The Evolution of Construction Materials

Posted by GSP Marketing on Feb 16, 2021 11:35:00 AM
GSP Marketing

The modern history of construction is driven by an evolution of materials from milled lumber to mass produced bricks to reinforced concrete to steel applications and emerging technologies.

While steel did not become a staple of construction into the industrial revolution, other materials of modern building, such as wood and stone, have been around since the Stone Age.

Timber Structures Date Back to the Stone Age

During the Stone Age early man started to settle down and structures were needed for living, working and other group events such as ceremonies.

In England archaeologists have unearthed homes made with timber dating to some 10,000 years ago during the Mesolithic period. The Howick House in Northumberland laid claim to the oldest home site in England until a discovery at Star Carr in North Yorkshire found remains of a settlement some 1,500 years older than Howick House.

These were not just rudimentary huts being built, but the Neolithic Long House, built during the New Stone Age (Neolithic period) between 8,500 and 4,500 BC were long, narrow timber structures that were approximately 25 feet by 150 feet and housed up to 30 people.

In Poland, 30 of these long houses were found in a Neolithic fortified settlement.

Using the Materials at Hand for Building

Prior to the industrial revolution, much of the building had to make use of the materials found at hand. Europe and North America, covered in vast forests, relied on timber-framed homes.

Even in Egypt, construction with wood was popular and many palaces, temples and boats were made from imported Lebanese cedar.

A couple of thousand years ago, some 50 percent of the worldwide woodlands had been cleared so construction utilizing brick, such as adobe, became popular, especially in regions sparse with trees.

In the middle ages, between 500 and 1500, construction advanced with watermills able to convert trees into planks for building. Wooden structures were also built on stone foundations, an example being the Nanchan Temple in Wutai, China, which was built in 782.

The Chinese were not the only ones using concrete in construction with the Romans making use of the versatile material.

Despite advances over the centuries, most structures were still constructed with materials found nearby such as:

  • Animal Skins
  • Bark
  • Logs
  • Mud
  • Sod
  • Stone
  • Tall Grass
  • Wooden poles

Industrial Revolution Launches Modern Construction

Prior to the industrial revolution, construction primarily was limited to wood and stone materials. While many wonderful structures were built with these materials, the scope of almost all projects was limited in height and size.

With the industrial revolution the modern construction era was launched as steel came into its own and in 1849 the blending of steel and concrete to create reinforced concrete set the stage for 20th century development.

Steel, with its ability to be customized while still maintaining its structural stability and strength, allowed for many construction advances.

By the end of the 19th century, builders had an assortment of materials that could be delivered to their job site, including:Bricks of various colors and conditions in a stack

  • Brick
  • Concrete block
  • Formed metal
  • Glass block
  • Milled lumber

With the modern era of construction we see a progression in North America, starting with crude log construction, progressing to today’s cutting edge insulated metal panels.

The evolution in the last 200 years in North America progresses like this:

  • Log Construction typical of what you see on the frontier.
  • Early Stone Construction, more expensive so reserved for well-off homes, churches and other large buildings such as courthouses.
  • Timber Frame Construction, while a log cabin made sense it was not practical for barns, for example, and other larger buildings so timber frames were used.
  • Light Wood Frame Construction made possible by milled lumber in the late 19th century. This was a big advancement and now the outside of structures could be sheathed in stucco, brick or wood siding.
  • Brick Construction was also possible on a mass scale with the building of brick plants.
  • Concrete Block Construction was called imitation stone.
  • Later Stone Construction or cut stone was popular around 1900
  • Metal Frame Construction, modern steel industry was born and buildings utilized iron and then steel. With steel frames, the buildings could then be covered in stone, glass or other materials.
  • Reinforced Concrete Construction:  More than 100 years later and reinforced concrete is still a popular construction material choice.

Steel construction has allowed for some of the most iconic construction projects in the last 140 years including the Brooklyn Bridge, Eiffel Tower, Chrysler Building, Empire State Building and the Sears Tower.

America became the world’s leader in steel production with output growing from 380,000 tons in 1875 to 60 million tons annually in 1920.

The latest advances in metal construction include insulated metal panels, which are lightweight wall and roof panels that feature an insulating foam core sandwiched between two metal skins.

Contact Green Span Profiles today to learn more about our insulated metal panels manufactured in Texas with our state-of-the-art equipment. 

Topics: Construction