The House You Live inBy Bobby Neal Winters
I like watching other people work with concrete. This may be because my father was a truck driver who hauled bulk cement to road jobs and ready-mix concrete outfits. In the summer, of 2007, we did an addition to our house and I enjoyed watching the masonry crew pour the footings and then lay the cinder block foundation.
Once you have the foundation, you attach a floor to it and then you put up the two-by-fours that frame the walls. Then you put the roof on. Once the roof is on, you can hang the drywall. That’s how we do it here. My house is an old house, so there are parts of it that have lathe and plaster walls instead of the gypsum drywall.
I imagine one can follow a line of historical continuity all the way back to the way things were done in England.
My family and I spent July of 2009 in Asuncion, Paraguay where I was teaching Introduction to Analytic Processes at Universidad Catolica. We stayed at a bed and breakfast called El Rinconcito while we were there. During that time, another house was being constructed across the street. This house was made from brick, and it was interesting for me to see how they did it.
Instead of just pouring a foundation, they had poured a frame. They must have had forms in place to hold the concrete in place while it was being poured, but they were gone by they time we arrived. Within the concrete, they had put four-inch PVC pipe as conduit for plumbing and electrical connections.
The roof was framed by four-by-sixes and constructed out of ceramic tile.
When we first arrived, they were in the process of laying the brick. Each of the bricks was six inches by six inches square and two inches thick. They would’ve stopped about any bullet you could’ve shot at them. Before we left, they had the exterior walls up and were putting stucco over the brick.
I feel safe in guessing that the PVC pipes within the concrete framing is a fairly recent innovation.
One weekend while we were in Paraguay, we took at tour of eastern Paraguay where the old towns have such names as Jesus, Trinidad, and Encarnacion. There are old missions in this area which were abandoned in the 1700s. In looking at them, I saw a continuity in the architecture with the house across from El Rinconcito. I imagine there is a continuity in construction techniques as well.
These old missions, with the churches, the monk’s quarters, and the walls surround them, were built by people who’d come over from Spain and brought their techniques with them. Those had come from the old Roman/Mediterranean tradition.
It sort of reminded me of a book entitled The Shape of the Liturgy by Gregory Dix who follows the shape of churches as they evolved from the Mediterranean-style homes used as church-houses in the early Christian era to the sorts of churches I saw in Paraguay in the old missions.
Every generation learns by watching the generation before it. We hope to keep the good stuff and to add to it what is needed for the present age. The PVC pipe as conduit in the concrete framing struck me as a clever solution to marrying the solid construction of the ancient era to the modern amenities of indoor plumbing, electricity, and even computer network cables.
When I visited Siberia, during June of the year 2000, the group I was with was taken on an excursion to to the village of Balshoye Galoustnoye. While there, we visited an American ex-patriot who was building his own traditional Siberian home. It was made of huge logs from the larch tree.
There was no foundation as we understand it and the larch logs sat on the ground to allow for the expansion and contraction due to the extreme winters. The logs in the wall were made to fit together tightly and the cracks were sealed with mortar to keep the Siberian wind from whistling through.
In the middle of the house was a huge oven. It was designed so that the grandmother and the baby could sleep on top of it.
Each of the houses I’ve described has a particular appearance on the outside. They represent particular styles that are recognizable to folks who’ve been around the block a time or two. What you see on the outside builds particular expectations for structure on the inside. You see the stucco and the tile roof, and you expect the connections going back to the Caesars.
This sort of architecture manifests a depth of knowledge that has been tested by time.
The Siberian home embodies wisdom as well. It doesn’t have the grandeur the brick house picked up through the various empires on the northern rim of the Mediterranean, but it embodies the simple wisdom of survival.
In my mind, these the houses in Asuncion and in Balshoye Galoustnoye are represent a deep, durable sort of reality that I hold dear. When we juxtapose the typical American house against these two we see that it is something different. There is more emphasis on the surface in the American house than in the depth. This is not necessarily meant as a criticism; it is simply an observation that might be a window to another aspect of the real world.
The sheet rock and two-by-fours that form my walls are descendants of the lathe and plaster. The lathe and plaster hearken back to the chinking between the logs in an house not too different from the larch house in Siberia. When sheet rock is hung, there are gaps between the pieces. These gaps are first taped and then mudded over in the same spirit that stucco is put over the bricks in the brick house in Paraguay. Pipes and electrical wire and run within the walls between the sheets of drywall, and you can put insulation in between as well.
But what is on the outside doesn’t necessarily tell you much about what’s on the inside. There are thousands of different types of siding each designed to give a different impression.