15 Bytes | 2012 | Architecture & Design

Stone Timber and Steel: The Logic of Structure

Becoming proficient in a field can sometimes make life difficult. Like an artist who visits friends and relatives and must keep to herself how bad the paintings in the house are. Something similar happens to John Griswold when he sees houses built with structural elements wholly out of keeping with their purposes.

Standing on the tee box of a local golf course I saw a peculiar sight. A nearby house sported a second-storey deck, clearly a cantilever as there were no support posts, and rising from its corners to carry the safety rail were two stone columns. The carpenter side of my brain kicked in: “Those must be steel or timber posts clad in faux stone, they’re far too skinny to pass the Drunken Allen Test.” My partner Jeff and I have jokingly applied this rule for decades while repairing yet another failed deck rail: got to make the connections strong enough that Allen could lurch his 230-pound frame into our product without going through it like a Hollywood stuntman.

Read Griswold’s Stone Timber and Steel: The Logic of Structure in the September 2012 edition of 15 Bytes.

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  1. I could add to this list of sins against visual logic, but I’ll limit myself to one: the arch over the two- or three-car garage, bricks or stone spanning thirty or forty feet, with a rise in the center of six inches. Good luck getting that to stand up IF IT WERE REAL. The lower a dome or arch, the less likely it is to work. The closer the sides are to vertical, the better. Compromise is the difference between Hagia Sophia in Constantinople collapsing a handful of years after construction, then its being rebuilt a few feet taller, and standing for centuries.
    Thanks for calling attention to the sad fact: most of today’s construction is an implausible veneer glued to the outside of a dull frame or pole construction. That’s not, in itself, an impossible situation, but for it to work, the illusionist must know and observe the rules of how real materials work.

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