The way I see it, some time right after WWII, people in US suddenly decided to live in a poorly built and ugly looking dwellings regardless of their income level. It is especially easy to see when looking at NYC buildings, some rentals are even explicitly advertized as "pre-war".
Examples of annoying trends in modern construction:
- Low "hobbit" ceilings.
- Short door frames.
- Tiny windows.
- Nearly non-existent noise/vibration insulation
This is clearly not a cost issue, I have taken tours looking at brand-new multi-MM homes in Austin, TX just for fun. While they all had top-notch appliances, finishes and a gazilion of square feet and bedrooms, they were also built using the same "toy" materials and used generally similar architectural patters as middle class homes.
What caused this change? It's like our collective mind suddenly stopped caring about tall doors, 10ft ceilings and solid feel of floors we walk on.
Nope, that's exactly it - it's cheaper and faster for the builder to frame a house small and simply. They've found that people spend money for houses based on location, size, and the visible stuff (like nice paint jobs and shiny appliances). They could spend twice as long as 40% more in materials and the home would sell for 2% more - not worth their time.
The last months there was again a case of a building constructor using less structural elements than it was legally required to, also violating the number specified in the blueprintS.
If buying and moving homes were a more frequent event, buyers would play more "rounds" of this game and eventually become wiser to the ground rules of it. Reputation would start to matter, and developers, contractors, et al., would need to work harder to ensure they didn't get dinged. As it now stands, except in the luxury market, really, where people custom build homes, no one cares about a developer or contractor's reputation. So they don't have any reputational risk on the line. So they happily cut corners wherever they can get away with it.
(And I'm willing to bet that even the luxury/custom buyer barely has a clue when it comes to evaluating the quality of construction and materials.)
1. Labor specialization, meaning less of the home-buying market is savvy enough in the "handyman" sense to tell the difference.
2. A move away from building the thing you're going to own, and building things that other people will buy later.
3. Minimum standards for housing construction.
The third needs to be explained more - instead of aiming towards "building a good home", the construction industry aims to build the cheapest thing that they are legally allowed to sell (ie, meets building codes). While building codes do mean that there's a quality floor, competitive pressure means that nobody can consistently exceed the floor without getting out-competed by people who aim to barely meet it.
True. I don't know how the market works in the US but in the UK what typically happens is a developer owns the land but borrows short term money to build on it.
The incentive, therefore, is to complete the project as quickly and cheaply as possible. Residential houses are designed for ease of building not for quality.
A typical buyer will have a 90-95% mortgage and the completed house is signed off by a surveyor who is engaged by the mortgage provider. The only real concern is if the house will still be standing in 25 years time and nothing else. In effect it's a rubber stamping process.
The buyer is often too emotionally involved in the concept of owning a home to care less.
No sane person would complete the purchase of a new car if defects in build quality were so glaringly obvious but the same people do it with houses every day?
That's what I meant by labor specialization - on the home-buying side, much fewer people can build a home or participate meaningfully in construction and remodeling.
The same cannot be said for houses. You live in a house everyday, but you don't have a true working or operating relationship with it unless you're very handy (which many home buyers these days are not). The car has a direct input/output operating cycle that you control; the house does not. It's harder to suss defects out because the house doesn't 'run' on them per se. You only learn about the defects when the house fails in one way or another. That may be two days into the inspection period, or it may be two years after closing.
Part of that was declining building standards (go too long between hurricanes and yes, people get complacent).
But another aspect, I think, is a shift in home ownership---we no longer "own" a home for an extended period of time (average length of owning a home in the US is seven years). Yes, my grandparents eventually paid off their mortgages, but nowadays I think that's pretty rare. Why buy quality when you aren't going to own for very long?
The one thing I will say for modern houses is that the wiring will generally be better and with outlets better spaced. They might be better insulated. But my goodness, the quality of the workmanship and often materials. We watched a house going up next to us, and had to think that big is a lot cheaper than good.
I built a few dozen homes and only once had a client request 2x6 construction. I tried to sell it on all the others, citing sturdiness and better insulating properties, but everyone looked at the features it excluded and went for flimsy 2x4 builds.
It gets important if you are a developer building subdivisions of homes. $10k saved on every house is $big profit. 25 home subs is $250k+ savings...very much an issue.
My own house is 2x6, and properly insulated top to bottom. My neighbor's slap job summer cooling bill is not quite double mine. Close to same sqft and same interior ac temp setting.
I read once that buildings are the best thing to cheat on the construction of because each layer of underspecced materials is hidden by the next layer.
I've a friend who has just added to his 17th century thatched cottage with like materials: oak timber frame, timber cladding and wattle and daub, which is dirt and wood/hay/hair. It's lovely and solid. Sadly planning officials insisted on an over the top concrete foundation that negated all his hard work with his sympathetic build.
The wood is good!
I collect antique espresso machines. Some of these are highly sought after because they use big, heavy, high quality components: big brass boilers, copper piping, stainless steel enclosures and big brass groupheads. Compare that with many flimsy, plastic machines today (which rarely last more than a couple years), and it's no wonder there is a market for these older machines.
> Virtually EVERY product
> Compare that with many flimsy, plastic machines today
> it's no wonder there is a market for these older machines.
I'm not sure about this part, unless you are very careful in what you're shopping for, and knowledgeable about it. One Achilles heel of a lot of current appliances is that there are now circuit boards everywhere, which are a common point of premature failure. If the computerized part of your appliance fails (due to a power surge, capacitor aging, etc.), the device is effectively bricked in a difficult-to-repair way, even if all the mechanical parts are still fine. One option is to buy all-mechanical high-end models, which works with some appliances (espresso machines) but is basically impossible with others (washing machines).
(There was this EU introduced power cap for domestic vacuum cleaners the other year, accompanied with articles how you should hurry up and buy one of the powerful ones before they were forbidden. I was in the market for one, and scoured every independent test I could find where I understood the language, and the result were the same: the modern ones using less power picked up small particles better. As soon as you have a powerful enough engine other things start to matter. That's when I sighed deeply about journalistic integrity and bought one of the newer models.)
You describe an important problem. Consumers keep buying older models, which are objectively worse, because they want a scalar value for "betterness". It's just like megapixels, where you stuff a 20 megapixel sensor behind a plastic lens and consumers buy it because big numbers are good.
The claim that cleaning time is linear to motor effect is unrealistic at best. There is an optimum effect for the nozzle. A 10 kW engine wouldn't clear your floors any faster than a 1 kW one, and definitively not ten times faster. The best (household, not for garages or anything like that) vacuum cleaner commercially available on the market is likely closer to 1 kW than 2 kW.
You think only "average" people falls for marketing tricks, but this superficial knowledge of the engineering involved actually makes you an easier prey for the marketing trick that more powerful motors makes for a better product. That bigger numbers are better is one of the easiest marketing schemes ever.
...my dad's top-end washing machine bought 25 years ago is still going strong, working without a hitch. Had simple maintenance once. All the while I'm about to get my third model in 14 years.
Craftsman tools used to be the same, although you have to be careful - they've started mixing in the cheapo junk lines and putting the Craftsman name on them, and those don't necessarily have the same warranty policy.
I do know someone whose entire business is reverse-engineering bricked old devices, sticking in a new circuit board with custom software. But it's expensive enough to hire him that his customers are all businesses with expensive equipment they want rescued, mostly 1990s vintage produced by now-defunct companies.
We've seen a spread in the market to where the cheap end
is now affordable by everyone, and the expensive end is
even better than (and more expensive than) the best of
the best was 20 years ago.
I mean, I'm sat here in my living room, place was built 1798 (relatively modern), near as damnit everything is original. Stone floors. Stone fireplaces. Stone walls. Lath and plaster ceilings. Lime plaster.
They knew what they were doing, this shit is built to last.
These days, they also know what they're doing, but a house has a shelf life of 30 years, so you can tear it down later, not feel bad, and stimulate the construction industry. In theory. I. Practice people live in leaky shoeboxes made of twigs, paper and tar.
Finally, the insurance industry drives this. Ever try insuring a 100 year old slate roof in America? Good luck with that. They'll insist you rip it off and replace it with tar shingles, because no roof more than 20 years old can be any good.
My other property has a 13th century stone roof (limestone, stacked), and it's barely been maintained and is in perfect nick after 600+ years.
A.) Snow doesn't come off of shingles worth a damn unless you have a wicked pitch on your roof. So you have to get up and shovel off the roof, or risk icedams, leaks, and potentially the whole roof collapsing if you have really heavy snowfall.
B.) Shingles only last about 20-30 years. Steel roofing lasts a lifetime. You might have to repaint it once in a great while.
I'm unclear what point ventilation or insulation in the attic would have to do with ice dams... In my experience, it's caused by snow that doesn't get removed, which then melts, seeps down to the roof, and refreezes, with the texture of the shingles providing a greater surface area to freeze against.
All things being equal, it's nice to have a steel roof that will warm up on a sunny day and have all the snow slide off.
The snow melts because of heat coming from the inside the house. 
So if you keep your roof cold through insulation and ventilation, you don't need to remove the snow (as long as the roof can handle it structurally)
: http://www.erdc.usace.army.mil/Portals/55/docs/CEERD-RV/CEER... [pdf]
Windows if anything are too big, not too small! My city apartment has floor to ceiling windows which are difficult for window treatments. Suburban homes can have huge two-story family rooms.
Noise is more a problem from adjoining units. Outside noise is sealed out quite well thanks to double-pane windows.
Overall new construction is of quite high quality when it comes to what's important. New homes have smoke detectors, fire sprinklers, better electrical systems, more durable cladding on the outside, better insulation, more bathrooms, and air conditioning. As someone who has seen both old and new homes and has considered living in both, I do not get the nostalgia for old homes. Most home buyers around here agree as they are gutting old homes and renovating them, not living in them as is. I considered living in old homes, but only because they are in good locations. Their oldness in and of itself offered no benefits.
As for the pros and cons of old construction...
Pros: generally more durable, more attention to detail, nicer materials used. Will suffer from age-related maintenance issues, but unlike modern construction, is unlikely to suffer from issues related to fundamental structural or design failure.
Cons: design and layout choices that no longer fit a contemporary lifestyle (small or no closets; tiny bathrooms and kitchens; closed floor plans; etc.). Generally poorer insulation. Depending on the age of the home, it may also have issues with old plumbing and, having not been designed for central heating or A/C, will sometimes be a bear to deal with in that department.
All things considered, having lived in a c. 1920s home and a series of c. 2000s and c. 2010s homes, I'd take the older house 9 times out of 10 and just gut/retrofit as necessary to remedy layout issues (not construction-quality issues). I don't enjoy living in a drywall box with a superficially nice looking kitchen.
And I say all of this as someone who, all things being equal, greatly prefers a hyper-modernist aesthetic. I just have to accept that I don't get a Tony Stark house until I have Tony Stark money. :)
However, if you're not in an earthquake-prone area... then I agree I'd prefer to have a more solid construction.
Even in modern times where big timbers are scarce, you can still get straight, true, kiln-dried douglas fir in large (8x8, 8x12) sizes relatively cheaply.
For stuff like houses, I prefer the first approach.
It wouldn't be at all surprising to see a home built with such 'toy' materials require nothing more than some stucco repair and drywall patching, with a brick house right next door literally falling apart.
I realize not every region has earthquakes to worry about, but it is a factor in some areas.
> 10ft ceilings
These were no longer necessary once air conditioning was invented. However high ceilings and window awnings are more energy efficient and therefore should probably make a comeback.
Whenever something is done cheaply and it looks like it's not a cost issue because it's only miniscule part of the total cost of the product, it's usually actually is a cost issue. The buyer of the final product might not mind spending a little extra to have that one thing done a little better, but for the supplier of the sub-sub-contractor whose entire profit comes from doing that one thing, the "miniscule" part becomes 100% of the cost.
Not only that, but this is only one of many things that could be done more expensively. What if you add better fire resistance, better insulation, more weather resistant paint, more carefully assembled parts, etc. it ends up becoming quite a lot more expensive. It's a bit like the difference between a Mercedes and a Toyota. They both seem to be basically the same, but the Mercedes has slightly more expensive parts scattered all through it like a few dollars spent on fluid dampers on the adjustable seat backs compared to no damping.
> The most reliable engines came from Honda, with a failure rate of just 1 in 344, with Toyota in second (1 in 171) and, maintaining some honour for the German brands, Mercedes in third (1 in 119).
If you go into a modern home, you see sheet drywall with tons of shitty looking texture all over it to hide the deep imperfections with the hanging of the drywall, and nary a wood detail to be found.
It's absurd that we've taken these woefully cheaper home construction standards with the prices of housing.
...in many cases i have seen in NYC, homeowners are economically motivated to "lower" their ceilings (cheaper to heat/cool living space).
I bought and still live in an early century Georgian, and the maintenance costs over the past two decades has been a very real challenge.
If a pipe leaks, if there is a crack in the wall, if/when the floor eventually gets bowed, etc. It is an entirely different, time-consuming and expensive approach to maintaining everything.
For the majority of homeowners, it is clearly and absolutely a cost issue.
We stopped living in walkable villages and cities and started living in motorway dependant sprawling suburbs. Our buildings got uglier. Our built environment got worse even as we got richer.
Largely this was a matter of public policy. The Roosevelt administration made new rules to plan new development to promote industry during the Depression and imposed it on banks and local planning boards. Still, there wasn't enough push to get the banks to allow anything to be built. Then after the war, those regulations had been in place for almost fifteen years and nothing had been built in the whole country for 16 years since the Depression began.
So people took the rules as gospel and built using them. The only thing allowed was car dependant sprawl and the car companies -- an enormous political power right after the war -- loved it. So the whole country was redesigned. It still is. And if your community isn't worth loving -- as sprawl isn't -- then it isn't worth building beautiful buildings.
That's why this is now the nation of NIMBYism. People can see that nothing has gotten built here but garbage since 1929 and they don't want more of it. Places like San Francisco are now like jewels and museums since nobody has been allowed to build like that in 86 years and won't be allowed to start tomorrow. The epoch when things could be new and beautiful has passed from living memory.
That's no explanation for situation in the article, of course. One would expect that structural elements of large, dramatic investments of that sort would take proper care to last. But drywall-on-sticks is an economic reality that makes sense.
The basic framing of houses is not that much different.
Lots of the old houses people are pining for here used death-trap "balloon framing".
I've lived in Europe for almost 30 years, and have never seen the plaster fall off the wall/ceiling without some serious other cause, like a leaking roof or serious subsidence.
My mum's house was built in 1908. A water leak in the summer meant part of the ceiling was ruined. The plasterer said it was original lath and plaster, and gave her a discount as he said it was a pleasure to work with.
21% of dwellings in England were built before 1919.
You could extend this to a lot of other things. Pre-war and post-war America look way more than five years apart.
There's some nice work being done with brick today. Some of this is gentrification, built to fit in with existing brick buildings, or to imitate them in new construction. All those examples have recessed windows, although not structural stone lintels. Many lintels today are precast stone and decorative; steel is carrying the load.
Robotic bricklaying is here.
In earthquake country, you really don't want tall brick buildings where the brick is structural. San Francisco is very anti-cornice; in even minor earthquakes, overhanging masonry cornices tend to fall off and kill people.
This was my thought as well. The modern building is likely just using the brick as veneer, even if it is full-thickness brick. It's likely concrete walls with brick layered over it. The fact that the brickwork is poorly done likely doesn't matter except aesthetically. If all the brick fell off the building would still be standing.
The newer building is indeed ugly, and the brickwork looks cheap and poorly done. But that doesn't mean the technology has declined. It means the technology has advanced to the point that the brick is just ornamental.
My analysis doesn't even address brick problems associated with the switch from multi-wythe brick construction to brick veneer over wood framing. (Andres Hall is not a wood-framed building.) Although buildings with brick veneer over wood framing are usually better insulated than old multi-wythe brick buildings, they are frequently plagued by an entirely new category of water entry problems due to flashing errors, clogged air spaces, and missing weep holes. But that's a topic for another article.
Does this mean there are robot Freemasons in our future?
This link seems more relevant:
The article is using definition #1. I don't think the word is meant to imply anything beyond the literal, "the front of a building".
Many cheap brick buildings from 100 years ago are gone, where the high quality ones are more likely to remain.
Also, steel Lintel are often used over windows in brick buildings. They don't last as long, but are fine for cheap construction that is not expected to last. AKA the kinds of building that are unlikely to be around in 100 years.
My current house was built in ~1985. The brick quality isn't bad, the walls are much straighter, but the wood is cheaper and the materials thinner and lighter. It might be the case this place will last 100 years, but I wouldn't bet on it. It's a middle market house, for the time, not cheap but not high end.
While survivor bias is important, where I live (London) the main reason houses from 100 years ago aren't around now is simply the war. The stuff from then that's still about - including "cheap" factories and other stuff - is now wildly fashionable and still well-built. Stuff built in the 50s was laughably awful and a lot is gone, stuff from 60s and 70s is going the same way. There are definitely other things going on.
The one thing I really hate about most modern buildings here in Australia is the ceiling height has been reduced. A lot of modern buildings have ceiling heights around 7’ while old buildings will have ceilings of 10’ to 12’.
My house is 1860s with a 12' ceiling. Those other places feel like claustrophobic rabbit holes in comparison.
Low ceilings minimize material costs and maximize profits.
Of course having a ceiling this low is terrible for natural cooling so you then have to run air conditioning all the time costing far more in the long run. I live in a 1920s building with 11’ ceilings and I don’t have or need air conditioning because the place stays cool enough even through the height of summer.
They also minimise heat loss, which is strictly regulated in the UK. Hence that other annoying feature of many modern build - tiny windows.
Plants are approaching EOL and they haven't been building new capacity to replace them. They've thrown a bunch of money at wind, but I think that's been more of a handout to (traditionally Conservative-voting) landowners than a viable strategy.
UK since middle ages was already infamous for having cities (specially london, but not just london) that have energetic problems and rely a lot on coal (and now other fossil fuels), leading to the infamous killer fogs, and to the victorian fashion (in victorian era, people tried to use stuff that would not have issues in a highly polluted air, for example extremely thick and dark curtains, so that people don't notice you aren't washing them a lot...)
Isn't that just implying that most energy is artificially cheap, relative to its externalities?
Why can I own two new homes with 8' ceilings and heat them both(even if I don't live at one for 90% of the time), but I can't own one new home with 12' ceilings?
Yes it is. But if you're going to charge 'real' price (even assuming you can), people with the least disposable income will have to pay disproportionally more for their energy, which is a a basic need in 2015. Plus it would cause ripple effects that are impossible to predict. So the prudent way of mitigating this is with targeted policies, like building efficiency. It's a political decision. Of course one might say 'we should charge everything at the full rate and let the market sort it out', which is a fine position (one I personally lean towards, for as much as that matters) but it's irrelevant to the fact that there are many groups that don't agree. So what we have now is a system with many groups pushing in various directions, and 'patches' for situations where that causes unwanted effects that all parties can agree on (well, a majority can agree on) should be mitigated somehow.
"Why can I own two new homes with 8' ceilings and heat them both(even if I don't live at one for 90% of the time), but I can't own one new home with 12' ceilings?"
So to come back to the issue at hand, I can also buy a 10MW heater, put it outside in my garden and have it 'waste' energy 24/7. We don't have laws against that (afaik). But our policies rely partly on the assumption of economically rational actors, which to a degree and in the aggregate is the empirically verified reality.
In other words, for ever policy I'm sure one can think of 100 ways to stay within the law yet violate the spirit of the policy. That's just the nature of governance, and it works fine in the vast majority of cases. Law is not a closed rule-based system like computers are, and that's fine.
(actually that last part is up for debate; even Montesquieu (who was the guy to come up with the original theory of 'balance of three powers') was of the opinion that perfect law should be just that, and that judges should do nothing but apply rigid rules to facts. But that's getting way more off topic than is reasonable...)
There's no god given set of rights -- what we get to do is what the era/society/legal system we live in allows us.
And what's moral/good to do even outside or against what's allowed, is a matter of philosophy.
People expected to be able to smoke even on an airplane in the 70s. Nowadays not so much. Asking someone not to smoke "within 30 ft of this building's entrance" (a common sign), would seem as ridiculous to them as the regulation of heating to you.
With heating, the government is placing a +infinity price on heat retention for buildings(with ceilings > 8'), but isn't actually enforcing that price in any other manner. Why not just charge progressively increasing amounts for electricity/gas expenditure? Right now, I can have a 100% legal, heat-efficient home, and heat it day and night by leaving the windows open. I wouldn't do that because I don't like to waste money, but that is just like I would not live in a house that was extremely energy inefficient.
Basically, if I want to pay for tall ceilings in my house, shouldn't I be able to, assuming I pay the appropriate amount?
Because they just want to impose a rule for what they believe is better for the environment.
They don't want to make it into a market product.
>Basically, if I want to pay for tall ceilings in my house, shouldn't I be able to, assuming I pay the appropriate amount?
That just makes it into something the rich can do while the poor can't. While indeed it also servers to lower the number of people doing't it -- it's not what any society that holds to high esteem any values besides net worth would want to do.
And I'm not just talking about the "tall ceilings" thing here, which might or might not be reasonable, but the more general question "shouldn't I pollute/waste as much energy as I want if I pay enough for it?".
Somethings we don't allow people to do at any price. Like kill people. Even if the victim also agrees. I, for one, don't believe payment trumps any morals in principle, and I wouldn't want that to be the case.
Whether it happens in practice (e.g. bribery etc), that's OK. But I wouldn't design a system where that's accepted and celebrated too.
Meanwhile my current residence has ceilings so high that I haven't bothered to install some LED bulbs that I have lying around since I don't have an easy safe way to reach the light fixtures.
You can get special poles for changing high bulbs. I have seen them before, but I can't remember what they are called.
Actually I think the pole is just the regular extension pole you'd use with a paint roller. You get a light bulb changing attachment instead.
The downside of pushing the engineering to the limit is the builders often cut corners to make their own savings so that the building does not even make 50 years. Plenty of new buildings here in Australia are having major structural issues after only 5 to 10 years because of this.
It was a newly built townhouse complex so we were a body corporate. Within 4 years of building completion, we were suffering from rising damp and completely loose paving in the shared driveways. The paving was too high relative to the damp proof course and the base wasn't prepared properly.
It took a couple of years of legal stuff to claim on the building warranty.
Having been through this, I now are more acutely aware of how dodgy new building are around Australia. New apartments especially.
High ceilings not only avoid the need for air conditioning (my home has 11' ceilings and no air conditioning), they make you feel better in the space. When I am in a building with low ceilings I feel totally claustrophobic and tense - this is not something I want to feel in my own home.
With active heating/cooling, what really helps is better insulation. In Scandinavia and Germany people are insulating walls in new houses with 40 cm rockwool, or the equivalents thereof.
A lot of older structural "engineering" was figuring out how much material was required, then multiplying it by 80 just in case.
An inspector said, "those are very good bricks from the 30s. They don't make bricks that strong anymore"
If anything, a whole bunch of perfectly decent old buildings have been torn down. Because they were no longer of any use (prolonged vacancy is the worst for any building), not because they were falling apart.
Somewhat of a tangent. Good architecture has three properties: it's useful, it's robust, and it's beautiful. That's a three-legged stool from antiquity, and I firmly believe architects and builders sat on it for centuries. Modernism was an ideological project that discarded two of these legs: only utility was important. the pursuit of beauty was either for old-regime bourgeois or for unenlightened proles, and robustness was not all that necessary for the beancounters anyway, eternity is not a concept for the godless machine age.
Is is also fairly recent that the architect needed to take on all aspects of architecture. For example, architecture training was often taught in the fine arts faculties. The structural issues then were then taken on by the master-builder. It worked, the latter had a wealth of experiential knowledge, an architect didn't need to tell him how to frame a window, or ensure water didn't drip along the wall. The architect becoming first a licensed professional in need to defend his title, then some sort of artist willing a new pristine creation in the world, claimed more and more roles. Now every detail needs to be in the plan almost, less room for correction by skilled craftsmen (who also are thinning out..).
Which began in the 1700s or earlier, with the Dark Satanic Mills.
More significantly, it took a fair bit of time for modern methods to enter into construction. Structural steel and skyscrapers along with many other "modern" inventions date to the 1880s. Modern "stick" housing began largely in the 1940s.
You can find catalogs of old housing, literally, in Sears Roebuck catalogs, detailing design and construction.
Every component in a building today save plumbling, windows and electric is inferior to its complement in 1915. The bricks are of lower quality (to the point there is a thriving market for used bricks), the wood is garbage, and quality of labor has shifted from skilled craftsmanship to glorified assembly work.
My home was built in 1927 as a cheap starter home (upstairs was delivered unfinished for buildout when the owners had kids). It's build quality today would only be seen in a custom home with a very wealthy/particular owner and cost a minimum of $750k. (Current value of my home is around $250k)
I am going to take a guess and say that we are not reading a commented written by someone involved in construction. HVAC anything? I'd love to see you sell a house for 750k with asbestos wrapped around all the vents. Vermiculite versus blown in closed cell poly? Poly versus waxed floors? LVLs? Exterior fasteners? Lead paint? Can you imagine how much longer this list would be if I was not content to stick to residential construction?
I could go on and on. TLDR Housing materials have significantly improved since Calvin Coolidge's time. Oh yeah, I forgot Contruction Adhesives...
The entire floor both upstairs and down is tongue and groove 2x6 planking... vs today's 3/4" OSB.
For being over 50 years old, the "skeleton" is in outstanding condition. There are some very minor foundation issues that I've been slowly fixing with a little elbow grease, and that's about it.
If the drywall and electrical were redone, this thing would be in better condition/quality than a large percentage of BRAND NEW homes on the market today.
Today's track houses have MUCH improved insulation, much stronger moisture barriers, and are much more efficient than even the nicest houses built 100 years ago.
I just don't believe that construction has regressed the way we all seem to think it has. Of course I type this from a 103 year old house which is awesome, but drafty :)
When I was living in London a couple of years ago my house there was a former council house built in the 70s - so it was built to be as cheap as possible. Other than being tiny and having thin drywall everything else was fine.
The same applies to "every generation thinks the next generation is horrible". That may or may not be true, but sometimes there are horrible generations.
What do you mean?
Or there was the boring generation of the 10's, compare with the more lively roaring 20s.
Or consider the 60s vs the more conservative 50s.
In democracy people are not meant to "vote for the best".
They are meant to vote for what they want, as they judge it for themselves.
But it might be this: https://www.reddit.com/r/ledootgeneration/
On the other hand every brick has to be laid by hand. Good bricklayers are scarce because brick has not been in fashion. And therefore they are expensive. Bad bricklayers are slow.
How do you control it, a transistor and a oscillator?
Nah, just an Arduino.
I believe this is a fair assignment of blame. It's analogous to the complaints people have about some modern web design - total focus on appearance at the expense of usability or technical quality.
The architects produce buildings that look good on paper, because that's what wins the contract. The next client isn't going to go to their previous building and do a customer satisfaction survey on the users. Nobody ever does.
Edit: Incan stone construction is one of the great examples of ancient 'over'building: precisely fitted hand-carved stone, good for five centuries. And Rome has plenty of 2000 year old brick buildings, especially the Pantheon dome.
In my opinion the reason contemporary brick construction is not up to par with 100 year old brick construction is the same reason contemporary washing machines are not up to the standard of washing machines 100 years ago: The emphasis in making things now is on speed and cheapness, the emphasis 100 years ago was on quality.
The college dorm building was certainly thrown up in a fraction of the time, for a fraction of the price with a fraction of the labourers, than the bank building.
I'm sure you have an argument here, but I don't see how washing machines further it.
The most recent addition to the East Wheelock cluster (couldn't find the cost of the building in question) cost $8 million over two years. The newer McLaughlin cluster, with six dorms, took three years to build and cost over $40 million in 2006.
I would argue that the emphasis was on "repairability".
1. We actually care if our buildings are insulated now and withstand earthquakes.
2. People are so wealthy here they don't have to get it right, they can always pay to do it over again. They don't care to put in the research to make sure it is done right. 
3. Corollary to #2, we don't need our buildings to last 100 years because we expect the area to be overtaken by increased density by then?
 CSB: Person tells about friend that bought house in Las Vegas just prior to 2008, has enormous cooling bill because house doesn't have overhang to protect southern exposure from the sun and HOA won't allow her to alter it. Asks why the government doesn't protect her. I ask why she didn't do a little more due diligence before spending $300k. He hadn't thought of it that way and considers it.
The article's author is not wrong. The average 1980's brickwork building is built less well than the average 100 year old building. However, 100 years ago buildings probably were built worse on average than today. Both of those statements can be true at the same time.
I didn't have the means in 2000 to disassemble the gear pack and a replacement couldn't be found and god I tried. The land lords endedup scrapping both machines and replacing it with shoddy new stuff that didn't work as well. A total shame.
One of my hopes is that public good corp will rise of the consumerist ashes and start to produce items that can not only be repaired but that can be collectively refined just like a codebase. Imagine if there was an open source, end user repairable washing machine, that when a flaw is discovered it is fixed and tracked in a public ledger?
Oh, and the insulation reduces drying of the brick to the interior, which can cause it decay within a decade if not done right: http://www.bluegreengroup.ca/bluegreen-launches-a-study-on-a... (though that's not the case here).
Essentially, Holladay is complaining about the lack of water detailing, which is super important to the durability of brick. It doesn't need to be as fancy as his first example, as the link above shows, but you need someone to care about it.
Essentially, the issue building science specialists have with modernist architecture is that it often favors geometric simplicity over proper protection of the materials. Brick can withstand water, to an extent, but without drip edges and other details, it's quickly going to get damaged and ugly.
Note that building science nerds also tend to hate bumpouts and complicated rooflines because the air tightness and insulation details are hard to get right (and usually they just aren't done properly).
My theory is that they just had enormous amounts of cheap labour 100 years ago, and you'd never be able to build such a building today because it would be far too expensive.
Exceptional (by modern standards) material, used in quantities that would be considered excessive even in nice construction these days.
It's clear that nowadays buildings are made cheaply. For example the construction of the regular American suburban "stick" house is just the cheapest and the quickest way put up walls and a roof. What you get is something that's badly insulated (both from weather and sound) and just isn't very strong, and the technique is getting traction in other parts of the world too, replacing concrete, beams and brick.
That would imply that there's no issues with the newer design when the article clearly showed where the wrong choices have affected the durability of the building.
...but comparing a bank (a building that in 1891 had to LOOK expensive) and student flats (a building that has to BE cheap) results in the rather underwhelming discovery that because they had wildly different budgets with completely different aesthetic aims, they ended up with different built qualities. Shocking, isn't it?
If they want to make an apples-for-apples comparison, the author should come to the UK and compare our 1890 semi-detached with any post-70s new-build. There are certainly ecological issues with the older building (that are expensive to retrofit past) but the quality of building and workmanship is drastically better in the older houses.
And [at least in the UK] this isn't a case of crappy houses made of sticks falling down. With the rarest of exceptions, there is no "survivorship bias".
And that aesthetics should override competent construction technique is a bad idea, is also a fair criticism.
The real reason it looks so poor is —as I did say before— their respective aesthetic aims. Dartmouth wanted something that looked New Englandy that holds dozens of students, while the bank wanted something that makes them look like they have all the money.
A lot of UK housing built circa 1900 - 1930 was not well built at all; Building regulations as such hardly existed and there was a lot of trial and error. Buildings did indeed fall down.
I didn't mean to imply that no 1900 houses have fallen down, just to say that the incredibly vast majority of them are still around today.
Look at any city and you will see rows upon rows of ~1900s terraces. Still mostly upright. These typically only fall down when you let the roof go.
This is in contrast to North America that at the same time was building their houses out of timber. Not only does the material need better maintenance, but the difference between tearing it down and building a new one and refitting is much less than with a double-layer brick build. People want to tear them down and build something better.
In particular the brick did not decrease in quality but the way they were built did. For instance for a while people paid less attention to protecting buildings from water damage to achieve more interesting designs.
A particular crazy architectural style that suffers a lot from this is British brutalist architecture.
I have a theory why it's like this. In 1800's architects we're often painters first. Their day job was to paint portraits and signs and whatever was ordered. There was quite lot of painters around, only few of them made "art" and only the best got to draw buildings. The architect would then work the design together with mason. Civil engineers of the time we're busy building railroads.
Then at the end of the century, photography happened. In hindsight it's called "the crisis of art!". Suddenly architects could no longer apprentice by painting stuff for customers. You needed a school for architecture. The teachers would of course be old architects, who hang out with painters. So they sucked that "we can't sell portraits anymore, let's go crazy!" attitude.
In the 1940's you still had some old school guys. During this time some factory owners still thought that paying an architect was investment. You got a factory that would sell your product, keep your employers happy and make you proud. Here is factory building from that period. http://torshammer.eu/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Kabelfabrike...
Now architecture has not been based on anything for century. Or maybe seeping fashion trends of modern art. Most big money people use architect just to "pretty up" the facade of a building as afterthought. If even that. Nobody trusts architect to make anything coherent or beautiful.
At the same time architects need to jump on any opportunity to get some international fame. Because that's the only way you can ever succeed with such career. This breeds eccentricity. Which makes the whole thing worse.
To justify not using and architect, you might word that as "saving money". To be consistent with that, you cut costs in labor and materials. To the point of making actually bad buildings.
It's a beautiful ruin, but it seems never to have been a properly functioning building. Artistic success, total waste of resources for church that built it.
We are so far apart it is like trying to understand and alien.
I have seen a scant handful of Brutalist building that I consider fine works of craft but the gob smacking majority are pitiful piles of concrete and exposed trusses.
The bank was built in 1891. The FDIC wasn't around until 1933. The appearance of wealth and institutional stability was a very important marketing tool to late 19th-century bankers wanting patrons to trust them with their money.
The dorm houses kids fresh out of high school who can't / don't want to live off campus. I'd guess the building is attractive enough to most people to avoid negative attention, and -- as the article indicates -- it obviously isn't swaying money away from Dartmouth, so why bother?
Buildings from 100 years ago that still stand today necessarily must have been those that were most carefully constructed or those that have been thoughtfully preserved. This creates a biased comparison between the highest quality buildings of the past and an average (or perhaps worse than average) building from modern times.
This article could conclude that not all brick buildings today are superior in construction to the highest quality buildings built 100 years ago, but making a more general statement would be a fallacious extrapolation.
Even now we have trouble with people stealing brick buildings. Unused houses are sometimes set ablaze by brick thieves, then later they come in the night and cart off the bricks.
This sounds totally bananas, where is this? Are the bricks made of gold or something?
If you look at old buildings, you tend to notice that they also have a lot of intricate plaster-work that you never see anymore. Why? Because it used to be much cheaper to hire skilled labor than it is today. You can see a similar trend every year in the Christmas Price Index, which tracks the cost of the items in the 12 Days of Christmas song. The prices of goods tend to stay stable, while the price of labor tends to increase significantly.
For our brick buildings, I tried to find the best numbers I could, and here's what I came up with:
In 1894, bricks cost about $5.70/thousand , which is $165.51 in today's dollars
Today, you can get bricks wholesale for $220/thousand - and that's what I found online, I imagine an actual wholesaler is less. 
That's an increase of about 37%
For the bricklayer, the average wage in 1891 was $4/day, which is about $110 in today's dollars 
Today, the median bricklayer pay is $24/hour , which is $192 per 8 hour day.
That's an increase of 75% in the real wages of the bricklayer, and it means that the rate labor costs have increased is double the rate of material costs.
In 1891, it may have made financial sense to pay for a bricklayer to make intricate, high quality buildings. In the past few decades, it's likely that's no longer the case.
So finally, who is to blame, when the window is not even? The builder? No! He did nothing. The windowing subcontractor?? Technical yes, but practical he just used hired workers. Some times ago, it was possible to say: Here we have a good company, with good reputation, the workers are proud to work for it ... Today, it is just a blaming game -- and when one of the subcontractors is sued because of bad work, they file bankruptcy, because there is also no financial basis -- the companies are just empty shells.
What also adds up to this is, that on every level of this game, only the price of the service is evaluated today -- not the quality. I also saw cases, where the builder company was a big one with great reputation, but the execution was awful! The reason: Bad contractors.
Another reason in my country is, that the requirements for workers in the building sector have been deliberately drastically lowered by the government, to make way for even cheaper work.
Today, (at least in my country) one that wants a house for his family to be build, has no means to decide, if the company will succeed and make a good house or will build a horror house. In most cases, there will be several topics where the execution was bad or really bad and you can call yourself lucky, when the additional costs after the house was finalized are moderate.
There are some really bad cases, where families thought the house would be ready in time and canceled their rent-flat just to be on the streets afterwards, because their house was not ready even months after the deadline. Some where never finished.
There are also lots of mentions of survivorship bias, which is extremely relevant here.
Now that said, I find modern construction to be badly done in general, because it is almost all of it erected as cheaply as possible—and as cheaply as possible as measured by the shortest possible term metric. There is good stuff done still, and it is arguably cheaper over the ten year run or longer, but that's not what people buy and so it's not what the developers make. I'd like to claim this is shortsightedness but I can't shake the feeling that it's because real wages have been stagnant or sometimes declining since around 1972. There just isn't the money to spend.
N.B.: there are a lot of reasons why modern lumber seems like so much crap. About 95% of it is because folks are unwilling to pay for good lumber, as described above. Quality lumber, even quality construction lumber exists, but it's significantly more expensive than #2 common. Of the remainder, it's worth remembering that modern 2x4s are tend to be farmed in sustainable fashion using fast growth species like Douglas fir or Southern yellow pine. The stuff we were building with in the 30s and 40s? Quite a lot of that came from old growth forests, now irrevocably gone.
One is pre-stressed concrete. This has replaced I-beams for highway bridges. The problem here is how do you inspect them? With steel I-beams you can use your eyes. With concrete maybe you need some kind of ultrasound equipment to check the tension cables? Do you trust those responsible for long-term maintenance to do it?
Another is engineered wood I-beams for houses. Basically these are floor joists made out of plywood. How long will they last? What happens if they get wet? If there is a fire the house is gone because the floor joists will be ruined by the water to put the fire out.
There were certainly mistakes in the past as well. One is building with cast-iron beams. They look nice, but they crack.
If there is a fire the house is gone because the floor
joists will be ruined by the water to put the fire out.
The only information I can find doesn't seem to agree with this, although it doesn't specifically prove otherwise: www.woodbywy.com/document/tb-213
The flip side, however, is that it's devalued quality. It's remarkably difficult to actually find high-quality stuff these days. Even what used to be high-end brands have been bought up by some conglomerate that is now selling cheap Chinese versions under the old names.
There's still a market for quality, of course. You don't use tools from Harbor Freight when building rockets, but you'll never see those in any store you visit and they're likely to be priced far outside the reach of a normal person. It's like the middle ground has been lost, most stuff is cheap and low quality and then there is this small high end of really expensive stuff.
The only brick buildings you can still look at from the 1800s are the ones that were built very well - all the shoddily-constructed buildings from that era have since disappeared.
Yeah, the dorm in the linked article is totally better than that building. So while there are good buildings from that era, let's not kid ourselves, there were also a lot of horrible buildings that are rightfully no longer around. I would be willing to bet that the average quality of new construction is better now than it was then. If nothing else, the pervasive use of aluminum/vinyl siding and tar-asphalt shingle roofs yields buildings that better withstand the elements that old-style painted wood.
That contrasts with the article's 1891 example of a building where the brickwork was both structural and decorative, requiring maximum attention to detail.
He is right that sills (whatever material they are made of) should always protrude. I agree that the 1970's and 80's will probably be considered the low point in building (and were certainly the low point in automobile quality).
He apparently doesn't understand that the brick header in the older building is actually weight-bearing while the one in the newer building is a veneer covering a poured-concrete structural header.
He misses the main point: the older building is much better quality because it cost much more in relative terms. Buildings, like most of our modern products have declined in quality because we don't spend as much on them. But we have far more stuff - buildings and everything else.
The masonry work is excellent, and is probably the best way to create a wall that looks like brick inside and out yet meets modern insulation demands. But it is a gratuitously expensive construction technique to try and make a building look old and classic. If you don't value that particular aesthetic, you would select other materials. If you want to pander to that aesthetic but don't have a premium loft budget, you might end up with crap like that dorm.
A lot of examples of "superior" technology from 19th century turn out to be expensive stuff created for upper class, compared to mass-produced items of today that are affordable for the general population.
BTW, the most of buildings with have collapsed in Kathmandu around the new bus stand were these which has been built quickly with cost cutting (chap, thin steel bars, thick cheap cement layers between bricks, etc).
And this trend is everywhere, from clotches to Java. The age of getting shit done.)
'This article is available for GBA PRIME members only'
Or read just the the text here:
My theory is that the older banks needed to impress their clients with stability, conservativeness, safety, responsibility, etc. After FDIC, customers looked to the government for that, and so banks no longer needed to spend the money on the building.
The massive, glittering vaults are sadly gone now, too. The money exists as data on a server somewhere, little need for a vault.
Or an alternate theory: bank owners used to be local businesspeople, who would have been (rightly) embarrassed and ashamed to erect a shoddy and short-lived structure in their hometown. Now banks are at least regional, if not national or global, and care more about saving a few pennies for shareholders than they do about the communities they inhabit.
Combine this with the fact that consumers and "fellow citizens" don't give a crap about good buildings and good urbanism, and here we are with crackerbox drivethrough shite that nobody gives a damn about because it'll be bulldozed in 30 years, after a brief stint as a laser tag venue.
The bulldozed in 30 years attitude is post war nihilism in a nutshell. (In thirty years will be living on mars or dead from nuclear fire)
On my way to work, they're building this wonderful brick sidewalk. While still just a side walk and not a building, it's remarkably well crafted and detailed. I think we CAN do it, we just choose not to, economically.
I think somebody would rather save a lot of money and build something "good enough" these days than invest in craftsmanship. Also, I bet you don't have to look far to find a bunch of counter examples in modern times.
There was a structural brick house that remained an eyesore in a DC neighborhood for years after a car accident demolished part of its cylindrical masonry wall (picture a round castle tower). The owner gave the reason that the masonry skills to construct this type of feature were not something easily found, and had been a sort of lost art, and they had been looking for a long time before finally getting it repaired.
It's houses that seem to go downhill. But not single family houses, only bigger buildings.