The role of an architect, beyond satisfying the brief, is to create a structure that will stand the test of time both aesthetically and physically. While trends will rise to prominence rapidly, and fade away just as quickly, the building materials used generally remain the same. The durability of a property is reliant on both the type of material used, as well as its quality. With a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of different building materials, you can more easily ward off the cost of render repair and other restorative processes.
Brick had been far and away the most widely used building material in Western Europe until the towering structures of the last 100 years or so demanded an even stronger alternative. When it comes to domestic residences outside of tightly packed urban centres though, brick still reigns supreme. Brick owes its popularity mostly to its durability. In the face of tumultuous weather conditions, brick will not rot or wilt, and is even capable of preventing the spread of fire. Brick is eco-friendly too as it is constructed from two of the most abundant materials on earth – clay and shale.
Wood will never best any of the other materials in this list for durability, but it certainly will visually, which means it remains a popular choice for architects today. Thanks to its effortless aesthetic appeal, wood comprises many of the most attractive structures around – from picturesque log cabins to historic temples. Whilst wood does display decent strength and resistive qualities after being treated, it nevertheless pales in comparison to the likes of brick, concrete, stone and steel. It is vulnerable to decay as well as infestation.
The ease with which concrete can be moulded into any shape makes it an ever-present in the construction industry. As well as being relatively cheap, it is extremely durable and very low-maintenance. In that it is made out of varying proportions of stone, sand, water and cement, concrete is also a relatively versatile building material – its ability to repel water and its tensile strength can be easily altered.
The use of steel is often reserved for the most demanding construction projects. As well as being used in conjunction with concrete to increase its tensile strength (narrow steel rods are often embedded into the concrete to reinforce it) steel has become an important building material in its own right thanks to the continuing trend of taller and taller buildings. With load bearing walls expected to withstand more and more weight, steel has become more essential than ever. As it is 100 per cent recyclable, steel is also an eco-friendly choice.
Different building materials have different properties that make them suitable for different purposes in different situations. Whether the selection of a particular material is the correct one or not of course depends on a multitude of factors and a full and comprehensive analysis of the pros and cons of the use of any material should be completed beforehand.