Building Materials that Mature


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!

Aug 29, 13 11:33 am

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 ...

Aug 29, 13 12:00 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 12:28 pm

In addition to those already mentioned:


Ipe (Brazilian Walnut)

Aug 29, 13 12:56 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.

Aug 29, 13 12:59 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 3:01 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 3:19 pm

corten steel

Aug 29, 13 5:13 pm

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

Aug 29, 13 9:13 pm

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

Aug 30, 13 9:13 am

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

Aug 30, 13 9:14 am
I like Ipe for massive longevity - life cycle much better than most anything other than masonry - but dislike its rainforest / non local reality
Aug 30, 13 1:17 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.

Aug 30, 13 1:29 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?!
Aug 30, 13 4:43 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.

Aug 30, 13 7:59 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?

Sep 2, 13 10:42 pm

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 10:18 am

Miles, what was cost on that garage?

I like steel, concrete, and glass over time.

Sep 3, 13 9:12 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 3, 13 9:59 pm

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

Sep 4, 13 12:04 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 11:26 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.

Sep 4, 13 11:40 am

Great comment and pictures, Miles!


Guenther Huber
Ornametals - Zinc and Copper Gutters

Jul 25, 14 12:39 pm

Miles, I'm not convinced that redwood is a sustainable product.


doinker - here is a good place to start with wood, apologies if you already know it

Wood as an Engineering Material (pdf)

Jul 25, 14 12:56 pm

And don't forget about intentional streaking.  Somewhere in my Japanese History classes I seem to remember Shino shrines will put fasteners in intentional locations.  What happens over time is those nails streak the wood creating a whole new pattern. 

I've thought about doing this concept intentionally.  Like forcing runoff down a particular rock/wood face at intervals to eventually leave deposits and wear so over time that element looks different.

Also, with the historic work, just 'use' alone does some cool things and gives the element a character of it's own.  Like solid wood stair treads developing that wear making them irregular.  The stain on the rail, worn in areas over time. Grooves, pits, and discoloration of steel and iron. Etc.  It's those imperfections that add the aesthetic value; Hate it when the contractor tries to make it 'like new' or they sand this stuff true again. 

Jul 25, 14 1:06 pm

Miles, Outstanding! Your caveat about climate is paramount here. Early I applied cedar shingles/shakes to all of my work, was sought out for it….I too loved experimenting with wood but with a long career I began to see these things detereating and all of my buildings now have paper shingles. I see snow in your picture though and wonder. I eventually gave up and strictly switched to brick on everything with flat or metal roofs but that was just because of climate.

I offer the Knowlton School of Architecture at The Ohio State University with its use of marble shingles. I couldn’t hold my mouth shut as I walked around it.

Jul 25, 14 2:59 pm

^Thanks for posting the Knowlton images. Haven't seen it in person- pics available online suggest a mix of really nice spaces and some unfortunate decisions, but you're right, the marble shingles are terrific.

After I posted the link to Wood as and Engineering Material, I started to worry that maybe the original poster was mostly concerned with finishes. But, it seems to me that solid wood ages well, while veneers don't. Does anyone have experience/examples to disprove my prejudice?

Jul 25, 14 3:09 pm

Anonitect, you are right about some of the decisions, I walked all the way around and couldn’t find an entrance!

Jul 25, 14 3:19 pm

Don't use copper. That shit's runoff is poison for marine life. 

Jul 25, 14 4:04 pm

Not much mention of weathering steel here, also known as Corten, which is the trademarked version from U.S. steel. Structural components and thin sheet- rolled seam, standing seam, flat panels, etc... Olson Kundig out of Seattle use it quite a bit.

The structural version, A-568 has less variety in finish color, and is that common Corten orange/ red. But the thin version, A-604 is different. A great variability can be achieved given different climates/ and various pretreatments can start the material on the path to becoming orange, red, brown , blue, black, or mottled along the range.


It is like stainless steel, in that it forms a passive oxide coating on the surface of the metal which retards further oxidation, so once it has stabilized - 4-6 months in most climates, it will not continue to stain. This is always a big concern with clients, so if you can phase landscaping appropriately, especially if Corten is not the entire facade, you can often avoid surface staining on the hardscape.


Also a fan of wood as- mentioned. The gray-blue sheen of weathered pine is perfect. 

A stone facade weathers so well. I went to school on a Richardson Romanesque campus, and the quality of the facade, the depth of weathering on the Granite and the dips in the exterior stairs from billions of steps all spoke to time in a way that you rarely see. I like to thing that Chandigarh or the Bangladesh Assembly Hall will weather equally well.

Jul 25, 14 10:36 pm

Anonitect- Weathering is about the material taking in particulates from the environment, getting small pieces broken or brushed off, eroded by water, dust in wind storms, etc. If you had a piece of furniture made of veneer, it would patina beautifully, if it was real hardwood veneer, not IKEA pressed board. But for buildings, you need to spec something thicker. A lot of wood paneling is exterior grade Baltic birch plywood faced with whatever wood you spec. I am partial to natural birch. Anyways, the plies are thicker, around 3mm or 1/8 inch and the glue is waterproof and typically you seal the edges or trap them in a frame to make it a good exterior product. 3mm of wood is enough to weather well. It is what most wood exterior paneling is. Hardwood would never be feasible. Maybe at $1000+ sq ft. 

Jul 25, 14 10:50 pm

Anonitect, Solid wood? Here is an example. Is this “the gray-blue sheen of weathered pine (that’s) perfect”? Doinker doesn’t sound like a practitioner but for others look at what can happen when you experiment and play around with materials. Examine the oil-canning on the stainless canopy; this photograph was taken at completion. This wasn’t done by some kid or developer; this was done by a big firm that should have known better.

I offer this instead, plain concrete block – painted.

Jul 26, 14 3:35 pm

A coating of moisture protective will also help maintaining actual properties of wood, you can also use fencing around trees to reduce chances of damage.  using plastic sheets in Architecture can also help you to make sure there is no kind of entrapment. 

Mar 3, 16 5:56 am

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