Everything we make is the beneficiary of the accumulated knowledge that has gone before it. How to make things cheap and temporary is at least as important as how to make them sturdy and spacious. Architecture can be trendy and amazing so long as the building melts by the time it is tacky and overdone.
To build for more than the first mortgage really is a waste of money. The builder is selling to the buyer, not the fifth buyer a century later. Why build for the ages? Selling dilapidated buildings in the future is somebody else’s problem.
Of course, the old buildings we see today are the rare survivors of the set pf buildings built long ago. Many of these were also built shoddily to last a decade or two. The cheap building of yesteryear was obviously cheap, and this would be evident in the flimsy walls and simple fixtures. Cheap buildings would be sold cheaply. We don’t see those buildings anymore, because they were not built to last until today. Now we have joints, timbers, and materials that perform well in the first five years, but begin to show wear after ten years, and need replacing by 20 or 30 years. The standard practice has become shoddy construction.
Simple studs and joists have been replaced by engineered plywood and pressed metal studs. These all perform superbly up front, but have many more points of failure than a heavy block of wood.
Consider putting a building together. 300 years ago, few people had nails, but lots of people had saws and rulers. The preferred method of putting a building together was through repeated mortises,tenons, and dovetail joints. The timber was joined to its neighbors, with only a slight reduction in thickness and strength at the joints. Every joint had to be figured, measured and cut with a saw, drill and chisel. Building was really cabinetry. These buildings were time-consuming, expensive, and unaffordable for most.
Next was the nail. With this sharp line of iron or steel, you could fasten one timber of wood together after cutting only for length. This saved all the time that went into carving the ends and joints of timbers. When sawmills started producing standard dimensional lumber, houses could be built with simple stud walls, making carpentry an unskilled trade compared to the joinery it once was. Ballon frame houses could be built and sold for a fraction of the cost of timber houses.
The nail plate of the 1960s onward is used to build assemblies at the factory and conveniently assemble things like decks with even less need for aiming a nail from one piece of wood to another. Dozens of half inch spines punched from the steel plate holds sticks of wood together , just piercing the surface.
Over time, buildings from centuries, decades or years ago shrinks and swells with the humidity and temperature. Building progressed from integrated to attached, and less and less of the timber was involved or needed for the joinery. These small connections will fail sooner and sooner, but all the builder cares about is selling the building for what the market will bear. As technology advances, the market expects cheaper and cheaper buildings, that may not last the mortgage. The builder and the buyer don’t care at the point of sale. Any more is a waste.
I wonder about the durability of place as the buildings involved become more temporary. Maybe this is all fine, as the place holds over the centuries, even as the buildings cycle through leases and demolitions. There is a lot of energy that goes into making a building, and it is a shame to keep investing it in new buildings for the same function. However, energy is cheaper than materials, for now, so we will keep making buildings cheaper, and more cheaply.