If Walls Could Talk: Walls of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

For thousands of years, almost all of human existence, we have been building walls.

Its composition made the difference between buildings who withstood centuries and others who crumbled just after a few years. This article will explore the history of walls; its past, present and future.

Then

Of course, wall composition varied greatly based upon culture and region, mostly depending on the available resources of the time and place. Most walls that still stand today from the antiquity and the middle ages are built of stone (or brick) and mortar. The composition of the mortar is what varies per region. In western Europe for example, limestone would be collected, baked in a furnace to create quick-lime, then mixed with sand and water which would create cement.

There are multiple techniques as to how they were built, but most stone walls were built in the following fashion. Stones were collected around the building. Of course, they had very uneven surfaces, so the straighter and better rocks for building were placed separately. The better rocks were used to build the inner and exterior wall since they would require less mortar and would be more aesthetically pleasing. The wall would be wider at the base and narrower at the top. Inside the wall, the remaining rocks would be added with a lot more mortar which would render the wall extremely durable. Of course, the insular properties of rocks are not very good and that is one of the reasons why we imagine medieval castles to be cold and damp, they were.

Evidently, wood structures were also very popular across the world. They have been used in multiple ways and still remain frequent, although today, walls per se are rarely made of wood.

Plaster had been used for centuries, but it was around the middle of the 19th century that the plaster walls (which we still see today) grew in popularity. Especially across the United States and Canada, most homes were built with it. It essentially consists of small wooden laths stacked horizontally, leaving a small gap in between them, then covered with a few coats of plaster. These walls are even considered to be more durable than drywall. In an article about Hurricane Katrina where a good portion of New Orleans was devastated, there was a fascinating story about an old plantation withstood the tragedy, and it was attributed to its structure being more durable due to the plaster.

 

Today

Today, almost all homes and buildings have walls made of drywall. As you well know, these walls are panels made of gypsums as well as other additives. If you would like more information on what gypsum is, please read our article on the subject:

Even though plasterboards were invented in the latter part of the 19th century, they really became popular in post-war Europe and America. The growing middle-class, the baby-boom as well as the growing economy saw the demands for homes explode. Drywalls were a more efficient and affordable way to build.

 

Future

It’s very difficult to predict what the future of walls will look like, but we can see some trends popping up today. Although drywall is currently the number one wall building material today, it also has one major problem: it pollutes. These materials go to landfills and account for a major portion of the pollution caused by the construction industry. Some popular trends are evaluating ways to recycle gypsum, others offer solutions as how to optimize the ordering and minimize waste. There are also some industries looking into ways to change materials all together.

Other popular trends in walls are “smart walls”, which are equipped with sensors who detect if someone is in the room and can be connected to the central computer of the smart home. Other companies are installing LED walls which can display patterns and images.

The construction industry is changing now more than ever, and it would be erroneous to say that drywall is here to stay. But to this day, it remains the top dog of the industry. What do you think the walls of the future will be like?