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Isn't this simply an instance of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivorship_bias?

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.

Here's an example of a shoddy building from over a century ago that, through a historical quirk, is still around: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/san-francisco-shack-startin...

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.

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