Duck Duck Book

35 – twentieth-century building materials
07.17.2006, 2:53 pm
Filed under: technology

Twentieth-century building materials : history and conservation / edited by Thomas C. Jester. 
New York : McGraw-Hill, c1995.
[MCL call number: 691 T971 1995; one copy, no holds]
If you have a desire to learn about the history of plywood, architectural glass brick, shotcrete, monel metal, asphalt shingles, or prismatic glass, you need go no further than this charming reference.  Thirty-five different building materials are discussed, in sections devoted to metals, concrete, wood and plastics, masonry, glass, flooring, and roofing, siding, and walls. 

Among the concerns addressed are: how was this material invented or developed, and by whom?  how was it originally used, and how did it evolve or fall out of use over time?  how was it installed?  where will you find it (geographically, and in what sort of use in what sort of building)?  does the material have particular weaknesses that result in a typical kind of damage over time?  what steps should one take to conserve this material?  how would one go about replacing it, if necessary?

I am sure this is a useful work for people who are responsible for the maintenance and renovation of historic buildings, or who study them.  The book’s dual focus on history and conservation is unusual and quite refreshing.  For me, the book has little practical use (though it’s nice to get an authoritative viewpoint on how to tend my 75 year old linoleum floor), but I found it simply fascinating to read.  In some cases, I’d never heard of the material at all (monel metal?  what’s that?), and in others I was surprised at how long something had been in common use (gypsum board is the best example of this — it was first produced in 1894, who knew?).  Every essay is educational, and most are entertaining.

Each entry is illustrated with contemporary advertisements and instructive materials, and modern photographs of buildings displaying the material in question, and the text is followed by a wonderful bibliography of writings on each building material, a resource list of libraries, archives, research institutions, indexes and databases, bibliographies, reference materials, and professional and trade associations.  There is also an index.


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