SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 2003

The Importance of Studying Exemplars when Designing Stone Facades


The facades of contemporary buildings clad with dimension stone buildings all too often perform poorly, compared with the walls of much older buildings; despite they're being developed with computers and assembled using space-age parts. At the same time, structures using centuries-old methods often serve their occupants better than buildings many decades younger. Many facades built recently as architects' masterpieces now need major restoration simply to continue service. Their leaks, drafts, and dilapidated states shorten their useful lives.

Problems occur in new facades because their designers rarely understand the complex natural forces acting upon them. Earlier builders observed the performance of successful buildings, exemplars, and borrowed from them to suit their needs. In this way, the solid wall of antiquity evolved into a high architectural and structural art that has endured for centuries. The solid wall changed over the last hundred years to become cladding covering a separate structural skeleton. Although this concept offered aesthetic freedom and factory-expediency, a comparatively small portion of the last century's building inventory remains as healthy exemplars. Few of them have escaped major restoration efforts. And in the past fifty years, new material combinations spawned unprecedented problems. Leaks progressively attacked their concealed supports, inevitably damaging cladding and spiraling damage claims.

Contemporary builders repeat mistakes, partly because structural theory insists this procedure works, even as similarly constructed buildings fail. Poorly-performing exemplars are duplicated because their poor performance is ignored. Meanwhile, many existing older buildings, time-proven examples of sensible construction procedures and systems that perform well, continue to serve. In engineering's evolution from an empirical process to a theoretical one, stone façade construction has changed dramatically. Unfortunately, contemporary builders often ignore exemplars in a continuing but failed effort to fashion new images. To reduce expensive failures, successful builders study past performance. This paper examines the melding of empirical wisdom with new philosophies in producing useful buildings.

Author Information

McDonald, WH
The McDonald Group, Bedford, IN, USA
Lewis, MD
Facade Forensics, Inc., Cincinnati, OH, USA
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Developed by Committee: E06
Pages: 54–66
DOI: 10.1520/STP10927S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-5474-2
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-3457-7