Building Materials and Crafts

Nothing illustrates the character of a country better than its architecture. In any place the appearance of the buildings derives principally from the climate, the employment, and comparative wealth or poverty of the people who construct them and, most importantly, from the kind of building materials that are used.

In history, everyday buildings have always been made of materials that are readily to hand. This is the principal characteristic of all vernacular architecture. In an area where stone is widely available, that becomes the usual building material; where it is not, or is too difficult to work, brick or timber buildings will be found. Where good clay exists tiled floors will be common elsewhere they will be make of stone flags. Where timber is widely available joinery sections will be lavish; where it is scarce and costly to import they will be mean.

Cottages, made of mud walls or with boulders collected from a stream or shore, their roofs held up by unformed branches and with tiny windows whose glass was the only expense, are the cheapest form of structure encountered in the Irish countryside. At the opposite end of the scale would be a Norman cathedral, the mansion house on a large landowner or the Head Offices of a Victorian Bank. In cases like these, where expense was not a principal concern, the building stone would often be brought from great distances: yellow freestone from Gloucestershire for the moulded parts of the cathedral; white limestone from Portland in Dorset for the country house; sandstone and polished granite from a Scottish quarries for the bank. Today, just as in the past, the prestige of a building resides, largely, in the quality of the materials which it uses and in the manner in which they have been fashioned. A well-made building must be constructed with skill and knowledge. whether it is a modest cottage or a monument to wealth and power.


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