Building Materials that Mature

Aug 29 '13 21 Last Comment
Aug 29, 13 11:33 am

Hey all. New here!

Have an amateur interest in working up a list of building materials that mature and beautify over time. Not even really sure how much of this kind of stuff is out there ... first got interested in this when I toured the Salk Institute and learned about teak wood, which doesn't need to be maintained like other wood needs. Also, the calcite producing travertine of Sacre Coeur. Thanks for the input!


Miles JaffeMiles Jaffe
Aug 29, 13 12:00 pm

Redwood, cedar and a few others, depending on where you are for availability and climate. I avoid imported woods (like mahogany and teak). Think local, act global.

Copper, not just for turning green (eventually) but for the green stain it leaves on adjacent masonry.

Let's not forget vegetation ...

Donna SinkDonna Sink
Aug 29, 13 12:28 pm

Huh, I never knew that about Sacre Coeur's travertine. Cool.

Bronze ages beautifully, as does leather.  Hardware like drawer pulls made of bronze and leather will only get better over time.  Also leather floor tiles age beautifully.  IMO cork floor ages beautifully, too.

On of my favorite things is stone stair treads with a foot impression worn into them.

Aug 29, 13 12:56 pm

In addition to those already mentioned:


Ipe (Brazilian Walnut)

Aug 29, 13 12:59 pm

Speaking of vegatation, I heard in passing before that the use of vines/etc. on a stone/brick building could add insulation, but on the flip side would tend to wear down the material quicker - can any of the more experienced on the site shed a little light on that? I've always thought it was great aesthetically but have never come across it in practice.

Donna SinkDonna Sink
Aug 29, 13 3:01 pm

I don't know about insulation in cold weather, as most vines are deciduous anyway, right?.  Vines shade a wall in hot weather, but they also hold moisture which can hasten deterioration of the wall, as well as making a nice habitat for insects.  I'm anti-vine, personally, unless it's a super romantic English cottage.

Aug 29, 13 3:19 pm

Plants growing on the side of a building will destroy it pretty quickly unless there is an impermeable root barrier protecting it.

Aug 29, 13 5:13 pm

corten steel

Aug 29, 13 9:13 pm

dirt...rammed the stuff... and love it some more.

Aug 30, 13 9:13 am

Thanks guys! Really soaking this stuff up over here. Miles Jaffe, got any good literature on the wood?

Aug 30, 13 9:14 am

Also, snooker, really liking the rammed earth. thx!

Aug 30, 13 1:17 pm

I like Ipe for massive longevity - life cycle much better than most anything other than masonry - but dislike its rainforest / non local reality

Miles JaffeMiles Jaffe
Aug 30, 13 1:29 pm

No literature, just experience. Wood is highly variable according to species, sub-species, growth location, hybridization, etc. What used to be "red" cedar is now a hybridized material that is yellow in color and has a life about 1/3 that of old growth timber. Shingles that used to last 40-50 years on lath now last 12-15.

For example, Mahogany can be Philippine or Honduran, or may even be various species of Sapele from Africa. All woods have very different properties (aside from the commonalities of imported wood including habitat destruction, global transport, etc.) and even vary considerably from tree to tree.

You can get some general guidelines from any number of published resources on wood properties but the best thing to do is examine existing buildings in your area and see how they have held up.

A large part of good architecture is using materials appropriately. For example, wood shingles are a poor choice for roofs but are adequate for sidewalls assuming some protection from overhangs that reduces exposure to both sun and rain.

The 1980's vintage old growth vertical grain clear red cedar trim on my studio has weathered into a ribbed, corduroy-like texture. There are many buildings in Japan where this is not only apparent but where the structures are many hundreds of years old.

A few years ago I designed and built a one-car garage in red cedar. You can see how few red boards there are - 30 years ago they all would have been deep red in color with a few streaks of lighter sapwood. Another project on this property - restoration of the cedar exterior of a house - was delayed 6 months because a nearby "residential" project sucked up some 70,000 lineal feet of cedar, wiping out local suppliers and making it impossible to proceed.

Donna SinkDonna Sink
Aug 30, 13 4:43 pm

Whoa, Miles......nice. More pics, please! Also, going back to your comment about using materials well, how did you detail that minimal top edge on your wall?!

Miles JaffeMiles Jaffe
Aug 30, 13 7:59 pm

Zinc coated copper flashing caps the siding and returns under the shingles. The ridge cap is a cedar 2x6 that overhangs the flashing and is screwed and bunged down to the rafters.The flashing returns down the rakes.

The door was finished with horizontal 1x4 cedar and the jambs were returned to it. One small square awning window is opposite the door. Building was long-term storage for a single car for an owner who spent most of his time in Europe. No driveway, access over lawn. Previous picture (cedar wall) is view from house, which sadly was recently razed to make room for a PoS (the garage remains).

12' x 20', lots of fun to build at this scale.

Originally I tried to sell them this but they wouldn't bite.

Nam HendersonNam Henderson
Sep 2, 13 10:42 pm

@gruen et al

re: life-cycle, local sourcing and ipe have you read  the report MVVA released a while back which made case for Black Locust Lumber: A Sustainable Alternative when compare to other tropical hardwoods?

Miles JaffeMiles Jaffe
Sep 3, 13 10:18 am

Historically locust was used here mainly for posts and fences due to it's resistance to rot and insects. Not sure if it's honey or black locust, wood is deep green color when but. Very hard material with the interesting property that the tap root turns 90° making a natural structural bent.

Sep 3, 13 9:12 pm

Miles, what was cost on that garage?

I like steel, concrete, and glass over time.

Miles JaffeMiles Jaffe
Sep 3, 13 9:59 pm

If I remember correctly the garage cost around $40k. All vertical grain clear red cedar, cedar shingle roof, 2" rigid insulation, includes electrical service to building and some landscape (removal &  restoration for access).

Sep 4, 13 12:04 am

this is an awesome topic... something i think not enough architects consider.  looking forward to more posts 

miles, that looks excellent.  the sketchup one though... wtf

Miles JaffeMiles Jaffe
Sep 4, 13 11:26 am

In context the sinking garage scheme was a play on the geometry of the existing structure, which was a modestly-sized near-cube (square in plan but not quite as tall as it was wide) with one corner carved out and extended by a wall enclosing a deck.

This was done for a good friend and renowned furniture designer, and it made him smile.

Sep 4, 13 11:40 am

@Nam:  Oddly a lot of recent locust wood used is from Europe -I think Hungary?- (even with the case being made as 'local') - black locust suppliers are in short supply at this time out here in the NE (where it's considered an invasive specie) though there's a couple in PA.  It is a nice hardy tree that grows in tough conditions and has nice bark, soft shade and flowers.

All woods age nicely (some better than others - cherry, walnut, birch takes on a nice tint over time).

There are some efforts recently to 'harden' wood for exterior use as an alternative to tropical woods - chemical ( or heat treatment.

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