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We Don't Build Them Like We Used To

They Built Our Cities: Recognizing Masonry

The history of masonry goes back decades… centuries… millenniums. Masonry is the fabrication of stone, clay, brick, and concrete block, and is worthy of admiration; it is an art that formed cities; it is a skillful craft that left buildings standing tall throughout time; and it will always appeal to prevailing architectural designs.

To think about when this art began is hard to comprehend—evidence has been unearthed that signifies the existence of masonry from prehistoric times. Fast forward through the ages and we can still see some majestic works of art by masons, like the pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum in Rome. Masons have always provided durable, dependable, and long-lasting structures that are overall safer and more cost effective than other building crafts. Here in the 21st century, we, too, should want to leave behind grand structures—make our own historical statements that will carry through time. For this, let’s begin the quest of, “Why Masonry?”

Safety

Modern building includes working with combustible materials, like wood and plastics. When a structure is primarily made from wood and/or plastic, it is more susceptible to extreme fire damage, and even total loss. With wood, other considerations to make are damage from termites, mold, and rot—all that could drastically damage any wooden structure if the proper care is not consistently maintained. Wood is often used for the construction of walls, ceilings, and floors, and, while it can make for beautiful accents, it is naturally combustible; therefore, limiting the amount of wood in the construction of any building can benefit its overall safety and lasting integrity.

Then there are plastics: the vinyl that is wrapped around a building, the plastics around window and door frames, pipes and fittings, roof membranes, and electrical cable insulation—to recognize a few basic uses. When the immediate elements of plastics are considered, there seem to be some benefits, such as being lightweight making them cheaper to transport, easily maneuverable during construction, and more resistant to weather than wood; however, these “common” plastics are not flame-resistant. In fact, all plastics, no matter the type or how they have been treated, will catch fire when exposed to high elements of heat.

With safety concerns in mind, everyone should know that concrete block is non-combustible. Imagine being able to add fire protection to a building simply by choosing certain building materials over another—this benefit could provide a level of comfort and security that does not hold a price tag.

Longevity and Cost

Given materials used within masonry are not combustible and lack deteriorating elements like other products, the probability of lasting longevity is much greater. There is a common misconception that masonry is a more expensive method of building than some other modern methods, but this is a fallacy. CMU, or concrete masonry units, may have a slightly higher upfront cost vs. building with wood, but, as a whole, using concrete block adds so much to a structure that upkeep is less, destruction repair is less, and, therefore, its longevity will surpass other buildings made of less inferior material.

The general upkeep of a building can be a massive feat, but if time and money can be spared due to the natural properties of a material, it’s a win for finances and longevity. Concrete is one of the strongest materials and lacks susceptibility to rot, mold, and pest damage. These issues can silently wreak havoc on any structure and could lead to massive concerns for structural integrity and health. Of course, not all destruction is silent, like fire, for instance. Fortunately, concrete is fireproof and, if used between rooms, would serve as a firewall to limit the spread of smoke and flames. The destructive force of fire can blast through a structure made primarily of wood and plastics in a matter of minutes as flammable materials continue to carry the fire throughout the building. Having adequate firewalls could save lives, save a lot of money, and preserve the integrity of a building.

Then we have the forces of Mother Nature that are an unstoppable element to any facet of infrastructure and concern to humanity. So, while these forces cannot be prevented, keeping people safe and structures sound during weather-related disasters should be of high concern. If building in an area with the potential for high-level storms, concrete block can assure sustainability with winds even over 200 mph. It is incredibly rare for a storm to generate wind speeds greater than what concrete can withstand, unlike wood beam structures, however, that sustain significantly less. Not only does building with concrete block save on repair or rebuilding costs, but it positively affects insurance premiums as carriers consider the variables of risk.  

Things to Consider

Everything has a history, from building structures and styles, to government, to education, to understanding our natural environment, etc., and, as a societal whole, we continue to build on that history. When it comes to building methods, we have watched them evolve over time—think mud huts with straw roofs to sprawling cities made from stone, brick, and marble. What we marvel over is the way these elaborate cities, including some we call “home,” have maintained their integrity over time, have withstood fires and natural disasters, how they were built with natural resources, and how they were built with intense physical labor by talented masons who used superior masonry materials. Without these things, we wouldn’t have the cities, towns, and villages that we love, the downtowns we adore, and the main streets we walk.

Take a peek at the Seven Wonders of the World—these seven marvels, updated in 2007, are not made of wood and plastics; but, in fact, are primarily made from types of stone, marble, and concrete. These magnificent structures are modern marvels, yet, today, the goal is to build quicker and cheaper with materials that cannot withstand the test of time. What kind of beauty will we be building in the 21st century that will still be standing centuries from now? This question is what takes us back to, “Why Masonry?” It is a craft, an art, a trade that gives us beautiful, lasting, safe constructions that will become the next historical structures. 

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