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A Wake Up Call: The Hidden Truth Behind Modern Luxury

Luxury: What it is and how it is Interpreted

Architecture and building materials express a desired style, and their beauty is subjective to the beholder. However, there are elements within building that exude different effects, be it wood, stone, plastic, or brick. Some elements in building concepts and design display a sense of luxury more effectively in traditional structures than others, like using marble versus wood.

While tradition has its staples, there are shifts in design interpretations, like what is viewed as luxury and what is not. This shift occurs with current trends, “it” designs, the introduction of new materials, cost, and building timelines. What seems to be forgotten is the history of the building and the durable materials that have withstood the hands of time, like what has been offered by masons and their craft for centuries.

Sadly, it is necessary to state that the art of masonry has decreased despite its proven ability to withstand time, provide high safety standards, and create admired structures. Somehow, luxury has shifted to simple aesthetics instead of the depth within. With that said, let's look at what luxury “was” and how it is viewed today, whether intentionally or by circumstance.

Luxury at its Root

Looking back through the eras, some of the most admired building structures were built by masons. Clay brick, concrete block, and natural stone have proven to be incredibly durable, thus leaving centuries-old structures to still be enjoyed here in the 21st century. Concrete block gains its strength from a calculated combination of cement, sand, and crushed stone, making it one of the strongest building materials available. Having built with concrete block for a vast amount of history, we have time-tested proof that this is an outstanding material between its longevity, ability to provide more safety features, and its symbolism of luxury.

Natural stone, like marble and granite, exude a level of luxury of their own fruition. Natural stone is formed through natural processes within the earth, then mined, finished, and ready for use in many different applications. Natural stone has been used to build and decorate palaces of distinction throughout the eras. While natural stone was once only used among the wealthy, and was a symbol of societal distinction, it became more accessible as mining advanced, thus making it more widespread, though it remains a symbol of luxury to this day.

An additional element about masonry that isn’t as obvious via a visual perspective, though very much a reason for its longevity, is its greater ability to serve as a fire-proofing agent. Concrete block and natural stone are non-combustible and, therefore, won’t catch fire or spread fire. In fact, concrete block actually works as a firewall in a situation where flammable and/or combustible material is ignited, thus adding an invaluable amount to luxury.

Through so many natural processes, the earth provides us with what we need to achieve luxury and optimize safety within sound structures, so where is masonry going?

The Shift

The Cambridge Dictionary defines luxury as “great comfort, especially as provided by expensive and beautiful things: to live in luxury.” But is this purely superficial?

While safety isn’t something that should be classified as a “luxury,” basic fireproofing materials are being replaced with cheaper materials that may meet code but will not create lasting structures that are tolerant to fire and weather impacts. Therefore, allowing masonry to be overlooked unless it is for a more luxurious structure. Thinking of this definition of “luxury,” wouldn’t it seem as though “comfort” should encapsulate safety just as much as it is about “expensive and beautiful things”?

In society today, time and cost are large components of building. As a whole, “we” want what we can get fastest while spending the least amount of money; however, “we” want things to look nice. While there is much to be said about outward beauty, and the comforts of luxury, the shift steps away from the quality of building that is provided from brick, block, and stone. Building with wood, and wood products like plywood, has grown in popularity, largely because of its cost-effective nature. Not only is the material cheaper—seemingly and only up-front—but labor costs are reduced because the building process for wood-frame construction is quicker than working with other materials, like block. While cheaper and quicker sounds nice, what the consumer is losing by overlooking masonry are lasting benefits: longevity, security, safety, and comfort (soundproofing and thermal regulation). So, over the years, more time and money will be spent to tackle repairs due to various elements, like insects, fire, water, and wind damage; and general wear, warping, rot, and decay. Not to mention the incredible cost to society and the environment for general rebuilds. These wood-frame structures will not last “forever” like what has been “gifted” to us from history.

In our very recent history—April 15, 2019—the world-known Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris suffered great damage from a fire that ignited in a portion of the roof. Built during the 12th and 13th centuries, most of the cathedral was constructed of stone. Over the centuries, necessary repairs were made, and did contain elements of wood. When the fire ripped through this grand structure, wood and metal were the bulk of the destroyed material, while the stone structure stood around the internal damage. In fact, more significant damage was spared because of the cathedral's vaulted stone ceiling. It will take many years to make repairs from this devastating disaster but thank goodness for the exceptional masonry work that was left by our ancestors.

The Change

Luxury is luxury, or so it should be. But not all elements of luxury should be optional. Codes and standards are created for building, but they cover the minimum of what the standards should be. The utmost safety and security should be an element we all benefit from. Through awareness and determination, masonry needs to be reintroduced to designers, architects, and engineers; but, most importantly, the consumer. Does the average person know that the greatest element of their home, place of employment, etc. is hidden behind the sheetrock, and do they know what it is? To their despair, they may learn it is likely a fire conductor or a place for infestations. Cost should never outweigh the benefits of safety. Let’s make everyone aware of the benefits masonry has to offer.


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