Building Junk in America
A Broken Paradigm
The fires in Texas in September, 2011 proved a paradigm. In a Structures class I asked the professor why we continued to build houses out of wood. His answer was twofold: “They’re cheap to build, and that’s how we’ve always done it.” That was a perfect answer to an imperfect paradigm.
American architect, Louis Sullivan in 1896 wrote in an article on office buildings that “form ever follows function.” He was saying that one must first consider the functionality of a building before you consider its beauty or other characteristics. Sullivan’s assistant, Frank Lloyd Wright continued the “form follows function” mantra, as did many others in different fields.
In any building design there is only one most important role: To house and protect its inhabitants. That’s it. Nothing else matters. That is the function of a house. But big homebuilding corporations, small builders and the home buying public set that aside for points of extreme insignificance, such as the number of square feet; the R rating of the wall and ceiling insulation; the color of the brick; the beautiful Ionic columns; the SEER of the cooling units; the high ceilings; the crown moulding; and all the many refinements a particular home has that match what buyers see on HG TV.
Nobody, but nobody during the time that I’ve sold houses [conventional houses] has ever asked, “How safe will I be from fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, bullets or external explosions?” All buy under the assumption that “it won’t happen to me.”
According to FEMA, 76% of fire deaths occur in residences; the majority are in one- and two-family dwellings; thousands of people die in house fires each year in the U.S. While one can die in a fire that’s in a fireproof building, one is much less likely to die in a building that does not turn itself into a bonfire...More