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Cultural Concubine Blog

Neither here nor there…

Old stones rule…

In the last months I have been busy studying historic building work at West Dean college, finalising the 11th of a series of masterclasses in topics ranging from blacksmithing to brick masonry… Exactly, brick masonry.

However, in my absence from Amsterdam, the board of owners of my apartment building has decided (within 5 days) on some of the repair work on the back facade. So by the time I had the chance to read the agreed work, there was nothing more to do about it.

I tried my best to get involved, but sadly all I could arrange to be verbally attacked by the chairman of the board and ridiculed by some builders…

So you might think… what is the problem?

At the back of the building there have always been problem with a faulty construction of the balconies. For year water has always run off towards the facade instead of away from it.
So the facade has become too wet for too long. The building is more than 100 years old and the joints of the brickwork have disintegrated and eroded away.

So don’t get me wrong, I am all for repointing and repairing the joints. They do the main work of the wall, letting it ‘breath’.
And considering this is exactly what I have been learning to do all year.
But in this case the builders have come up with a nice ploy…

The wall looked dirty so they proposed to sandblast the whole facade, to make it look nice and clean… And to apply a water-resistant coating afterwards. AAAAAARGH.

During the brick course at West Dean I had been warned for this method. It takes off the “fire skin”, which is left on bricks after firing… Removing the skin would leave the bricks open and porous. They would soak up water and disintegrate after some frost. (especially after they have been repointed with cement mortar. (that is much stronger than original lime mortar and does not let through water either)
Anyway, this blog is not meant to tutor everyone about historic building technology.

My real point is about how I am amazed people still will just leave outsource their responsibility to the first person that offers to take their money off them. (Yes, I made the same mistake!)

So why do they propose the sandblasting then?


Chair: Oh no, I never check on what my builders are doing… (Pic of wall after raking out joints…)

Well these men obviously don’t know how to rake out joints… So they need to hide their botch job by blasting it away… (for the record: correct raking out will not damage the bricks and should be done 2x as deep as the joints are wide… this is best left to specialists… Thank you Colin Burns for teaching me how to do this properly with a tungsten tip quirk!)

After all it has been my own fault that I neglected my responsibilities. I was too late. But at least I have learnt some important lessons:

Firstly that it is important to stay on top of your responsibilities. No one else will do it for you.

Secondly that learning new skills is not the only thing, learning to apply them is an even bigger challenge. And in building conservation it is being part of the whole process, from the first initiation of the work, to the hand-over after finishing…

Lastly, I still have so much to learn.

Does anyone have any advice next time I am outnumbered up against three disrespectful burly builders?!
(God, I really long back to the kind and knowledgable powerhouse tutors at West Dean…)


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