|The metaphorical equivalent to how we build buildings,|
One reason construction methods haven’t changed much in a thousand years is plain old fear: Architects and contractors are slow to adopt new ideas because the consequences of failure are expensive. While a flaw in a car or even a computer are easily rectified, a mistake made on the scale of a whole building can be catastrophic. Or, as Frank Lloyd Wright put it, “The sins of the architect are permanent sins.”
|Frank Lloyd Wright's S.C. Johnson Administration Building|
in Racine, Wisconsin (1948): Brilliant, but those spectacular
skylights leaked like a sieve. (Image: S.C. Johnson)
The Catch-22 of this situation is obvious, however: New products can never become proven if people are afraid to use them.
Modernist architects were among the notable few who were truly gung-ho on cutting-edge materials, but unfortunately, their trust in the emerging miracles of modern technology usually wasn’t repaid: their flat roofs and skylights inevitably leaked; their glued-laminated beams rotted; their steel sash rusted.
|Hot and cold water supply system using|
PEX high-density polyethylene tubing.
which features a central manifold for
shutting off plumbing fixtures. A great
idea, but it sure had a rough start.
|It took almost a hundred years—|
and the Second World War—to get
builders to switch from lath and
plaster to gypsum board ("drywall").
|I-Joists are extremely strong and always straight and true,|
but only the skyrocketing price of solid lumber has
convinced builders use them in place of good old sawn joists.
When new products do manage to prevail, it’s usually due to inescapable economic pressures. This is what led to the adoption of drywall in place of plaster after World War II, for example. More recently, skyrocketing lumber prices have finally brought engineered wood products such as I-joists and laminated beams—at the fringes of the market for decades now—into mainstream use for home construction. I’m happy to report that they’re rapidly gaining the trust of architects and builders.
And it only took fifty years.