Page N2.1 . 10 February 2010                     
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    Letters to the Editor

    Prefab Masonry Framing Systems Still In Use

    Dear ArchitectureWeek,

    I read your interesting article, published in Architecture Week (Prefab Clay-Tile and Concrete-Block Framing Systems). These systems are still in use in Spain, Cuba, Mexico and other Latin American countries.

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    As an architect in Cuba in 1987-1997 I was in charge of building a factory for the production of precast pre-tensioned beams (viguetas — small beams) for one of these structural systems. The factory included also a facility to produce the concrete block infill tiles. They are called bovedillas in Spanish, due to the fact that structurally they act as small vaults — bovedas. The equipment had been bought in Spain (Cataluña) by the Cuban Ministry of Construction Materials, for which I was working as an employee. (There is no private practice of architecture in Cuba). Once the factory was finished, we started using it in the construction of dwellings and small commercial/ office buildings.

    In Spain the system is very popular and used for residential and light commercial work, with spans of up to 21 feet, and cantilevered up to 9 feet. The Spanish Normas Basicas de Edificacion of that time used to have a lot of detail about this type of construction.

    As for the older types of systems, working in Cuba in restoring older buildings gave us a lot of experience on them too. They were very popular from the 1910's to the 1930's, when cast in place concrete replace this kind of systems. Still in the 1950's a Cuban architect re-introduced a similar type of construction system, with precast concrete beams and clay tile arched units. This system was used until the late 60's with the trade name PEPSA.

    In Mexico several systems of this type are used. You can see an example in (Mexico, with infill tiles made of polystirene), (Peru), etc.

    Julio Guillén

    Madness of Stairs?

    Dear ArchitectureWeek,

    There's a deadly piece of madness in many homes across the world — a remnant of a design left over from the beginning of time. It's called a staircase. Civilization is about 10,000 years old, and quite early on, man developed the concept of building upwards.

    To go from floor to floor, man first invented the ladder. Later on, he developed the staircase. For residential construction, that was it. Two ideas in 10,000 years of design.

    Imagine yourself on the second floor of a typical American home — in a small, dimly lit hallway. You're walking around, carrying laundry and doing chores. At the center of the hallway, the floor just ends, and the staircase begins. Let me repeat that — the floor ENDS.

    A similar phenomenon exists in nature. They are called cliffs. Cliffs might even be safer, because you often land just once — maybe in bushes, vegetation, or water. With a staircase, you could break bones on multiple steps, walls, and finally, the floor below.

    It's almost insane that generations of architects have allowed this design flaw to perpetuate. Architects worldwide should look with shame on the next staircase they mindlessly add to a home's design.

    I don't know the solution — maybe a ramp of some sort would work. But I challenge architects to stop relying on a stupid, dangerous, ancient idea. Come up with a third design — after all, you've had 10,000 years!

    Thank you.

    Mike Morone
    Rochester, New York

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...


    ArchWeek Image

    Hollow clay tile blocks continue to be used in new construction around the world.
    Photo: Sergio Pena Corpa Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Beam-and-block system viewed from below.
    Photo: Sergio Pena Corpa

    ArchWeek Image

    A prefab beam-and-block system on a sloping roof gable.
    Photo: Sergio Pena Corpa

    ArchWeek Image

    This staircase encourages use and enjoyment of every inch. The first two steps work as stair seats. On the first landing, a child-size nook uses the spaces below the stairs to create a cushioned window place. At the midway landing and at the top, windows provide light and view.
    Photo: David Duncan Livingston

    ArchWeek Image

    The sculptural interior stair at Villa Savoye, designed by Le Corbusier.
    Photo: Donald Corner and Jenny Young/ Artifice Images

    ArchWeek Image

    Staircases in the 700 Palms Residence in Venice, California, designed by Ehrlich Architects.
    Photo: © Erhard Pfeiffer/ Courtesy Ehrlich Architects Extra Large Image


    Click on thumbnail images
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