) is its dependence on plastered exterior finished and relative height restrictions.
3) The replacement of brick and stone load-bearing masonry with "monolithic" walls featuring filled cavities, to be constructed either with in-situ concrete or rammed earth.
4) Further efforts to use partially-compromised brick load-bearing masonry details of yesteryear (Kahn, FLW, German mid-century architecture, etc.) which are susceptible to water damage through the introduction of insulation, which limits the ability the expel moisture from the structural walls in cold weather climate through interior heating.
Until these forms of construction become more widespread, traditional architecture that aspires to be both historically-accurate and technically-logical is confined to wood frame and shingle construction, as this is the one form of construction which can accommodate both contemporary performance standards and traditional detailing. The minor (or major?) exception to this is window treatments, which can hardly longer be constructed of such thin and gracefully-proportioned casements of single-pane glass without arousing the tyranny of code inspectors.
If one is looking for various alternative resources on the technical aspects of traditional architecture, I would suggest the podcast lectures available from Notre Dame's School of Architecture, which include more in depth discussions from various authors in this book.