Thursday, September 21, 2017

Where Did People Learn Their Classicism?

This dialogue took place between September 30th - October 7th 2015 and has been redacted for brevity and to provide a measure of anonymity to the participants.

Furthermore, this dialogue contributed to the following article by Paul A. Ranogajec featured in Traditional Building Magazine: Paths to Traditional Architecture Education: How Today’s Architects Learn Their Art

BW: I looked up many of the people on the list of the 50 firms the other day and saw that a very large number of them listed degrees from standard, modernist architecture schools. If that is typical, it might find it interesting to have people on the list send a brief note about where they received their instruction in the architecture that this list is devoted to.

TL: Learning classicism through the architecture of cities and town making principles is clearly the strongest part of my education.  An M Arch in Town Design from the University of Miami, sometimes referred to as the "Miami School" is the foundation as well as research on earlier 20th century planners at archives of Cornell and Penn.

This above, as well as CNU, and so many books enables me to passionately pursue and implement with skill classical and traditional urbanism now for several dozens of projects, as well as the portraying the role of town architect on a few.  Today I also have more opportunities to design a portion of the buildings alongside my talented peers.  

It's also essential to credit the 150 plus charrettes I have participated and, on occasion, lead. Charrettes are by far the most potent way to learn classical traditional urbanism and architecture for many without access to a 4-5 year degree. Charrettes offer rigorous practice with feedback loops. Perhaps like learning to write on a newspaper deadline with copy editors hovering over you. Thrilling!  

GB: These short paragraphs on how practitioners came to traditional architecture should be an article in a magazine perhaps Traditional building or elsewhere. It's the personal individual stories behind this profession that are very interesting.

PR: GB, I've started compiling them in a Word document. What if I post it to Google Drive as an editable file, so that others can add their stories and we can get a full compilation together for editing? I can post it later today.

GW: My original educational background is entirely "traditional" modernism- a 5-year architecture degree from Virginia Tech in the 1970s. I had always looked closely at background buildings and remained interested in tradition and classicism in spite of the overwhelming ideological scrim held up by our professors. Doing straightforward non-modernism seemed entirely out of the question, so pervasive was the paradigm, although we were certainly very aware of Venturi, Moore, Graves et al. After working on restoration projects in my first job in the late 70s, I went on to the Kentucky preservation agency, where I managed tax credit and restoration projects and began to do county-wide historic building surveys.

I combined intensive study of vernacular buildings and a variety of preservation projects in private practice for a while and then went back to pursue a masters in architectural history at UVa, where I was fortunate to be able to study with Bill Westfall. A detailed class in drawing and using the orders with Peter Hodson at Richmond's VCU (he was assisted by a youthful Hugh Petter) in 1995 encouraged me to enter a major competition for a new James City County/Williamsburg Courthouse, where my entirely classical entry earned third place. My earlier inclinations toward "the other modern" were now confirmed!   

NB: I personally asked Charles Moore in 1985 why we don’t build straight-ahead classical, for what we need the “references” and “humor” of pomo – his response was, “people don’t build that way anymore.

Researching for my PhD on modernism in 1995 I went through an intellectual conversion and became a classicist.
In 2005 I took the ICAA classical certification and have been practicing as such since.
And I have two years of civil engineering and five years of military architecture.

RL: I saw Dominique de Menil’s Visionary Architects: Boullee, Ledoux, Lequeu exhibit at the University of St. Thomas when I was in high school, and it fascinated me. That same trip I heard Louis Kahn speak at Rice, and he baffled me. I was very into Frank Lloyd Wright at the time. That trip to Houston set me on a path to Rice and classicism, but I didn’t know it at the time. The Paris, Rome, Athens exhibit of drawings from the Ecole des Beaux Arts, was a huge influence. I spent hours in front of the drawings when it came to Houston in 1983. I visited a dozen times or more—Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons for the two months it was there—and wore out the binding on my copy of the catalogue in no time.  All the while I was working on a mixture of speculative infill housing in Houston, historic preservation projects, and archaeological reconstructions for various sites in Italy.

I spent hours in the library pulling out monographs on any architect I’d never heard of. I also used Complexity and Contradiction as a research guide, looking up other works by all the architects Venturi cited. In the summers I worked various construction jobs—I worked for an electrician one year, an air conditioning repair guy the next, spent a summer mopping hot tar on Dallas rooftops, and worked in a factory building fiberglass boats another. Not classicism, but a grounding in how buildings work. It also paid tuition.

PW: I quite literally grew up with construction, my father being a builder and tradesman. Every weekend and holiday not with extended family in Jamaica was spent on a building site working from as far back as I remember. My family is from an Arts & Crafts background; however, I took an interest in Classical amongst other traditional architectures through the study of architectural styles (which I immediately found overlapping, confusing and more full of exceptions than rules). I was more interested in fundamentals and so studied craft literature, traditional plaster and stone. They practically all contain studies of the orders, laying out arches and vaults, mouldings and various theories on proportion and harmony with deference to Classical and Gothic design principles. More structured instruction in Classical design specifically came under the certificate program of the ICAA starting about 10 years ago.

RS: Yes,  I will have to say I never liked Modernism and went to UVA with the expressed intent on studying old architecture.  As an undergraduate I studied Physics and the logic of Classicism spoke to that.  My work study job was as a stage carpenter in the theater where we built elaborate period sets that were better made than any of the new houses going up just to put them in the dumpster after the run. That's when I thought that this could be a business.  I looked better than being a graduate student for the next ten years in Physics. I was at Denison and Ohio State was near by so I took classes there.  The History class was taught I 3D with polarized slides and glasses.  The term paper had to be lettered and the exam would have construction and statics questions, such as vector analyses of flying buttresses.
By the time I got to UVA I was already a lost cause in their minds so I just spent the time in the library.  I thought a good history could be had by reading the old periodicals in chronological order.  Which I did,

BP: I seem to be learning about classicism by following tradarch, though I'm not sure how advisable this is.  I really appreciate the discussions of raking crowns and such like.

AD: Mine: Scully taught me to love anything good. Yale taught me nothing (the untrammeled mind is a blessing) Corbu-Team X (at Princeton before the formalism  of Graves the Great) taught me polemics and social responsibility. The year in Paris at the Beaux arts showed the power and rigor of good codes. The American Vignola sometimes kept me out of serious trouble. Krier pulled it all together and empowered me to fight. The ICA snobs pissed me off finally to conceive the need for a Classical Liberation Movement. Dreihaus paid for it. I am grateful to all of them.

At Yale, I too looked at the periodicals in chronological order. History--without the historians.

MR: I also read through old periodicals.  My take on history is not the evolutionary "all things lead to modernism" theory.  Rather I believe that there was a great diversity in the early twentieth century, and everyone one had to stop what they were doing and do modernism.  There were architects like John Russell Pope that could do classicism, but also did some Tudor revival work.  Similarly, James Gamble Rogers could do collegiate Gothic or classical.

JM: I’ve probably said this before, but when Robert Venturi was at Princeton he studied under Jean Labatut, a Frenchman who had been at the Ecole, and Donald Drew Egbert, a noted architectural historian. He credited both of them for teaching him historical architecture.

Venturi, who graduated from Princeton in 1947 (B.A.) and 1950 (M.F.A.), went through the architecture library taking out dusty books that hadn’t been read since before World War II or earlier.

Charlie Moore was born in the same year as Venturi (Moore would be 90 on October 31 this year) but he got to Princeton later than Venturi. Somehow he learned about Venturi’s reading habits, and he took out every book that had Venturi’s signature on the library card.

When I was at Penn slightly before Anthony, many of us were reading dusty books in the library, like Civic Art and Magonigle. This included Mark Hewitt and Russell Versaci. 

When we wrote New York 1900, many of the articles we wanted were not listed in the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals. The index only started in 1934, and until ???? articles were partially indexed as Avery Library thought best.

So Bob sat down at Avery and Gregory Gilmartin brought him every architecture magazine at Avery, which Bob leafed through, marking articles about New York buildings. Gregory then destroyed years of periodicals by mashing them into the Avery copy machine.

DA: An odd path from a modern school and modern professors.

While at RISD in the early 80’s I would take two courses that would provide the basis for my future appreciation of classical, and even more generally, all well done architecture irrespective of style. The first was a course taught by Rodolfo Machado on trying to reorganize or reinvent accepted building design typologies and urban planning. This was an almost impossible exercise because as students we relied on ornament and detail in a building skin to provoke all symbolic imagery. But he kept pushing us to strip the decoration and details to truly understand the underlying meaning why a particular typology is the way it is in its functional relationships and proportional beauty.  When we thought we had a grasp of what it was, we were then challenged to reorganize and improve the relationships, but always by maintaining respect to the underlying architectural dna. Only after that morphing occurred were we encouraged to reapply the appropriate cultural symbolic imagery and detail. It taught me that great architecture was more than skin deep. Almost anthropomorphic to the heart and soul. It changed the way I looked at the dynamics of building design, and intimately brought be back to Vitruvius’s Commodity Firmness and Delight which is how I still evaluate architecture today. 

The second course I took that drove me to love classicism was a Beaux Arts watercolor course taught by Derek Bradford.  It’s hard not to fall head over heels in love with classical architecture when laying out the shade and shadow to a piece of architecture or sculpture on your watercolor paper, and beginning the process building the layers of grey from one to fifty coats deep. Shade and shadow is free and to me it provides all the architectural porn that makes good architecture great. From there I went to work for Rob Reno, and then Shope Reno Wharton and would be introduced to Edwin Lutyens.  I never looked back. 

DD: Travel and the environment were my text.  They still are.

When I finally went to school in the late '80's, I ransacked Loeb, finding two texts that were put into Rare Books.  Ignorance was rampant.

BW: From books, buildings, cities, and dialectic with colleagues and students.

When I was teaching at that Brutalist monstrosity in Chicago, UCI, in 1981 while at a conference in Washington I took a day off to drive down to UVa to see it for the first time, and there I had an epiphany. There were two faults in the order of the cosmos. First, TJ's place was older that SOM's and therefore ought to be inferior, but it was not. Second, I loved being in Chicago, but I ought to be at UVa. The next year I was, and there I rethought the entire historiographical basis of my work as an historian, which was at the time devoted to the Italian Renaissance. I forswore the study of history as a disinterested pursuit for individual enjoyment and began to reformulate my inquiries for operative, utilitarian purposes that assisted architects in building beautiful, elegant, and just cities.

I should add that I have some excellent guides. Among them: Richard Schneider (later York U) when I was a grad student at Columbia, Hadley Arkes and Dan N Robinson ever since I taught at Amherst, the late Norris Kelly Smith (Wash U St. Louis) when I lived in Chicago, Robert Jan van Pelt (now Waterloo U), and my several colleagues at Notre Dame: esp. Younes, Lykoudis, Crowe.

DP: Want to add that I was a Double Major in Theater Design and Studio Art
Though my painting instructor was a modernist...
Our first painting assignment was to copy precisely an old master ..
Learned appreciation for the past

JP: I earned a Master of Fine Arts, where I learned what Art is for and the difference between Art and Craft.

I earned a Master of Landscape Architecture degree, where I learned the importance of context, and to always balance the needs of the client /user, the potential of the site, and the quality of the materials.
Then I was dragged kicking and screaming through a Master of Architecture program, where I intentionally studied with A SINGLE PROFESSOR, (against all school policy and protocol), who is a practicing architect, so that I would have a firm place to stand when I was later exposed to other ideas, and have some idea of how to estimate their value.

PR: NB, did those experiences give you an appreciation for classicism? How so?
NB: Terminology: I use the term classical to denote the orders as well as all traditional derivatives; classical is a method with forms inherent.

To answer your question,

Civil engineering enabled me to understand Vitruvius and the military experience (building bases)  - the KISS principle in urbanism.

They were early experiences in addition to which I worked in construction (Bauhaus method)

My motivation is an interest in what works and curiosity regarding why things look the way they do.

While writing a PhD on modernism and understanding the concepts underpinning it (theory), I became a classicist (an intellectual conversion) and in the next decades I became a practicing classicist.

Classical is pretty and it works so it addresses my interests.

DM: Likewise.

“Classical is pretty and it works so it addresses my interests. “

AD: Today's classical is neither pretty nor does it work.

Go outside and look.

I do go outside...
and I design pretty( beautiful )
And it works.

DM: “Today's classical is neither pretty nor does it work.”

That’s because most schools don’t teach classicism nor the importance of architectural composition.   Rather than worry about religion or natural law, maybe we could focus on something most people respond to?

GW: There you go again, DM, attributing negative emotional baggage like "worry" or "fear" to those whose search for substantive conversation you consistently reject. 

DM: I'm not rejecting anything, simply trying to engaging in a conversation.  I should have said 'debate' rather than 'worry'.  Differing priorities but similar goals.

BW: That's quite a sweeping statement--most schools? On what basis do you say that?

DM: I agree with AD that a lot of classicism today isn’t as beautiful as say…the New York Public Library, but  I thought it was commonly understood that only a few schools taught traditional architecture.  Maybe we have a different definition of classicism and architectural composition.  I’m refereeing to the Beaux-Arts definition that used the orders to teach proportion and all the elements of venustas, ie: loveliness, comeliness, charm, grace, beauty, elegance, attractiveness

May I add:

DM: Absolutely manners.  Sometimes I think that’s the most important ingredient as many buildings make a street, so even with all the prowess of a Michelangelo, with-out manners, one’s work not can’t be in harmony with its surroundings.

Starting with the harmony between the details to the whole and moving outward from the whole to the surrounding.  This is what’s so fascinating and pleasurable about architecture to me, the state of harmony one can achieve, with manners.  

NB: Classicism today is like at the very beginning of the renaissance – even just before that

The master-moves have been forgotten by most

Building residential is nothing like doing real buildings – everything changes because of the size – all the proportional rules change for “big”

We are out of practice

But these is dialog and in a generation or two it will be back in hand

You see, it’s not a formula

It’s a touch

To “copy” is much harder than it looks

Talking a lot is easy

Compiled by Patrick Webb

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


This dialogue took place between October 2nd - October 7th 2015 and has been redacted for brevity and to provide a measure of anonymity to the participants.

AD: Erik Vogt and Marianne Khoury.Is Classical theory throwing this talent--this enrichment--away; holding it at bay?

If so, why, pray tell??

MM: Let's just agree that we need a scope for Eclecticism, and move on - no?

Agree that Maybeck is OK.

That Julia Morgan is OK.

That Art Nouveau is OK. (Sorry, Loos.)

That Eclecticism in the 20s was OK.

That Gothic is OK.

That vernacular is OK.


End of argument?
BW: I think that's a fine roster of skilled architects. Theory, both present and yet to be written theory, can embrace them, but we do need a basis for judgment (i.e., an articulation of judgment, i.e., theory,  or at least a theory) to decide whom to save from bad theory and what bad theory is.  Is a puzzlement! 
BD: But also Loos's work is okay. And Behrens's. So we need a theory that absolves great designers for bad theory. 

AD: How about the theory that I was taught at Princeton. "Do as Corbu does,
not as Corbu says."?

That difference between the Practice, the Polemic, and the Scholarship that resolves  all the confusion and contradictions of the Classical Discourse. Of course, the GP will resist such clarity as it undermines the delightful gossip and innuendo that passes for learned disquisition.

Clarity per se is considered brutalizing and the consequence of something apparently very bad called "Humanism" or  "The Enlightenment" G-d (salute to BD) only knows what they are fussing about.

BW: Oh, it occurs to me that theory and what historians do is somehow thought to be the same thing. Oh no.
BD: Not in my book. Historians are useful, don't get me wrong, but they shouldn't be used for the agendas they have been.  

DM: They've always been intertwined.  It's how polemics and theory get their legitimacy.

BD: That's just it. Theory should take history into account, but that's different from using historians to push an agenda. I know that's the idea behind "polemic," but it's shortsighted.

That's my main problem with AD's polemical stance. It's difficult to get away with a polemical approach that depends on a slanted historical narrative. On the other hand, it is possible to inform public opinion with modern public-relations tools. I don't have a lot of confidence that AD knows what they look like. While it may be that he is doing that right now, I haven't seen evidence of it. The main difference is that modern public relations doesn't depend on any particular view of facts -- although of course it benefits from expert testimony of various sorts.

JP, PW: this is my approach. In order to make it work, you have to detach your viewpoint from any particular worldview, and figure out how to tie it to at least two cognitive frames. For instance, you can tie "marriage equality" to both a liberal point-of-view and a conservative point of view. You can't tie "gay marriage" to a conservative point of view. They're functionally equivalent, but one speaks to conservative values as well as liberal ones.

If your theory derives from a particular historical or religious narrative, it won't be available to those who don't share that narrative. That isn't to say that it can't be consistent with that narrative. It's like teaching. If you appeal to emotions and mental associations, but let people make them themselves, then that mental connection gives a little jolt of pleasure that rewards the thinker. If you hand it to them on a platter, then you get boredom at best and hostility at worst. It's a losing strategy.

Think of it this way: when someone has an insight that connects two ideas, it gives pleasure and helps to cement the two ideas together. In order for that to work, you have to let it be an insight, which means that you should avoid connecting the dots yourself.It occurs to me that this is part of the problem.

JP: Bruce, I understand you methodology.  One doesn't have to appeal to "grace" to talk about "nature", as it were.  Of course, the idea that one can detach one's viewpoint from any particular worldview doesn't seem possible on the face of it, because this is simply to say one has adopted a particular worldview outside of all others...above all others...

In any case, much digital ink could be spilled on these topics, but I'll refrain from going further into what would unlikely be fruitful discourse.

DD: The logos is not one of words but is the one that is illuminated by light.
BD: Some time ago, JP posted a link leading to this definition, which I (mistakenly?) took to be religious in nature, and not just philosophical.

"[Logos:] the Word of God, or principle of divine reason and creative order, identified in the Gospel of John with the second person of the Trinity incarnate in Jesus Christ."

In other words, it is not just "reason," but divine reason. I have a very serious problem with this. While it is advisable humbly to seek enlightenment, it's inexcusable to attribute to G-d any particular rationale, or claim divine inspiration for any particular action. Also, this suggests that pre-Christian architecture is lesser, which attitude downgrades the protection of antiquities to an art-historical pursuit.

I am encouraged, myself, that people all over the world share similar spiritual aspirations, albeit imperfectly. It is remarkable that although there are wars and crimes all over, we have over seven billion people -- any two of whom would almost always try to seek commonality, if they were randomly put in a room together. Yes, a thin few would probably try to kill each other: usually over religion. That's the problem with claiming divine justification.
JP: Interesting, don't recall linking to that definition.  But logos predates Christian appropriation of the term, though I believe it always had a divine or semi-divine quality to its meaning though not necessarily 'religious'..the god of the philosophers as it were.

Christians have a term for the many ways in which the logos is refracted in various times and cultures: logos spermatikos.

Anyways, this all seems tangential...

JM: There are many people today who say they are “spiritual” but not “religious” (which drives people like Phil crazy). What they mean is that they feel transcendent things but don’t go to church.

This type of discussion can go appeal to them, unless it becomes church dogma.

Then there are Classicists who are on this list who are atheists. As far as they are concerned, God does not exist, and talk about things like the “transcendent” turn them off.


Why the "G-d" instead of "God"?
Comes off a bit superstitious to me. It is a very old word with many theories on its origin. The one that particularly interests me is that of the pan-Semitic deity predating Hebrew of Gad ( גָּד), the fortune god. It's found in the Torah aplenty, directly and as cognates. The Hebrew pronunciation falls right about the middle of the English "god" and Deutsch "gott".

The Latin "deus" (Spanish "dios") quite literally is a direct approbation of the Greek ( Δεύς), "of Zeus", itself derived from the Persian word for demon, "div" (دیو). Which all makes perfect sense since traditionally Christian churches maintained the Greek temple facade. 

BD:I have never represented myself as non-religious. I'm not frum, but I'm Jewish, and I'm not going to write out the name of G-d -- even though of course it's usually represented by four Hebrew letters.
Please don't confuse my eagerness to disentangle architectural philosophy from religion for a lack of concern for religion. 

PW: Good luck (Gad) with that.

Which traditional architectural philosophy are you going to disentangle first: Egyptian, Persian, Vedic, Celtic, Mayan, Greco-Roman, Renaissance, Gothic, Banjarese etc.??
They all seem pretty integrally wrapped up in their religious ideologies and views of the cosmos to me.

It might be easier to just structure your own architectural theory apart from any religious sentiment, a purely functional architecture of space, light and order, unsullied by the narrative of symbolic ornament belying a superstitious past...

BD: When I object that although I have a religious point of view that's consistent with traditional architecture, it seems as if people don't take that at face value. They seem surprised when I admit to religion. When I say that making a religious argument doesn't help people to understand that point-of-view, I think that many people here take that as a hostility to religion or any "higher purpose." When I say that my motivation is exactly opposite that, they seem to think I'm being disingenuous. Yet nobody questions a math teacher who doesn't hand out the Teacher's Edition of the textbook!

AD: Regarding BD's assessment of AD' polemical platform.

What BD doesnt understand sitting at the bookshelf at corner of the Garden Party is that I am in action in "the street" most of the time (midway through two weeks straight now) garnering feedback from the people (that I am presumably not succeeding in affecting). Except. . .  that I AM, somehow affecting them. And he doesn't understand that it is they who want every single dot connected; and that if I don't do it, then a lawyer or a banker or a conventional planner or a professor or an accountant or some other another kind of idiot will connect it to the last dot.

BD: Do you have to be present to affect them? That's the difference _public_ relations makes. 

PW: So what is tradition? Can history and religion really be divorced from tradition and traditional architecture?

Do we willfully restrict knowledge of such associations from students so that they might independently perhaps, maybe, chance upon said connections?

How does one begin to even understand a Gothic or Vedic architecture (let alone design a contemporary one) without a rudimentary understanding of the religious culture and historical period that led to its development? There are so many physical aspects that would make no functional sense and the aesthetics fall to matters of personal taste without an underlying narrative and symbolic meaning.

Your approach as I understand it would be such an abstraction of tradition so as to impoverish it of the intrinsic meaning that is inherent with the designation of tradition to begin with.

RL: The history must take religious and cultural forces into account, and strive to understand the impact on architecture, and vice-versa. Theory discerns the architectural principles and seeks to abstract and formulate them in a way that is transmissible and more broadly applicable. Islamic ornament developed as a response to religious prohibitions on the use of figural ornament, but it teaches lessons in form, pattern, color, and composition that may be employed in many circumstances, regardless of the cultural origin.

BD: We run the risk of turning religion into a firewall between architecture and its principles.
Whether or not you admire the New Urbanism, it was smart to ground it in effable principles. Doing so defined the New Urbanism as the pursuit of those principles.

By elevating natural law and its _in_effable principles to the top, some practitioners on this list are in effect walling off the stuff that actually makes the connection between what we want and what we need to do in order to get it.

I acknowledge that architecture has produced religious buildings, and some religious principles have suffused buildings. But that's very different from saying that the only path to architecture goes through religion.

BW: This and other effusions about natural law are a jumble. Those of you with a reasonable and coherent education that includes a knowledge of the basis of the American civil order know that natural law is the basis for different but not incompatible principles,. Some of these concern religion, others concern the civil order. The First Amendment is intended to assure that each occupies its proper province. Anything more about this topic needs to be informed with that knowledge.


I think some Classicists speak about natural law through a conservative Catholic filter that can easily make it sound that only conservative Christians need apply.

I am NOT saying they are wrong. I do agree with Bruce, however, that with the broader audience this becomes more of a problem than a strength.

Many of the best practicing Classicists are turned off by any whiff of religion as a prerequisite for Classicism.

If that’s true, how does one overcome the problem?


Indeed, natural law is claimed by some Catholics to be their exclusive possession, and I am not reluctant in saying that they are wrong in holding that position.

You ask, how to correct that impression, especially when it prevents people committed to the classical to recognize that it is wrong? Some will never learn, as we well know from experience, and natural law is antithetical to the Gleichschaltung that Modernism demands.

There is plenty of material about the natural law basis of secular civil orders and about the secular, natural law basis for English and American common law, but it is not given prominence in  the American educational system. A person could start by reading the Federalist Papers.

My book explains presents the secular development of natural law and its role as the foundation for the American constitutional order and why that is the same foundation for American (classical) architecture,  but I already know that the argument does not penetrate to every reader.

BD: Great. "Gleichschaltung." Now we're in Godwin's territory.

Can we please buffer this discussion from either divinity or the Nazis?

BW, almost nobody talks about Natural Law except the Catholics -- and its absence from schools is a symptom of that isolation. Maybe we should, but it's not an entry point for anyone who isn't already familiar with it. To be blunt, the only reason I am listening to you on the subject of Natural Law is that you connect it to something I care about. This path won't work for most people:

Natural Law --> Traditional Architecture

This path only works for people who only care about traditional architecture:

Traditional Architecture --> Natural Law

Neither of these provides an entry point for someone who is unfamiliar with neither traditional architecture or Natural Law.

BW: This tells me a lot about what you read and your low expectations for success in the battle AD is waging.


Earlier, you said that natural law is or enlists or entails principles. You then said,
"To be clear, principles are not the same as rules. Principles are unchanging, enduring, and universally applicable but never fully known and incapable of their complete embodiment in things known, done, or made or the rules for knowing, doing, or making such that the principles are fully embodied." 

If we accept that a thing that is unknowable cannot be articulated (except by words that kick the can by denoting the ineffable themselves), then you have said that natural law is itself at least partly ineffable.

To connect the bread crumbs: natural law includes principles (among them religious), and principles cannot be completely knowable. Therefore, natural law includes the ineffable. This puts it at least partly beyond the range of rational discourse.

Many on this list seem then to shove anything uncomfortable beyond the firewall of the ineffable.
This happens at two levels. First, we get ponderous words for ineffable ideas: most prominently Natural Law itself, Beauty, and Logos. These retard discussion that would get into principles. Second, when we finally claw our way to the level of the principles themselves, we get a further retardation. Discussion stops against the principle of "propriety," for example. It's all very well to say that propriety is important, but then we can't agree about what embodies or offends it.

Let me be clear myself. I am not complaining about the role of judgment in applying principles. Of course if you have a principle that depends on balancing two factors, you need to apply judgment in balancing those two factors. You can't write an easy rule regarding them. No. I'm complaining that nobody seems willing to say what constitutes good or bad propriety. What rules should we follow? Is it an impropriety to build apartments above the level of the base of a neighboring steeple or dome?
Note, I'm _not_ saying that you refuse to make these connections. Obviously you make one connection by explaining how different people have tried to embody principles and natural law. However, the discussion stays on the level of the ineffable because it halts at "Natural Law" or "Logos" or "Beauty."

I have been calling for this list to define and defend principles. In fact, I just did, but your reaction was _not_ to start getting into them. It was to berate me for discussing the prevalent "Natural Law" on this list. I think that this list is terrified of proceeding from the ponderous words to principles that can actually be discussed -- and then deriving rules from those. Every time I propose something on those lines I get directed back to the ponderous words without being able to touch the ground of an articulated principle.

MM: Back to the point about theory.  Loos may have done good work (I do like what I have seen) but his theory was hugely important in the "great transition" from an architecture of place to an architecture of time.

He, like Behrens, and his protégés Gropius, Mies and Le Corbusier (how's that for a cabal) were all concerned with how architecture could respond to the increasing repetition of interchangeable parts, AKA the economies of scale and standardization.  This environment seemed to make local detail and ornament superfluous, even artificial.

What did Loos do?  Challenge the technology, and its crude economies?  Not at all - he glorified it as a sign of cultural supremacy.  We, at "the pinnacle of mankind" should not worry that we could no longer to what "any negro" (sic) could do.  We were superior!  And our architecture should glorify our arrival, our time.   As a time of exceptionalism, for an exceptional people with an exceptional architecture.

This was the brand, the product packaging - the "Empire's New Clothes."  It was advertisement, with architecture that was no longer about place, but about time.  Forever more "our time" had to have a singular architecture, an "architecture of our time."  (To this day.)

Theory matters.  It guides and interprets what we do, and often changes it.  In Loos' case his theory mattered enormously for history, and it was the overwhelming part of his legacy -- whereas the actual work was a minuscule part.

BD: MM, I thought Loos was pretty irrelevant at the time, except in rarefied Viennese circles. It was certainly later that he was elevated for having said it early.
In any case, theory is only important when the first follower starts others going.

Theory is important in the galvanizing phase.

RL: Loos motivated key leaders of the next movement, who quoted him incessantly during the galvanizing phase.

Architecture "of our time" was the successor to romantic nationalism which was burdened by association with one, and then two world wars. Nationalist architecture was seen as part of the problem, temporal/modernist was presented as the solution. Modernism is not the opposite of historicism, but nationalism. It is no accident it was referred to as the "International Style." Romantic nationalist architecture was historicism in the sense that it was general based on the style prevalent during the nations period of greatness, whether real or imagined. Our "architecture of place" is conceived as localism rather than nationalism, but is similarly rooted in perceived periods of local ascendancy, as GB has often pointed out. The styles we associate with various locations are generally those current during the region's formative period or period of most rapid growth. Yes, local adaptations due to climate and available resources situate the style, but it is the architectural fashions of the periods of greatest growth in a given locale that define our sense of place.

SM: Tradition is something people do repeatedly because they love to. Many traditions have nothing whatsoever to do with religion. It is an error to tie traditional architecture to religion… one made far too often on this list.

History is a different question. A dead tradition becomes part of history, but a living tradition is still alive, and not yet fully within history because its entire story can’t yet be told.

PW: I see it as flat out prejudice.

That makes about as much sense as pursuing a study of the blues whilst considering it an error to include the oppressed history and continued discrimination of African Americans since other ethnic groups have been known to sing the blues and it's better to focus strictly on the blues as a decontextualised technical phenomenon.

The error is excluding the correlation with religious roots when there is a clear connection. Please SM, name three architectural traditions where religion played no significant role in their development.

SM: So you’ve read my mind and determined that I’m prejudiced? What did I prejudge? What am I against?

And how is it that you’re a greater expert at what I’m thinking than I am? Especially from more than 400 miles away when we haven’t had a face-to-face conversation in roughly half a year?

PW: In other words, you can't come up with three...

SM: I can come up with thousands. But not until you tell me how you’re more expert in what I’m thinking than I am.

BD: Then you understand it wrongly.
Of course it's a historical fact that religion is important to different traditions, but it doesn't necessarily follow that the average architect's motivation should be religious. If a religious architect finds religious principles validate his or her work, that's great, because then it cements them together. But that can't happen if it comes on a platter. 

PW: I observe two things in your commentary that afflict Western architecture of the last 200 years generally:

An unbalanced perspective in favour of the Apollonian that holds order, reason and self-discipline as somehow being more human than emotion, sensuality and chaos.
A fixation on the religious as a contamination despite our religions having adjusted to become more Apollonian.

This explains for instance, the obliteration of ornament with all of its Dionysian properties. This imbalance leaves the architect, artist or craftsman an incomplete person.
We will not achieve greatness in our work, we will remain in the shadow of the ancients, until our apparent dual nature is resolved into a coexisting, complimentary whole.

DD: Nice, PW.  The hands-on artist, not the scribblers, is the one that "gets" things.  And not least, religion.


Do you agree with the definition of Logos that is specifically religious?
Logos: "the Word of God, or principle of divine reason and creative order, identified in the Gospel of John with the second person of the Trinity incarnate in Jesus Christ."
Do you think a religious test is appropriate for architects? Is the Logos available to Buddhists, atheists, Muslims, animists, or Jews?

I'm happy for people who find an added significance in their work. However, I'm complaining about people who want to couch architecture as a religious act.

Let me be clear. If a designer wants to precede the act of design with fasting and prayer or something, that's fine. But claiming that a religious posture is a prerequisite for good architecture puts it beyond the ability of people whose religion (or lack thereof) you don't respect. It also puts critiques of architecture into the realm of dueling religious postures.

DJM: A most interesting approach to design. 

A.)  The Apollonian perspective of starting with regular, patterned order then adding the right amount of unexpected Dionysian variety -  or  -  

B.)   The Dionysian perspective of starting with random divisions which are then organized into varying degrees of Apollonian order.

Might we say that the earliest of cultural design traditions are born with Apollonian geometry until the Dionysian influence introduces the imitation of natural forms (realism), evolving back to a more balanced Apollonian classical period, to be eventually overtaken again by wild Dionysian variety often referred to as ‘decline’ ?

JM: What’s wrong with saying order versus richness? Most of the American population does not know what Apollonian and Dionysian mean. It turns people off to use words they don’t mean, and plays right into the old fuddy-duddy put down.

PW: Truth be told, I prefer wanton, hedonistic sensuality to either Dionysian or richness...

BD: Except that if you do as I suggest, you would bring in harmony, the sensual, and the emotional -- and your Dionysus properties -- anyway. There's no reason not to bring in any of those _on their own merits._

There's an experiment. Take a group of 10 randomly selected people and put them each alone in a room with a plate of cookies or chips or whatever for ten minutes, and tell them if they eat one it won't be replenished for the next person. (They're ostensibly waiting for someone who is running late.) You tell them one of 3 things. One group you tell "most people leave the cookies alone." Another you tell, "it would be nice if you could leave them for someone else who's coming in." The third group you say G-d says not to steal. The number of cookies or weight of chips remaining usually is in that order. "Most people" is most persuasive, followed by "nice," with "G-d" in last place. Now, as far as I know, nobody has done a study of how people feel about themselves after, or whether it teaches a lesson. But the most persuasive is also the gentlest. ("Nudge.") _None_ of those is incompatible with religion, but only one depends on it. 

AD: Why is anyone assuming that tradition based on religion? It can be based on quite a few other things. Some of them slightly unethical--like royalty or profits or the worship of the avant garde or etc?
There is a built in bias by those who are taking the position that they are not biased.

PW: AD, would this be you assuming an assumption?

An assumption takes for granted something as an a priori condition of existence.
The connections between much traditional architecture and history, religion (and other sources such as heraldry ornamentation by the medieval nobility of europe i.e.) have been both passed down and in a modern analytical approach well documented.

And yes, I'm unabashedly biased. I own and wallow in it. Don't you?

AD: I am not. That is why no one really trusts me. They cant peg where I am coming from. 
Mine is actually the position of American Pragmatism. Currently in bad odour. Empirically informed, allergic to ideology and failure, all too agile. 

PW: American Pragmatism is by definition an ideology.
We hardly have to peg you. You do the heavy lifting, regularly reminding us of the special time at Princeton and Yale that only existed when you were there.
DM: If you we're truly pragmatic,it would be easier to peg you, not more difficult.  Common sense is common for a reason.

As for tradition being impoverished without its 'intrinsic meaning'...I always assumed traditional remained vital as they adapted to new circumstances which bestowed new meaning, like classicism. 

AD: I thought so too. I even thought the historians would usefully describe the practice of architecture. It confused the hell out of me for two whole years of reading. Honestly, I thought I had Alzheimer's,  the discrepancies , contradictions and personal interpretations were so insidious. Once you separate the three discourses, it's all very cool. I like all three, but I don't confuse them.

DM: This is probably why I've never thought of my self as a theorist.  To my mind the three ought to be more intertwined.  The more integrated, the less effort expanded in maintaining separate narratives, the more energy available to refining the final product, being architecture.

PW: My wife is a history major. A very tricky business. Actually, two people can witness the same event and walk away with very different impressions and interpretations. Trying to reconstruct past events and particularly the thinking of previous generations are fraught with an exponentially increased level of difficulty. Not to say it is a worthless pursuit or valueless; nevertheless, whatever one is able to extract from a historical narrative should not be treated as gospel truth. Unless of course it is being used deliberately as a propaganda campaign. Even so, it would be wise to not sip of the kool aid being distributed to the masses.

Perhaps this is at the root of your ire? An entrenched academia that bleed historicism into practise?

SM: "Agreed.
Yet I maintain that the disciples are consistently more unreasonable and intransigent than the prophets. Jesus vs St. Paul. Revelation vs perpetuation.
This is not an inherent characteristic limited to Modernism per se, rather it might appear to be a defining trait of humanity."

Agreed completely that it’s a defining trait of humanity… it’s the difference between discovering the truth and being taught things that began with the truth. A big part of the problem occurs when a middleman… let’s call him/her “the commentator”… tries to package what the prophet said in a way they perceive will be easy to teach to the disciples. Over time, with many commentators in between the prophet and today’s disciples, things can get convoluted, and even completely reversed. I’m strongly of the opinion that the best thing is to go to the source whenever possible.

BW: Why are most people naturally attracted to classical architecture while Modernists mount attacks against it?
Here is José Ortega y Gasset who esplains that avant-garde work “helps the elite to recognize themselves and one another in the drab mass of society and to learn their mission which consists of being few and holding their own against the many.” [“The Unpopularity of the New Art,” (1948) in The Dehumanization of Art and other Writings on Art and Culture (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday anchor Books, n.d.), 7]

Here is Jefferson writing from France: “State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, and often better than the later, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.” [To Peter Carr, August, 10, 1787, in Writings, 902.] There is a corollary that makes the aesthetic sense also a part of human nature. [Kenneth Hafertepe, “An Inquiry into Thomas Jefferson’s Ideas of Beauty,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 59 (2000)] Those natural endowments could be sharpened by instruction, but “artificial rules” could corrupt them.

PS: Regarding PW's post, and to his point, my best friend in high school used to love it when I would tell people what we had done the night before. He was always excited to hear that we had so much more fun than he remembered.

GW: That's not history- that's narrative- and your version was no less true for all of its art- perhaps more true, if less accurate.

JM: We have similar problems when we interpret what Modernists think and what Post Modernists thought.

PW: Agreed.
Yet I maintain that the disciples are consistently more unreasonable and intransigent than the prophets. Jesus vs St. Paul. Revelation vs perpetuation.
This is not an inherent characteristic limited to Modernism per se, rather it might appear to be a defining trait of humanity.

None of this is to say I don't appreciate a good fable.
When I hear wooden tectonic explanations of the orders, litho-tectonic explanations of the orders, anthropomorphic origins of the orders, well its all entertaining, good fun, part of the tradition, a memory aid, etc.
Sort of like the stories of Zeus, Apollo and the floods of Noah and Gilgamesh. If there is a kernel of truth in the myth, all the better.

Compiled by Patrick Webb

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

AAC Blocks - Insulation - Wall Assembly?

This dialogue took place between November 15th - November 17th 2015 and has been redacted for brevity and to provide a measure of anonymity to the participants.

KC: I have been curious hear others experience using AAC (Autoclaved Aerated Concrete) Blocks

I understand it is supposed to have insulation properties, but I can’t seem to get an understanding of actual R-Value, and whether or not it can suffice for insulation in mild climates.., or if it is still necessary/required to do interior furring and/or some other strategy for additional insulation?

Can anyone share there experience / understanding of how AAC blocks can be used affectively in a wall assembly?

Pros?  Cons?

I am interesting in using AAC block for projects in Charleston SC.

Assuming exterior masonry stucco finish.
for exterior wall assemblies….?

AD: It requires the precision of Germanic work crews. The thin bonding agent does by have the slack of mortar that enables the  correction of each course to level.

Tested by the near-perfect work crews at Alys. The building had to be finished in conventional block.  You are hereby warned.

SM: True… but there’s a secret: If you get the first course right, then it’s hard to go wrong above because of the lack of slack, as you noted. I did a house once with Hebel and the installer used a laser level to set the first course and everything worked out fine. Today, some AAC manufacturers insist that you use their trained installers, and won’t even sell you the product if you’re planning on using an ordinary mason. I look at it like this: we use specially-trained installers for several other parts of a house, so having specially-trained AAC installers doesn’t bother me at all.

FWIW, I’m doing an AAC house right now, and the supplier has a new system that’s an alternative to their blocks… it’s a vertical panel system that apparently goes up a lot faster because the panels are 3-4’ wide and the full height of the wall. It’s romantic to think of laying the wall one block at a time rather than setting large panels with a crane, but once it’s complete and finished, it makes no difference that I know of… so why not save the time?

MR: I’ve been wanting to build with AAC block for awhile.  The stucco finish can be applied directly to the exterior face of the block with no need for lath, control joints, Tyvek, weep screeds, etc.  There’s no need for internal insulation.

I am not sure what the R value is, but it has both insulating properties due to the small air bubbles, and thermal mass.  It out performs a 2x6 stud wall with batt insulation.  The Xcella rep came to our office awhile back and had me hold a 1 inch thick piece of AAC block on the palm of my hand.  He then put an acetylene torch to the top of the ACC for about a minute and I was not able to feel any change of temperature on my hand.  Needless to say, I think an 8 inch thick AAC block wall would perform well in my climate, the Deep South.

Here’s an interesting article on AAC:

PW: Nice article MR.
Beyond the insulative value of AAC as an isolated material, it expands that value in comprising a system of monolithic assembly mitigating humidity and air movement.

Although a superior system, it will be difficult to achieve desirable results with unskilled, low wage labour. It lacks the kind of "slack" that AD mentions is possible with the thick mortar joints of concrete masonry units. However, qualified masons with a minimal amount of specific training should be able to manage such an installation at a fair market price. Fortunately, Charleston is a market where there are skilled masons.

FYI, this Spring I had students apply traditional lime plaster directly over the interior surface of a proprietary CMU substrate with foam inserts, new construction. Conventional stucco was applied directly to the exterior surface. You can do a monolithic system here. I wouldn't expect any issues in Charleston with compliance demanding weep screeds or vapor barriers.

MR: I’m not so sure the “slack” issue is really that much of an issue.  Most masons are accustomed to using level string lines and tamping blocks into place to align with the string.  The blocks are cut precise enough that the 1/8 inch thick mortar joint should not be such a problem.  The exterior coating of stucco eliminates any irregularities in the horizontal alignment of the blocks.

Although I’m not a fan of “lick ‘n’ stick” brick (thin cut bricks), they could also be applied to the exterior face of the block with a full mortar bed, and with no need for lath, Tyvek, etc. and it would be more permanent than brick veneer construction over stud framed construction.

AD: The window openings were not square they were ever so slightly parallelograms. it required a leveling tie bean.Think: why hasn't this marvelous system simply take over after two decades.

I loved it too. Till I was burned by it.

PW: If this is an honest question it would be good to unpack. I don't think it would be too hard to discover why you had problems in Florida.

Particularly since in the EU it has been very successful for decades. Is the material here the same? Do the installers have the same level of training, masonry experience? Are they compensated similarly? Is it used as intended, in the same way?

MR: I was looking at using AAC block for a house that I designed that never was built.  The windows would have a treated 2x buck around the entire perimeter that the windows would mount to.  I thought that I would also wrap the 2x with Ice and Water Shield before the window was attached, and the stucco finish would cover over the lapped edge of the Ice and Water Shield.

I met a contractor who was building houses out of AAC block and what he did was mount the window directly to the face of the wall in a bed of sealant.  He screwed the windows through the nailing fin directly into the AAC block, and the sealant that he used was a structural silicone sealant; no wood whatsoever.  I said, “That is great, but I want to set the windows back and have the return of the stucco finish into the jambs.”  His response was that he would do the same thing, but he would cut 2 inch wide strips to create a recessed buck and attach the windows directly to that.  AAC cuts easily, and Hebel now offers an AAC panel, called the “Power Panel” that is 2, 3 and 4 inches thick that is used for attaching over stud framing, but can also be cut and attached to AAC block walls for door and window bucks, as well as other decorative projections.

I think the main issue is that most builders are familiar with conventional stick framed construction, and they are afraid of the learning curve.  There are others that have completely converted.  Once they’ve learned how to use AAC block they felt no need to go back to conventional stick framing.  The contractor that I am thinking of would also attach Hardi Plank on top of the AAC block, which seems weird to me, to have a masonry wall and is dressed up to look like a wood framed wall, but it’s possible.

TK: How big an issue is water penetration with this stuff?  I've always understood it doesn't hold up in climates with freeze/thaw cycles unless the exterior is 100% watertight - not the case for traditional exterior wall finishes.

The monolithic construction is a bit simplistic.  Unless the building has no mechanized HVAC, a vapor barrier must be detailed, otherwise water vapor condenses in the blocks at the dewpoint.  Construction means & methods might dictate some furring - to level the interior wall, ease electrical installation, etc.

AD- sounds like something bigger got screwed up than the windows being 'slightly parallelograms'.  Even Dade-county impact windows allow a 3/8" shim space to level those imperfections.  Probably a site super who didn't use a plumbline.

KC- do you expect a cost savings using the AAC over a standard alternative?


Per your question about cost?  I have heard generally that compared to regular concrete block it is more expensive (materials and labor).., so on the one hand I would expect it to be more expensive than using block construction.

This is true. I’ve heard figures of 10% - 15% higher costs than regular CMUs.

However.., because the AAC blocks take care of insulation.., you don’t have to furr out with 2x wood framing and add insulation on the inside, so you save space (maximize interior usable space/square footage), and save materials and labor on the interior additional assemblies.

True on all counts. And it doesn’t just act as insulation, but rather as insulation that is also thermal mass. CMUs have great mass, but very poor insulation. Stud walls can have good insulation if they’re thicker than 2x4s, but very poor mass. AAC does both, which is unusual in materials commonly used today.

I understand there are some additional labor/cost tricky considerations such as having to carve/route out electrical and plumbing channels in the AAC blocks, which I imagine could increase costs for those trades.

The biggest cost with electrical & plumbing trades is simply getting them to stop and think since it’s something different. In the house I’m working on, we’re using a 2-1/4” thick baseboard so the electrical is run in the base. I’m keeping the rest of the services in interior walls.

Hard to say if the overall results would be a cost savings?  I’m very curious to hear from perhaps experienced contractors if the system can actually be less expensive when looked at as a whole system?

The overall house cost won’t be cheaper, but its performance will be substantially better, as noted above.

Some other benefits that occur to me are the ability to “carve” and “sculp” shapes in the material to potentially allow for exterior stucco design details, etc…  Even a shaped parapet would seem more reasonable to construct if you could “saw” it out of a block wall instead of building formwork for special poured in place shapes, etc…

Exactly. And the ability to have a wall that is the same thing from inside to outside and yet meet thermal requirements is unique in our time.


Per your question about cost?  I have heard generally that compared to regular concrete block it is more expensive (materials and labor).., so on the one hand I would expect it to be more expensive than using block construction.  However.., because the AAC blocks take care of insulation.., you don’t have to furr out with 2x wood framing and add insulation on the inside, so you save space (maximize interior usable space/square footage), and save materials and labor on the interior additional assemblies.

I understand there are some additional labor/cost tricky considerations such as having to carve/route out electrical and plumbing channels in the AAC blocks, which I imagine could increase costs for those trades.

Hard to say if the overall results would be a cost savings?  I’m very curious to hear from perhaps experienced contractors if the system can actually be less expensive when looked at as a whole system?

Some other benefits that occur to me are the ability to “carve” and “sculp” shapes in the material to potentially allow for exterior stucco design details, etc…  Even a shaped parapet would seem more reasonable to construct if you could “saw” it out of a block wall instead of building formwork for special poured in place shapes, etc…

It does seem like an incredible system if you can navigate and bypass the potential downsides…

MR: This article claims that the 8 inch block having an R value of 30.  I’m not sure how they arrived at that, but it is an interesting article about how the AAC construction saved on insurance costs.


This is from Aercon, a smaller competitor of Hebel located in Florida. Behavior
BD: I remember a lot of surface mounted plug moldings in Germany. Lots of dead-end and over-the-door tracks for visual consistency too.

RL: I saw an AAC house under construction that had a narrower first course creating a recess in which conduit was run, and then covered with a marble base. Vertical runs were inside closets or buried in wall junctures. Block was only channeled for switches.
MR: Here’s a company in Baton Rouge that specializes in AAC construction.  Perhaps you can call and talk to someone there.

RL: Could you use a thicker mortar bed to create the necessary fudge zone? What dictates the thin unforgiving joints?

AD:That might work well!

SM: It’s not actually mortar in the normal sense… it’s more similar to a tile adhesive.

BD: Thermal bridging?

PW: Precisely.
Regarding the earlier concern about dew points occurring within the wall, there is no opportunity for condensation due to the high capillarity of the material. In EU it is common to use hydraulic line coatings so vapour migrate to the exterior.

There are readily available published studies on AAC and similar performing materials such as hempcrete.

Compiled by Patrick Webb

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Stuc Brique

This dialogue took place between August 10th - August 19th 2017 and has been redacted for brevity and to provide a measure of anonymity to the participants.

PW: A good video on traditional French methods for emulating brick (and stone) in plaster. The same materials and methods used at the Place des  Vosges and the renovated former horse stables below:

RS: Jersey state brickface

GB: I watched all of this video and loved it especially the historic precedent of faking a material with other lower cost materials.  Ironically after PW's’s video is a Sto (EIFS) video showing their version of imitating brick!

PW: There are always those looking for a value engineering moment on our side of the pond. GB, you may want to stick with STO.

The tradition in France is quite different. The plaster guilds grew up in negotiation and cooperation with the mason guilds. Stuc pierre, brique, scagliola etc. are most often used in ways that would be impossible for stone, brick or marble. Also, they are not over-finished. That is to say they are traditionally applied in a method that reveals they are plaster and quite deliberately so. Occasionally this means what GB would call the "fake" finish costs more than the "real" thing. They are appreciated for their own hand-crafted merit. I find these nuances are often lost on the US market.

An exception might be where they are used in a renovation context where an original material has failed structurally and additional effort is made to conserve aesthetic integrity:


You live in a rarefied world where everything is of the highest quality and cost although I do appreciate learning from your posts. I hope to use the materials you recommend when the right client and budget come along but realize it is the top 1% of projects.

Sadly, many of us architects have to address budgets that we wish were higher that often requires material downgrades but we still strive to do the best new traditional buildings given the circumstances.

I try to appreciate the work our traditional design community does at all price points and never hold anyone in disdain because the givens of their projects require material compromises.

RL: When GB says someone is operating in a rarefied world, and traditional craft techniques are affordable on only the top 1% of projects, THAT’s saying something. We’re talking the top 1% of the top 1%!

I love both your work. Please keep posting.

GB: Only a third of our work is high-end single family houses with large budgets. The rest of our non-residential building types often have tight budgets including our project under construction in Charleston. To complain that an architect won't use the best materials is to show a naive and inexperienced attitude about project budgets and demands placed on an architect to reign project cost in.

RL: I was really thinking of your single family residential work. I truly appreciate both the level of detail and finesse  you bring to that market as well as the extent to which you’re able to leverage real-world budgets.

PW: We live in the wealthiest nation of the wealthiest period of human history. A century from now most unmaintainable contemporary architecture will have rotted. Two centuries from now nothing will remain architecturally to show for it.

I passed by the Courier Square project this morning. One can assume an 8 figure budget easily. The exterior system is veneer brick tied off over National Gypsum drywall. Drywall. Good luck with that in 30 years, 10 if someone screws up on a flashing detail somewhere.

I don't consider it elitist to invest in enduring architecture. I don't consider elitist to maintain and incrementally build upon millennia of pragmatic solutions. The modern, industrial, anti-traditional way we design today is straightforwardly pissing wealth away.

SM: PW, I agree with you on this, but what do we do in the interim? I’m said in countless lectures “I look forward to the day when we will value our buildings highly enough that we build them to endure again someday.” But what do we do in the interim? GB, IMO, is making many right choices for where we are today. We don’t know for a fact whether the ideal world we all hope to inhabit someday will arrive in our lifetimes. I hope it does, but I have choices to make today that I hope will help humans living today.


You asked a very good question twice, "but what do we do in the interim?"

My answer is: speak the truth
This is more difficult than it first sounds because it implies: act the truth

JF: Re: Speak the truth

I hear "accept no new projects until a client finally agrees to build with enduring materials". The starving artist.


I’m all for that! But then how do you buy groceries? What I’ve found over the years is that almost everything I know to be the truth produces no income, because nobody wants to hear it. You have no idea how counter to accepted conventions my convictions lie. So I’ve learned to separate my core beliefs from my public life because there’s no benefit in advocating the big steps when nobody will follow them. So I advocate good little steps, knowing that there are good big steps underlying them. If a person… or two, or three, will follow the little steps to the big steps, then that is a life well-lived, IMO. That’s my hope.

PW: A man once uttered this bit of wisdom, "For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself?"

And yes, corruption is not irrational.

DM: So you would judge the work that RAMSA has done in Charleston as 'corrupt'?  Another bit of wisdom involves knowing of what you speak.

Of course the question to PW becomes how does one define the "Truth"?  This rendering shows a close I designed 15 years ago.  A clutch of several houses in a close.  The materials and methods where nothing compared to the work GB shows, or that I've done in high end offices, but regardless, the composition is still something we all can do, for the enjoyment of those not encumbered with the compromises we all must make as professionals.  Every chance at bat is a chance to practice your swing, whether you're playing stick ball or an 'honest' game.

JF: "For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself?"

Depends on where he stands on the issues, in my opinion.
My estimation of your position is that any degree of compromise is akin to corruption and completely intolerable.

PW: It is not the judgement of others that condemns.

SM: Agreed. But what he was speaking of was matters of the soul, not matters of construction.


It's simple really. Every rich man, on his death bed faces the aforementioned question. And trust me, the answer is not "time is money".

However, this is a good point to bring up.
Are matters of the soul and matters of the flesh distinct and unrelated?

I think Western civilisation has largely concluded they are. We've decided that we can compartmentalise the moral/spiritual as a subpersonality, usually best kept private. Same for the political man. Same for the business or working man. Same for the family man. The dissolution of the individual into a socially encouraged schizophrenia. This bifurcation of the mind creates irresolvable paradoxes between conscious thought and embodied action. A pathology in fact presaged by one of the wise master's more confused disciples in one of his most befuddled moments:

"in my flesh dwelleth no good thing, for to will is present with me; but to do what is good I find not. For the good that I would do, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do."

SM: OK, but this gets back to my core protest against the new TradArch: conflating issues of eternity with issues of architecture (which most certainly does not last forever). It’s tempting, but wrong, to wrap our work in more enduring terms than what it deserves. Until I leave or get kicked off, I will always protest this.


We differ on this point but I can understand your perspective; I don't think it unreasonable or wrongheaded as such. It's how you see it, I believe you're genuine about that and I can certainly respect that.

JP: SM, do you believe that there is any "moral", "ethical", or even "spiritual" component to architecture?

Secondly, is the experience of "beauty" only a biological and/or pyschological reaction to stimuli? I.e. a purely physicalist/materialist position?

JFdo you believe that there is any "moral", "ethical", or even "spiritual" component to architecture?

If we didn't believe in those components of architecture (mind you, in our own various ways), we wouldn't be posting on Tradarch.

JP: I agree. I'm just trying to understand what SM means when he says there's a conflation of architecture with the eternal that he takes issue with.  All of these components speak to the "eternal", unless we're all atheists/agnostics.  In most spiritual traditions, what one does impacts one's eternal destination.  Further, in most spiritual traditions, beauty speaks of the eternal, and offers us a glimpse or moment of contact with it.


Do the materials we build with have a spiritual component?  does lime-stucco faux brick speak more to the eternal than STO brick?

Further, should a private building serving commerce be built to the same high standard as our most important civic and religious institutions?

Frequently on this listserve, there is a tendency to hold lower-status buildings to the same high standard of high-status buildings, irrespective of decorum or even the pragmatic realities of construction.  I don't recall Vitruvius or Alberti calling for, what are essentially domestic buildings, to be built like temples.  

JP: I think building for permanence and durability, while being ecologically sensitive, speaks the spiritual languages of hope and stewardship.

I think that buildings should be made as beautiful as possible within one's means and within civic decorum, and that ugliness should be avoided as detrimental to the human psyche.

I agree with Aristotle that (who Alberti draws on) that there is a range of possible realizations within private buildings, form the humble to the extravagant, while abiding by rules of decorum.

But most of this is tangential to my line of questioning.

I believe that architecture re-presents spiritual longings within man as much or more than simply meeting needs of shelter, which speaks to the eternal.

I think that building community and making that community at home in this world is as much a spiritual effort as a material one, in which architecture plays an essential role.
TK: "I think building for permanence and durability, while being ecologically sensitive, speaks the spiritual languages of hope and stewardship."

-Yes, that's a great aspiration few would disagree with.  how do you calibrate this to pragmatics?  what resources were squandered elsewhere on Courier Square that should have been repurposed toward permanence?  I've asked what should have been substituted for a more permanent, traditional solution, while still meeting the client's budget and program goals.  SM has been asking something similar.  Nothing has been proposed.  Do we discard Courier Square because it didn't meet some standard that it couldn't achieve in the first place?

"I believe that architecture re-presents spiritual longings within man as much or more than simply meeting needs of shelter, which speaks to the eternal."

-Yes, but is permanent durable construction the only way of achieving this?  How much permanence is required?  Do wood buildings fail this test?  Also, is a hotel bar the appropriate place to fulfill my spiritual longings that it should be built on the same calibre of a church?

JP, I don't necessarily disagree with what you wrote, they are standards architecture should strive for.  But, I think our judgement of a building's success or failure at meeting the ideal is often miscalibrated, ignoring what the building actually is, and the pragmatics of the moment.

JP: My responses aren't to the Courier square project (which I visited in person last week) but in asking what SM means when he says there is a conflation between the eternal and architecture.

I honestly don't know what he means by it.

for instance, are sacred buildings capable of speaking of the eternal?  If so, then q.e.d, architecture is capable of doing so.

does it mean that, hey, nothing lasts forever, so we shouldn't care too much about whether this stuff is beautiful or ugly, that's a problem.  if people's souls are effected by architecture, for better or worse, than it obviously has some importance to that part of us that is spiritual and everlasting, unless we are committed materialists/physicalists for whom the experience of beauty is merely a biological or psychological reaction to some stimuli (but what then of the experience of intellectual beauty in mathematics, or beautiful ideas, etc).

But to answer some of the tangential points, how much permanence is required?  Enough for the given situation of the community.  Proportionate to their means and needs and exigencies.  What if it turns out that the bottom line of a developer's profit margin meant producing something which did not meet the needs and aspirations of a community. including that for permanence and durability?  Sure we can appreciate that it's better than what could otherwise have happened, but that doesn't mean it is beyond the realm of criticism.  Or that one can't look at the whole industry and say there's something rotten in denmark that needs a remedy if we're going to build the buildings and communities we need and want, and that we won't be replacing every few decades at great expense, financially and ecologically (after all, isn't that part of our complaint against the modernist buildings of the 60s and 70s?).

I'm not making this a question of discarding.  But these things can certainly be components in critiquing projects.


Since you're somewhat familiar with the project since it's in Charleston, and also somewhat familiar with local construction costs; what substitutions or changes should have been made to make the building more truthful while still meeting the owner's parameters for cost, time, and scope?

PW: How about not this:

What precisely protects this building from water infiltration over the course of decades?

What are the life expectancies and warranties on those 7-45 mil proprietary fluid applied coatings?

SM: Not this. This is the modern construction method I hope we move beyond someday, because we value our buildings more than this.

TK: "Not this" isn't an answer to the question I asked.

Can 3-wythe load bearing brick be built at the same cost/sf that building is?

If not, what 'honest' solution would you propose in lieu of how this building is being built?

What actions are you asking the architects here to do differently that are realistic and achievable?

PW: Not the answer you liked.
That way of building is neither traditional, enduring or predetermined even if passed off as such for those already too willing to convince themselves that is the case.

TK: But I already know that answer, there is no disagreement here.  My question is where to go next having settled that first question.  What do you propose that is achievable?


I walked the site again this morning. It's massive. So let me approach this from a slightly different angle. It must have a budget of tens of millions of dollars. That is a lot of investment in architecture, one that I would think you would want to physically protect so as to ammortise over decades. Perhaps even consider the structure as housing a civic institution that might last centuries. The French traditionally had a saying: If you're going out in the rainstorm make sure to have a good hat, raincoat and pair of wellies; that is to say roof, walls and water table.

Drywall exteriors smeared with goo in addition to being anti-traditional are unmaintainable. Penny wise, pound foolish.
Passing it off as traditional is just rich.

Remind me, how did we get here from my posting a video on French plaster traditions exactly?

DM: The historian Carroll Meeks puts it this way:
"Unlike Nordic peoples with a puritanical adoration of the truth, however disagreeable, the Romans have never felt that the form must be determined by concrete, brick, or wood.  The form-idea (composition) is predominant; the materials are there to serve the idea".

In other words, some of us are more Roman.

PW: Really nice pejorative, stereotypical group classification of an entire culture.
Perhaps he suffers from his own idealist bias. Regarding the Romans, some may have maintained a more balanced view than he asserts:

Father, mother...children. Interestingly, our English words for father and mother come directly from the Latin words pater and mater respectively. We likewise have inherited the words pattern and matter from the same roots and nature from natura, something born. Just as father and mother beget children so too pattern imposed upon matter gives birth to all of nature.

CL: And even if one found a client who wanted to spend money on enduring architecture (a unicorn), the law now prohibits load bearing masonry as well as beautiful enduring windows and doors. The best an architect can do is to reduce the ugliness by specifying that the pre-manufactured components are assembled in an ordered way.

I hear it's all going to be under water soon anyway, and that only ignorant people believe that's not true. Except to allow craftsmen to practice their skills, what's the point of building anything beyond temporary?

RH: Hi CL,

Which laws in what state "prohibit" load bearing masonry? Can you be more specific?

Clay Chapman has completed several load bearing brick homes and some commercial projects in Georgia and Oklahoma. His construction cost isn't cheap but it's not outrageous. You can e-mail him for the latest construction cost average. Clay is a great guy and very friendly.

There's also several BAPS Hindu mandirs in the US (including California). I've visited the mandir in Lilburn, Georgia several times. The entire building is hand carved and load bearing stone. Yes it was expensive but it can be done.

If your design can comply with required energy codes and have an engineer sign off I bet you can build with almost anything in any state. Another possibility is pursuing projects in Latin-America you can build almost anything there (especially if you know the right people).

JD: In France we do loadbearing brick in seismic areas but with concrete steel reinforcement columns and floor slab/beam embedded in the hollow bricks.

It could use non ferrous rebar post tensioned  embedded in "insulating concrete" instead of reinforced concrete eg hempcrete - canabis fibre, sand and natural lime or another natural fiber.

Render/plaster over loadbearing brick can embed a tension fabric to produced a tensioned skin brick structure ok for seismics loads eg see the strawbale designs for California.

Lots of solutions possible.


Talk to Clay Chapman. He’s building the unthinkable right now in Carlton Landing. Everyone on TradArch should go there and see what he’s doing. It’s supposed to be impossible, but he’s doing it.

CL: Im a big fan of Clay Chapman's work. He would be prohibited from building in Charleston, which had an earthquake in 1886.

GB: Brush up on your architectural history. Brick veneer construction on traditional buildings has been around since the 1920's. McKim Mead and White's Harvard School buildings are all brick veneer with a steel frame-one of many, many examples.

RH: Actually I believe brick veneer goes back to the 19th century, that shows people had a champagne taste with a beer budget. Even the Romans slapped stone onto brick buildings, but at least it was masonry on masonry.

Precedent is not always permission but I understand there were budget constraints back in the day. Most architects have mortgages to pay and mouths to feed so you gotta get work where you can.

Many architects and designers just seem to give up before they seriously pursue load bearing masonry construction. "It's too expensive" or "we just don't build that way anymore".

I just hate to hear intelligent and passionate people surrender to the status quo! With the opportunity we have in this country it's a slap in the face to every ancestor (or parent) that sought freedom and the chance for a better life in this country for their family.

It's just stacking a lot of bricks. We're not building the Saturn V rocket and trying to land a couple of guys on the moon using slide rules while the whole planet watches.

Relax gents, it's all good. Enjoy your weekend and good luck with your endeavors.

PW: I know that brick veneer was used in the US for high end traditional residences since the late 19th century at least.

The 2nd Empire style Wentworth mansion in Charleston is arguably the most prestigious private residence in Charleston surviving the earthquake of 1886 unscathed.

It is a common masonry building with an additional layer of 'facing' brick. This came into vogue as brick making processes became mechanised (initially in Philadelphia for the US) and smoother and consistently sized bricks became available. There was a fashion for all running bond with butter (3/16") joints. There were two methods in use: the facing bricks cut and laid into the interior bricks with a diagonal bonding pattern or the tied off method we're more familiar with in contemporary brick veneer. I've been told the Wentworth mansion utilises the latter. The thin butter joints are possible because the veneer assumes no support of the structure, only its own load.

By the way, traditional veneer running bond was more costly than the typical common or Flemish bonds. You were essentially building an extra, decorative wall. Tying off veneer brick to frames came later. So that is at least part of the history in the US.

More info can be found in Introduction to Early American Masonry, Stone, Brick, Mortar and Plaster as well as NPS Preservation Brief #2.

MR: Brick veneer over frame construction has been around for a century.  What has changed are the components.  Back then diagonal boards were applied over stud framing and felt paper was applied over that.  Today plywood and gypsum sheathing is used instead of diagonal boards, and there are a variety of products that are used instead of felt paper including Tyvek, peel and stick membranes and fluid applied membranes.  Also the anchors are galvanized or available in stainless steel.  New to the system are improved weep and drainage products and mortar nets.  Additionally, there is cold rolled steel framing that can be used instead of wood framing.  I don't see us moving away from brick veneer over frame construction anytime soon, rather I think we will continue to improve the system.  Or, a question is, are we improving the system, or would it be better to use old fashioned felt instead of these other products?  What is the best system/products to use when the construction budget doesn't allow for solid masonry?

A comment about Clay Chapman's work:  Keeping his costs down requires that the brick be exposed on the exterior and interior.  Historically, particularly in the south, brick was covered over with plaster on the exterior and interior.  What is sacrificed for solid masonry is all the plaster detailing, moldings, ornament, etc.  Also, I think load bearing masonry can be more economical and code compliant by eliminating the middle wythe and creating internally reinforced concrete columns and bond beams where the middle wythe is located.


Veneer systems are inferior in most respects to traditional monolithic assemblies, particularly in regard to longevity and water infiltration. They would not have understood that a century ago but the fact that we have not been able to substantially address those issues after a century of technological progress and experience speaks to the fundamental inapplicability of the method. I see drywall sheathing as a step down for sure. There is significantly reduced stiffness overall and considerable weakness around the fasteners. It's cheap though, mountains of synthetic gypsum generated from clean coal factories desperate for a market.

MR: They did know back then that moisture would penetrate the brick, that's why the wood sheathing is protected by felt and that is why there is a space between the brick and the wall structure.  How would you improve the veneer system?  What do you think will fail first?  Should we use a cement board instead of gypsum sheathing?  Stainless steel masonry anchors instead of galvanized iron?

I agree with you about the durability of monolithic masonry but when you're trying to always justify the cost of all the things that are visible, like moldings, ornament, real finishes that you can touch, etc. it's hard to argue for monolithic masonry when there are other more economical systems have proven that they can last at least a century or more.


I think I made my opinion clear that they are not improvable, the veneer systems we have now are about as good as you can get them, which is not very. A century is not impressive and they tend to be unhealthy places long before their structural expiration date. Not to say they have no application but I do see the utility of such temporary architecture as drastically limited in comparison to the standard specification it has become. For Christ's sake, we're supposed to be a great civilisation and we're making these decisions as if we were nomads following the herd!

MR: I don't disagree with you, it's just that the trend has been to improve that system, not abandon it.  What are your thoughts about brick veneer over concrete block or precast concrete panels?  At least with concrete block, it is faster to lay than the 2 wythes of brick it replaces making it more economical.  I'm also a fan of AAC block, with either a stucco finish such as Thermocromex, or a brick finish, but that hasn't gained as much acceptance as one would expect given all the benefits of the product.

We have some of that masonry construction with stucco or veneer happening on the peninsula as well. Of course, I would make a separate argument that it would be optimal if the materials were local, and methods were more crafted and less industrial. However, I can't deny that this was designed as a real building, durable and maintainable for several generations. A few local architects and builders are also beginning to achieve this at the residential scale with more local craft integrated.

GW: I don't think there is any reason why you can't plaster the interior of any of Chapman's buildings like any other traditional masonry structure.

MR: You can, I just don't think his budget includes interior plaster.

PW: From what I gather Clay is really making an effort to make his work very precise, reflecting a high degree of craftsmanship. This is quite natural as he is trying to build appreciation and excitement around self supporting brick masonry again. I'm guessing Clay doesn't want his buildings plastered, understandably.

That being said if a masonry structure is built with the intention of receiving plaster the level of refinement of the joints, aesthetic properties and uniformity of the materials and absolute precision does not have to be as high since it all gets covered. The increased efficiency in masonry work and potential material savings without any loss in structural integrity can mitigate much if not all of the cost of plastering.

DM: That's why I hold out hope for a roman concrete revival of sorts.  Pushing the concrete column out, rotating it 90 degrees and tapering it with shelves to dress in brick or stone.  You could have humane architecture at a sustainable height, assuming you are allowed to embellish it.  Decorum will have to follow.

AS: I sometimes wonder what would happen if we (the community of traditional architects and craftsmen) tried shock therapy on the construction industry by one day deciding unanimously not to accept projects of inferior construction quality. If it was a publicized ordeal, I think it could bring to popular attention the deplorable state of the industry and just might spur some rusty economic systems back to life... i.e. more young people going to apprentice in the trades and skipping the joke degree at a state university. The price of labor goes down and the economy adjusts, with more masons there are more quarries and brick makers, and ten years later load bearing is the norm again, and trad architects are back to work.

Of course, maintaining a cartel of good design would be next to impossible, even among our small community. You gotta eat somehow. Perhaps it's fantasy.

TK: I've done 3-wythe load bearing brick in NYC.  I've also done it substituting 8" CMU for 2 wythes, and just having the facebrick.  the CMU was reinforced and fully grouted solid.  i've also done cavity wall systems.

One issue is the added labor costs of building in solid brick.  it simply takes more man-hours to assemble than with CMU or concrete backup.  CMU also costs less in materials, even if fully-grouted and reinforced.  This type of system still acts monolithic with the brick.

Another issue is with vapor control.  100 years ago we didn't condition our interiors, and there really wasn't much vapor drive to consider.  Now that has changed, and the wall systems used are largely driven by the most extreme expected seasonal condition - hottest, most humid day of summer, or coldest/driest day of winter.  In both cases, HVAC systems are working to add or remove humidity that is considerably different than the outside conditions, which induces vapor drive and problematically introduces water into your wall system.  the cavity-wall system allows for control of the dewpoint and placement of a vapor barrier to mitigate this.

How do others here handle vapor control in their masonry wall systems if not using a cavity wall?

JF: Correct me if i'm wrong, but per my understanding, wall cavities and vapor barriers are separate systems for managing separate issues (liquid water and vapor migration respectively).

TK: The cavity allows you to get insulation toward the exterior side of your wall so the dewpoint occurs, and water has a place to go rather than building up within the structural components or migrating to the interior.  Where you locate the vapor barrier will depend a lot on where that dewpoint falls, which is affected by the design of the cavity system.

JK: Vapor control and how it relates to the way we condition buildings is an issue. Depending on where you are building, insulation and minimum R-values are also problematic with mass masonry.

I am a huge fan of Clay's work. I would love to see it gain traction - but I could not permit it as he is building it in Pennsylvania (and presumably other northern climate zones). And PA is still under IECC 2009. Newer versions of IECC and ASHRAE are even more restrictive. Aren't vapor barriers now becoming a prescriptive requirement of codes?

I've had a code official withhold permits on a project in part because I detail returning the masonry veneer of a 16" cavity wall back to the structural CMU at door and window jambs as a means of closing the cavity and providing a mounting substrate for the frames. It didn't matter to the official that installing the windows and doors in an opening without a structural jamb is not practical. The reason given was that the detailing did not meet code for "continuous" insulation insulation had to be run to the window and door frames....

Is anyone aware of or tried to navigate alternative means of compliance to energy codes or made a case for mass masonry in the form that HFA is promoting and been successful at it in the northeast? I'd be curious to know.


There should be ways to detail deep masonry returns at openings that allow for continuous insulation.  They would cost more.  We've done it with large wood double hung windows operated by weight and pulley.

My impression from the emails I get from code authorities is that their single focus is on meeting ever more stringent goals for net energy conservation in building design.  In achieving this end they do not necessarity analyze either the dollar cost effectiveness or the net environmental costs of these code changes.  I doubt they have the expertise to do so, or that they understand the law of diminishing returns or the law of unintended consequences.  It is classic bureaucratic tunnel vision.

DM: Thanks, I agree about the vapor barrier.  I found this in an old builder magazine, trying to find an economical and load bearing solution as the labor prices shot up.

RH: It's my understanding that building departments enforce energy codes because they reasonably assume a project will be on the power grid. What if you have a client that owns the land and wants a large chapel, an accessory structure or garden folly that's off the grid or makes its power on-site, do you still need to comply with the energy code requirements?

I wonder how the Amish permit their houses? If they don't need permits, why not?

There's a huge Hindu Mandir in Lilburn, GA (with electricity) that's totally load bearing stone and it got a permit somehow. 

JK: IECC specifically states its jurisdiction applies to projects that consume fossil fuels - so in theory there would be projects that could be exempt....but that exemption probably has limited use. I think there are exceptions for certain "low energy" buildings and U - Occupancy buildings as well.

Interesting question about the Amish. I am in Lancaster PA so I'll have to see if I can find out anything. Most of the Amish here still use natural gas or propane....

Also interesting question re: the Georgia project. I think the R-value requirements for some of the southern climate zones in the US are pretty low so it might be possible that the calculated total R-value of the mass wall met the requirements. It would be interesting to know for sure.

Just to clarify I don't think bearing masonry is a problem (assuming seismic compliance) as much as uninsulated mass masonry would be. Presumably you could insulate one of Clay's buildings and get a permit for it in the northeast but then you are introducing a secondary wall system and finish on at least one side of the mass wall. 

Also to be clear I am a fan of Clay's work and my questions are not to dismiss his efforts but to look for ways to broaden the application of what he is promoting. Always a challenge in a society that feels the need to legislate every little part of life....

TK: Non-conditioned buildings don't need to comply with IECC, low energy use buildings are exempt under Section 101.5.2.  There is deference to the building inspector to waive the requirement of construction documents and data (Section 103.1) if it is determined those are not necessary to confirm compliance.  Local municipalities may also have their own ordinances that modify the code and possibly provide other exemptions.

For the Amish, their buildings may be considered low-energy since their only energy use is to provide heat for part of the year.  Otherwise, there may be local or state exemptions for those groups.

For the Georgia project, i'd be interested to know more of how it was built.  Mass-wall construction is accounted for in the IECC, and has a smaller R-Value requirement than frame walls, so it may simply be in compliance.

For residential buildings required to meet the IECC 2009, there are two ways to comply:

1.  Comply with the prescriptive requirements of Section 402 - this is the simplest, and likely what most builders use.
2.  Comply with the performance requirements of Section 405 - this takes into consideration the HVAC system performance.  This allows for some wiggle room as a more energy efficient HVAC system can offset less energy efficient wall systems.  This by the way is how glass towers get approval - that amount of glazing is not permitted in the prescriptive requirements of Section 402.

A link to the code is here for the curious technical types:

As for the vapor barrier (vapor retarder in code-speak). It isn't required under 2009 IECC.  Air barriers are, but air barriers can be vapor-permeable.  

Vapor retarders are required  on residential buildings for some climate zones per Chapter 6.  Notably, an exception is given when "Moisture or its freezing will not damage the materials".  I assume that exception would apply to 3-wythe brick masonry.  Even so, codes are minimum requirements, and a vapor retardar is good practice to protect a building.

Clay does beautiful work, I'm definitely a fan.  I suspect it simply complies with the building codes, but am very curious to know how, or if there is some local exception.

JK: Thanks TK.

Out of curiosity I looked up IECC adoption for Georgia and Oklahoma were Clay has been working.

Georgia has adopted IECC 2009 (prescriptive requirement of R 9.5 for mass walls in Climate Zone 3). Oklahoma does not appear to have adopted any version of IECC.

12” common brick gets you about R 2.5 I think. I would guess the mass masonry is not an energy code issue in Oklahoma but maybe was a challenge in Georgia? Makes me curious if that came in to play with his decision to focus on work in Carlton’s Landing.
DM: I wonder if an old load bearing building of 3 wythes needs to be given a vapor barrier once they install a modern HVAC system?  I always assumed it was the wall's composite mass that kept everything out, the more the better.  Doesn't solve the labor issue, but that's where technology could help.

TK: the building code wouldn't require adding a vapor barrier, but introducing HVAC would induce vapor drive.  3 wythes will keep out water, but is permeable to vapor transmission.  Good practice is to include a vapor barrier.

JF: Are there any construction cost estimators on the list who are willing to generate some initial cost figures for various "enduring" assemblies? Would it be worth pursuing such an exercise with the support of the ICAA or INTBAU?

TK: That would certainly be useful.  I recall in undergrad learning about New Urbanism and the myriad tools at the service of analyzing, discussing, and arguing in support of those patterns:  Lexicon, Transect, walk-time as a measure for distance, as well as case studies and typological studies. 

I don't see similar tools in the traditional architecture circles.  "Speak the truth" is not a viable response.  It does not inform my spec book, nor explain to my client whether that alternative solution is 10% or 20% more, and how and when that expense will be recouped.

BD: The difference is that the New Urbanism is "neotraditional" rather than traditional. The former implies a pick-and choose attitude that is anathema among most here.

I certainly don't assert that RAMSA's approach at Courier Square is optimal, but I do hear arguments veering into purism that is incompatible with the neotraditional approach.

The biggest difference is that neotraditionalism has different reasons for doing things. For example, traditional city planners, as they were then known, used to consider retail to be mostly a necessary evil, and they usually considered mixed income to be a defect -- well, mixes of most kinds, really. The New Urbanism, on the other hand, developed around using traditional urban patterns to do exactly those things.

GB: If you're implying that the architect has a major say in how the wall system and building materials are specified you don't understand how larger scale developer driven projects are built.

Compiled by Patrick Webb