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Old World and New World Historic Preservation (Part 2)

Redeveloping historic preservation buildings into repurposed, usable spaces requires working with the base construction material and often requires enhancing it with additional structural support.  Sometimes this can be done with newer brick, cement and wood, but it is often accomplished by adding steel or iron beams.  Interestingly, brick masonry combined with wood, when protected from the elements, demonstrates extraordinary longevity and wood beams, which may be used vertically, provide astonishing structural integrity.  But when not fully out of the elements, historic brick and wood is suboptimal.  Untreated wood, even the hardest wood, swells with water and is vulnerable to insects, and historic brick is porous.  The takeaway: internal historic wood and brick is generally simpler to preserve than exterior wood and brick.

Exposed exterior brick masonry, Bologna, Italy
Exposed exterior brick masonry, Bologna, Italy

Historic preservation design principles encourage preserving and utilizing, in place, as much of this external brickwork as possible.  Whereas internal steel beams can provide a buttressing effect, metal braces on the exterior walls help to hold the masonry in place, especially where weight or other stress may lead to bowing or cracking.  Here is an interesting illustration of various types and styles in an English village:

Here are Old World and New World examples of heavy-duty braces supporting historic brickwork:

So the exterior brick & wood combo has some significant drawbacks, but “necessity is the mother of invention” and ancient builders (some believe dating to 6th century Persia) learned to cover their work with a more durable plaster surface, which the Italians named “stucchi,” which roughly translated means: crust.

Stucco served the very practical role of protecting building material from the elements and in combination with this material making structures more durable.  Over time, stucco began to serve a less essential purpose; it became an esthetic design feature.  Stucco could be shaped into intricate designs and painted into various colors.  In Renaissance Italy this was done to extraordinary effect.  In the New World, brick and stone homes with smooth, painted stucco suggested refinement and affluence.  Here’s some interesting reading about the history of stucco from the National Park Service:

And then there was the introduction of color stucco.

Stucco buildings along The Grand Canal, Venice
Stucco buildings along The Grand Canal, Venice

In some cases, this allowed for the extraordinary use of color.  Here are some Old World and New World comparisons:

These structures look great, and the rationale for preserving them has much merit, but there is a downside to historic preservation: maintenance can be difficult and costly.  Extra care is required.  Stucco surfaces, historic brick, and structural fabrication that combine old and new elements often results in uneven flooring, invasive repairs, water management challenges, continued settling, etc. 

Is the cost-benefit favorable?  The answer is in the eye of the beholder.  Fortunately, our residents are beholders casting “yes” votes, and our buildings enable them to have a fun and interesting residential experience

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1 commentaire

Victoria Horrocks
Victoria Horrocks
28 juin

So interesting! Amazing confluences between the old world and today.

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