is the truth!

taken from blog:

December 12, 2018


Structural masonry refers to the practice of using masonry, brick or stone, in such mass that it becomes self-supporting.  Sufficient stabilization usually begins to occur when a wall reaches 8” thick of solid masonry for something small, say, a garden wall.  Larger structures, like houses, are usually one foot thick—like the home you are standing in—or more.    

It is one of the oldest building methodologies, and by far the most resilient.  From the Egyptian Pyramids and Roman Pantheon to the Vatican and the Biltmore, stone and brick masonry have been used to build the world’s most iconic and enduring structures.  Though it wasn’t just reserved for monumental buildings; it was just as widely used to build the humblest of cottages.  It is simply how most of the settled (non nomadic) world has built.

Brick masonry, specifically, was popularized by the Romans with their exploration of arches—a tool used to span large openings in a masonry structure without massive stones (compared to the huge stone lintels spanning the columns in the Greek Parthenon)—ushering in new possibilities and a whole new era in architecture. 

It was only recently, with the industrial revolution and its offspring of mass produced nails, lumber mills and processed materials, that the building methodology used through most of human civilization was upended.  Collectively known as “stick-framing”, masonry was replaced by two-by-fours, plywood and plastic wrap.  Stick framing itself was a remarkable innovation, enabling quick, cheap, mass-produced housing.  A helpful tool, to be sure, when quick and cheap housing is needed.  But it has since become the only tool.

Even as wealth in the US grew drastically post WWII, and far more permanent housing could be afforded by a great deal of the population, size trumped quality.  Rather than build better homes, we simply built cheap homes bigger.  Since 1973, the average new house size has increased 62% (from 1,660 sq/ft  in 1973 to 2,687 sq/ft in 2015).  Over the same time, the average household size has steadily decreased, meaning the square feet of living space per person in a new house has nearly DOUBLED in the last 45 years.

Even in luxury housing, when size has peaked, we simply apply increasingly expensive bells and whistle.  But the bones remain fragile.  The home is but a sturdy tent with decorative gold plating—and tents don’t last.  In fact, the average lifespan of a house in the US is 70 years.  We now have a country full of mass-produced, temporary housing.

Don’t be fooled by the new brick and stone buildings you see today—they are merely a thin veneer, a cladding, held up by the sticks behind them.  Many of them span openings with thin sheets of metal that rust away all too quickly.  They are pretending to be brick buildings.  And that’s why they never look quite right—they are just illusions. 

There are still structural brick buildings in America in the old downtowns, and especially in the old cities: Savannah, Charleston, Chicago.  And they are by far the most coveted buildings, being retrofitted into the coolest lofts, coffeeshops and offices.  Why? Because in our disposable culture we long for something real.

At Building Culture, we believe houses can be more than the chemically laden, machine-produced shelters churned out by the construction-industrial complex.  They can be homes—places we love, care for and feel intimately connected to.  They can enrich our lives and communities, and contribute to a cultural heritage worth passing down.   But first we must rediscover how to build authentically, and remember how to build things that last.        

This is why we choose to build with structural masonry.  It is the most durable building methodology in existence, and its authenticity is self-evident.  Why is a brick the size it is?  To fit the human hand.  What is it made from? Clay—the stuff we’ve been walking on and digging our hands into for millennia.  When a home is sculpted from over 60,000 hand-lain brick, of course the outcome is authentic.  It’s human.  And with each passing year it gains beauty and patina.  It takes care of, and is taken care of, by many as it is inherited by successive generations.  Its walls tell stories.  It lives.

Photo of today: from Ukraine

Comrade: Aidas Danisevicius‎ shares photos of his boyhood home? The post includes video of a roof tour, and up-close photos of the joinery. They claim the house is from 1600. I have my doubts that the roof is original, but it’s very early: at least and century and a half, maybe two from my experience surveying similar old roofs in america on aged structures.

Week 2: On Location in Titusville

This weekend: we focused on getting the skylights framed. This was not as easy as just cutting a hole in the roof deck. Because there is a knee wall already in place, we had to remove decking and insert the new rafters from the outside!

Now all the skylights are prepped, and I’m back home with pattern paper to start our patterns for the skylight wrap.

Adam Miller on the Tragedy at Notre Dame

In the lore of the traditional French carpenters guild, the compagnon charpentiers, Notre Dame is a sacred structure. For a timber-frame carpenter with a particular interest in historical French carpentry, this is a difficult situation. I have been deep in correspondence with my colleagues in the hours since news of the fire. Here are my initial reactions:

I am glad to have spent some time around the cathedral while visiting Paris last October at the end of a tour of French carpentry museums, and I have good reason to be hopeful about the future of this building. The fire is a catastrophe, but the skills and passion to rebuild this structure are present in the compagnon craftspeople of France like in no other western country. The traditional knowledge that originally built this monument is still alive. The Compagnons du Devoir actively transmit this knowledge to young people through intensive, long-term apprenticeships, setting a high standard against which to measure any vocational training.

There is hardly a more well-documented building anywhere in the world, and traditional craft knowledge can fill the gaps of any architectural survey.

It’s easy to lose sight of history, including architectural history, as an evolving process. While some parts of Notre Dame are over 800 years old, and built upon prior ruins, its famed spire was designed by Viollet le Duc and completed in 1859, over 30 years after Victor Hugo wrote The Hunchback. At least one of the massive rose windows was replaced in the 1960’s. Maintenance is a necessary and continuous process tying the past to the present, ensuring a future for history, as the massive scaffold enveloping much of the cathedral recently attests.

Shinto shrines in Japan are entirely rebuilt on a regular schedule, the Ise Grand Shrine every twenty years, 62 times. This is a radically different approach to maintenance than we are accustomed to here in the US or Europe, its critical function to train subsequent generations of craftspeople. The longevity of these shrines rises from the spirit and continuity of their creators and supporters, not from a faith in persistent materiality alone.

A similar spirit brought members of the Timber Framers Guild together with international volunteers to create a replica of the Gwoździec synagogue in 2011. This structure now represents the lost wooden synagogues of Eastern Europe in the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto.

French culture, with the compagnons at the ready, is uniquely prepared to deal with the fire at Notre Dame, and to benefit from the audacity of its grand scale. Smaller reconstruction projects are always underway throughout the country, even to the extent of Guédelon, an experimental archaeology project to create a new 13th-century chateau.

One of my greatest worries at the moment is that any efforts to rebuild the lost structure might be hampered by requirements to use modern materials, in a well-meaning but mistaken attempt to improve upon the original. I don’t think the original can be improved upon, and its soul would be lost in the attempt. Additionally, no modern materials have proven as durable as the original stone, wood, and lead, each of which can be maintained and repaired indefinitely. Buildings must inspire care to long persist, something no technology can replace. Far better for any reconstruction to be carried out in the full spirit of the original work, by committed craftspeople setting their efforts in search of the ineffable.

Photo of today: Notre Dame up close

Comrade: Alexandre Lepand who works as a roofer in France posted some photos from his personal collection of the notre dame roof up close.. Looks like it was cap-and-pan lead.

What we lost… and why it matters.

comrade Igor Konovalov

This image shows the construction of a typical French Gothic cathedral. The overcroft, the area above the vaulting (the ceiling you see when you look up) is an elaborate wood structure, often refereed to as a forest, supporting the roof. Some of those wood beams were over 100 meters long and dated to the 13th century. Heat reached 800 degrees C, destroying that forest and the roof. There is also extensive water damage.

Most of the stone is still standing, but every piece of stone and all the mortar joints will need to be carefully assessed for heat damage. The stone vaulting did cave in at three locations; the crossing, which is the center under where the spire collapsed, and in the transepts. The three great rose windows appear to be intact; glass melts at about 1500 degrees C; but every piece of glass and all the lead caming holding it together will need to be examined. Art works are being moved to the Louvre for safe keeping.

So far over €300 million has been pledged for restoration, but it will take much more than that to bring this world treasure back. Our hearts go out to France.