Experimental Knowledge of the Traditional Building Materials

  • S. Briccoli Bati
Part of the International Centre for Mechanical Sciences book series (CISM, volume 359)


The aim of the following is to present a brief survey of the characteristic mechanical properties of the traditional materials used in buildings from the very earliest constructions up to the industrial revolution.

Until a century ago the most popular building materials were earth, stone, timber and bricks used in several ways, raw or baked, laid dry or with mortar between layers.

The use of such materials has decreased over the centuries and they have thus been replaced by modern materials such as steel, reinforced concrete and, probably in the near future, by composite materials specifically designed in order to satisfy the most diverse needs. Advances in the sciences and engineering have forced researchers in the field to devote much of their attention to the study of the chemical, physical and mechanical properties of these new building materials, while long neglecting similar research on traditional materials. Nowadays, the need or, rather, the will to conserve and restore buildings constructed using traditional materials has compelled us to broaden our knowledge of such materials in order to assure the appropriateness of our treatment of ancient buildings, not only in attempting to restore them but also, and perhaps above all, in order to avoid adding further damage to the structures above and beyond those already occasioned by time and nature.

In fact, in the past builders had a “feel” for their materials, determined by the experience gained over centuries and used as guidelines for their choices in the art of building, today instead, the seems to be a loss of memory of these experiences, as well as a lack of thorough knowledge of the properties of those materials which have played such a prominent role in our architectural heritage, and the art of building in general.

In the hope of rectifying this lack, the results of some experimental analysis performed on materials of historical buildings are hereby presented.

Such analysis has allowed us, not only to highlight some of the materials’ characteristic behaviour, but also their most valuable peculiarities, the consequence of a finely balanced combination of properties arrived at through exquisite and complex mechanisms. We can therefore say that attempts at modifying traditional building materials through artificial improvement of their properties may end up detrimental rather than beneficial.


Compressive Strength Experimental Knowledge Equilibrium Path Uniaxial Compression Test Compaction Layer 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Wien 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Briccoli Bati
    • 1
  1. 1.University of FlorenceFlorenceItaly

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