View Full Version : They don't build 'em like they used to

04-06-2008, 06:13 PM
I was Reading this (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6996161.stm) and I thought to myself there are thousands of examples of Victorian engineering that are still extant today and yet stuff we put up fifty years ago need replacing.

Why is that?

04-06-2008, 06:16 PM
Job security for Government contractors.

04-06-2008, 08:43 PM
Originally posted by Ploughman:
I was Reading this (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6996161.stm) and I thought to myself there are thousands of examples of Victorian engineering that are still extant today and yet stuff we put up fifty years ago need replacing.

Why is that?
Well it took them 20 years to do it and because they couldn't get precise computer controlled calculations they probably built the tunnel well beyond the necessary specifications. Its the same with bridges. There are extremely old bridges that will probably last another hundred years meanwhile there's stuff that was put up a few decades ago and they need replacing.

Everything right now is constructed to meet the exact need, it goes up quickly...and surprise surprise it probably won't last as long either. Everything is a tradeoff.

04-06-2008, 09:24 PM
Originally posted by Ploughman:
I was Reading this (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6996161.stm) and I thought to myself there are thousands of examples of Victorian engineering that are still extant today and yet stuff we put up fifty years ago need replacing.

Why is that?

It's because everything that was built prior to and during the Victorian era was massively over-engineered. To be honest, they didn't really know what they were doing, so they didn't take chances and built things way beyond requirements. The result of that is that those structures have lasted far longer than they were actually needed. They would have saved themselves a fortune if they had built to a more economic design, which of course they couldn't, as they didn't understand the science the way we do now. It was really only when we reached the Victorian era, and big structures like railway bridges etc. were needed, that we started to learn the rules (British Standards) of Civil Engineering. These rules are still being developed to this day.

There is no way that modern buildings could be built to Victorian standards. The cost of such structures would be beyond any modern business enterprise. In Victorian times the costs of labour and materials were negligible by today's standards. In our times, structures are built to last a predefined length of time and for a specific price. If an engineer is contracted to design a stucture that needs to last 20 years but which subsequently lasts 40 years, then the guy who paid for it is going to wonder if he paid twice as much as he needed to.

You should also bear in mind that the mistakes that were made by the Victorians (and before) didn't survive. We only see their achievements, not their failures. The Tay bridge disaster is a good example of 19th century arrogance (if arrogance isn't too strong a word). The leaning tower of Pisa is probably the most famous example of a failed engineering project.

I'm not knocking Victorian engineers, it's just that from a design point of view, lasting for centuries is not necessarily a good thing.

Edit: yeah, what IceFire said.

han freak solo
04-06-2008, 09:35 PM
Just think how long a pyramid might last if one was built today. http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/winky.gif

04-06-2008, 09:41 PM
http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_biggrin.gif You would never get planning permission for a pyramid today. The Environmental Impact Study alone would finish the project before the drawings were complete.

"You mean to say you want to quarry half a country, using slave labour, to build a tomb for ONE MAN and it's going to be a blight on the landscape for 5000 years!!!"

The Green lobby would never go for it.

04-07-2008, 01:29 AM
Belt and Braces.

Shame it's an almost forgotten idea.

04-07-2008, 02:23 PM
Interesting stuff...

04-08-2008, 09:27 AM
Yes, the Victorians defiantly knew how to get things built. They lived in a world where there was enough concentrated capital to pay for large scale projects while still living in a world where labor, materials and energy were dirt cheep. I live in a historic district, so I know the ins and outs of the local 100+ year old mansions pretty well. I have been restoring my house for about 5 years. Back then folks with money did not build small. They also did a fine job of pushing the boundaries by gobbling up whatever new home technology they could get their hands on. One of my neighbors has a vestibule in the basement underneath there is a nearly sealed room with 8 large radiators whose job was toe make the vestibule warm without having to have any visible source of heat. All of the hardware in my house, door plates, and window parts are made of copper. As for a 20 year building lasting 40. We only have the stuff left that was built well to last. The vast majority of it was high end housing and public projects. The folks who had these built did not think they were spending their money to have it tore down in a few decades. They were big folks who want to leave a big mark on the world. Most of them would be damm happy to see that what they had built is still standing and being appreciated today. The upper class back then was pretty sure that the lower classes could be civilized by putting them in a civilized environment. Pullman was a big believer in the idea, he had a company city built for his employees. His idea was that by providing them with good housing he could force them to become better people. I don't know if it worked, but that kind of thinking simply no longer exists.
As for building these days to those specs. There are actually folks doing this yet. They are just a lot more rare than they used to be. Still you can find folks who know how to do three layer plaster walls, a friend of mine is the third generation to run the family's decorative plaster studio. Their stuff is known well enough around here that relator's will incorrectly claim that his grandfathers work is in a house they are selling. There is a couple out east building a monstrous shingle style house by hand. The list goes on... The big problem is that this kind of building is very expensive. The materials are expensive, in some cases simply unavailable. A few summers ago we deconstructed some of the bedrooms and had thought we would toss the original hardwood floors. Fortunately, they had originally been installed by one of the very early pneumatic nail guns, and nails had been used sparingly. So we removed 500 square feet of floor without breaking anything. We kept the floor because we had lots of 12 to 16 foot long boards. These days the premium paid for hardwood floorboards in those lengths is obnoxious.

They don't build like they used to and sometimes that a good thing. Every big project on the house comes with a HOLY ****! moment where we get to see something that is truly amazingly spooky. Usually involving, plumbing, electrics or framing. Two summers ago we decommissioned the remains of the knob and tube wiring. It took us a few days just to debug where things were actually going. There was a junction stuffed with a Gordian knot of wire so tight we ended up hacking the mess out. We also found a hanging box in the basement coal room that was well just hanging there with live wired sticking out.