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Working Details are sadly short on detail

letters

Some weeks ago there was a Working Details that frankly horrified me, and I waited to see a flurry of letters complaining that the detail wouldn't work.

Either you didn't get any or you chose not to publish them. As I didn't write in, I will not mention the scheme or the architect.

However, you recently published a detail that was even more worrying. I refer to the parapet gutter detail of the house in Stirlingshire by Nord Architects (AJ 27.1.05).

If the detail has been built as shown, I give the brick parapets two years at the most before they start falling off. The top course of bricks is only half a brick thick, and fully exposed to the elements (remember, this is Scotland) both along the eaves and up the gable.

This top course is not properly bonded to the brickwork beneath, being separated by a damp-proof course (DPC). It also has the aluminium cover plate screwed to it.

The gutters are deep, narrow and difficult to access, and the comment that the gutters are 'covered to prevent blockages' seems to show an amazing degree of optimism. Internal concealed rainwater pipes are often an accident waiting to happen. Trimmed-back eaves like these can look sensational, but they must be detailed properly, otherwise construction like this will only continue to give architects a bad name.

Some questions, then. First, why does AJ publish these Working Details? I presume it is to show not only what has been done in a particular situation, but also how it can be done, so that others may use the information.

Second, do you vet details like this before publishing them?

Surely a technical panel could comment and suggest possible problems. In some cases you may, as a result, decide not to publish a particular detail. At the least, helpful comments could be added. In this case I would suggest that a gargoyle or two would not spoil the appearance of the building, and would give an early warning of a downpipe blockage before the water starts spilling down the parapets, staining the brickwork.

Third, any such detailing must rely on several factors if it is to succeed. Should you publish such a detail without more information? Are the bricks particularly robust against water or frost? Was a special mortar used on the parapets (for example, epoxy)? What type of DPC is being used here? To omit such information renders the detail not only useless, but dangerous.

National Building Specification clauses of the critical materials used would seem to be essential.

In the past the AJ has published these Working Details in books that can be found in many an architect's office. While the AJ cannot be expected to accept responsibility for the effectiveness of these details, surely you need to be careful that best practice is being used.

Richard Shepley, via email

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