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Between Rocks & Hard $$$

December 4, 2016

9There are many reasons to use masonry in building. The single most commonly used reason not to use masonry is cost. Wood, steel, plastic, glass are all cheaper cladding. Even CMU’s and brick are pricier than most other options.

But cost is always relative in construction. What seemed cheap when installed can be pretty expensive if it needs replacement in the short term – and chronic maintenance of any building component is painful beyond the dollars and cents cost.

If installed well, masonry lasts far longer with less maintenance than almost any other exterior building product. Beyond durability, using stone to create surfaces and shapes has unique properties almost no other option can offer

1) Masonry forms curves with ease and efficiency, versus wood or steel – fieldstone masonry forms its own armature for support: its surface is its substraight: being built of independent pieces, stone can easily transition into curves. This applies to openings as well as surfaces.

2) Masonry has zero solar degradation. Wood gets brittle and erodes with sun. All paint fades over time.

3) If kept pointed masonry resists water intrusion better than any other surface, simply because its surface is its core.

4) Masonry’s appearance is either inert or enhanced over time – even dirt, moss and lichens can enhance a fieldstone surface.

5) But if you disdain weathered aesthetics, you can scrub masonry to a completely pristine state because of its tough hard, dense, integral composition.

Beyond the tangibles of money spent initially and over time, almost no other building material evidences the humanity embodied in craft like stone. Wood can be magic in its intricate weaving realities, steel dynamic and precise, but fieldstone can mesh the essence of natural expression and the human hand better than any other building technology.

While cut stone eschews the organic aesthetics of fieldstone, the subtle grain of even the blankest of granite has an irredescence no synthetic material can duplicate at any price – and its durability over time is unmatched. Anecdotally when an extensive restoration of Yale’s Beinecke Library designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore Owings and Merrill confronted the 50 year old marble cladding, the fear was there could be real issues, given its completely exposed situation: but the restoration just involved cleaning and coating, with a few cracks filled – there was zero degradation.

Everything in building, and perhaps life can be seen as cost-benefit equation. Masonry has the unique visual characteristics of a natural product, but embodies the extreme durability synthetic materials aspire to. When costs are applied to its undeniable benefits, stone can have a value that actually pays for itself over the long haul.

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