---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 15 Feb 1995 08:49:32 -0000
>From: Robert <csv.warwick.ac.uk!ierbb@MATH.UCR.EDU>
To: Multiple recipients of list AE <AE%SJSUVM1.BITNET@cmsa.Berkeley.EDU>
Subject: Building for a thousand years
Here's something to think about.
Using renewables is all very well. But what if the bits and pieces you
build with - turbines, PVs, even the construction materials of your
house - have lifetimes on the order of 20 years? This is not uncommon
today. Instead of relying on resources that may run out in 20 years' time,
you're relying on industries which may not still be around then. (Heck,
civilisation may not be, unless we do something about it sharpish.) What's
more, all that so-called lasting wealth which you've generated is going
to turn round and fall apart on you, and another input of energy and
materials will be needed to keep it together.
New World people are often amazed when they visit Europe for the first
time, at how old so many of the buildings are. (I grew up in a 130-year
old house, and that was a jerry-built Victorian housing estate.) The truth
is not that all buildings which were built in the Middle Ages and since
were built much better than they are now - many were not, and they have
long since fallen down and vanished. But some buildings _have_ survived for
500 or 1000 years, the good ones, and are still used and lived in.
Nowadays, of course, we're building more houses than ever before - but they're
_designed_ not to last. Look at the post-war tower blocks - they fell apart
within 30 years. Most of our roads are in constant need of repair. Ditto
our sewage systems. None of it was built to last.
It may be much easier to build for 20 years than 1000. But a 1000-year proj-
ect is worth at least 50 of the former. So ask yourself this
question whenever you built or plan something: how long is this going to last?
Assume the future is very uncertain, and build to last accordingly.
Here's a story. There was an Oxford college - I don't know which one -
which had a magnificent great hall with, unusually, yew beams. Yew is a
very hard and very slow-growing wood. Now one year the college clerk of
works noticed some small holes in the beams, and he had them checked out
and found that they had serious woodworm. They would only last another ten
or twenty years. So he asked around to find where he could buy new yew beams.
Turned out that there were absolutely none to be had; nobody owns plantations
of 500-year-old trees any more, and the few who do aren't about to let them
be chopped down. So he turned the problem over to a young don.
The don also looked everywhere, and he even went to the trouble of checking
out the different properties belonging to the college to see if, by any chance,
there were old yews growing there. Since the college was rather rich, this
took a long time. Eventually he came across a small patch of woodland in the
North of England which nobody had paid much attention to for a long time.
There were no records that he could find, so he decided to pay it a visit.
He drove up there and went to look at it, and was amazed to find that it
contained a large number of very ancient yews - more than enough to repair
the college roof.
He went to talk to some locals about the woodland and why there should happen
to be so many yews in it. 'Ah, you're from the college!' one of them said.
'What do you mean?' asked the don.
'Well, there's a story about that wood which explains the yews. It's said
that the college which owns it had built a roof with yew beams. But the
builder knew how hard yew was to get, and he knew it would only last 400
to 500 years. So he recommended to the college that they should plant a
yew wood now, and then when the roof was no longer sound, the yew would
have grown up so that they would be able to repair it.'
So the college got its roof repaired.
- Robert Alcock, at a university that has only been around for 30 years
-- For a good time call GetCurrentTime() <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Building for a thousand years