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Traditional materials beat modern equivalents

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Poor old Pawley's logic is in need of a bit of renovation again, I see (AJ 9.3.00). There are some grains of truth in what he writes but why let facts get in the way of an (old) argument, eh?

Cast iron rainwater goods? There are more suppliers than ever and cost/benefit figures, too, to show their value in today's marketplace.

Softwood windows? They are repairable and in whole life costings win out over the plastic jobs. Double glazing? Not cost-effective on energy savings alone as substitutes for single glazing in private single family dwellings (hence not promoted by DETR) - there are better ways to save energy. Linoleum? The height of fashion in restaurants, cafes and bars all over the country. Timber floor boards? Look at the advertising in the weekend glossy newspaper sections - the market for floors of natural materials is booming. Nail plates? Check, for instance, the AJ back catalogue of featured buildings. Timber carpentry is at a high point.

Artex? He is kidding, is he not?

Check Yellow Pages to see how limebased plastering and fibrous plastering has been revived. The point is that all these materials and their attendant services are still available, as are terracotta and faience; rubbing bricks; lead sheet roofing; thatching; stone tile roofing and so on - not because they are needed to 'replicate' the past in pastiche work, but because they are part of a continuing tradition and still fulfil technical building needs better than so-called modern equivalents.

Take his distemper versus emulsion paint example, as an instance.

We still specify distemper and even lime wash because those coatings have water vapour permeability, textural and optical appearance qualities that cannot be matched in other paints. We lobbied for the retention of lead-based paint, again because of its special qualities.

Specifiers are returning to traditional materials for contemporary construction not out of nostalgia but because it makes practical sense.

Engineers featured in your own columns, for example, are returning to hydraulic lime mortars for masonry walls on performance and sustainability grounds.

English Heritage employs traditional materials and techniques to conserve the historic built environment because they are authentic, appropriate, readily available and have (most importantly) stood the tests of nature and time.

John Fidler, head of building conservation and research, English Heritage

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