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Why History’s Most Iconic Buildings were Built by Masons

By Peter Kray posted 07-06-2020 12:44


In a recent blog, Ken Lambert discussed why so many of the world’s most iconic structures were built by masons. 

Here, other CSI members share their thoughts:


Stone and masonry are durable and indeed have led to many beautiful, iconic, and durable buildings in the world. Stone and masonry as we know it has been around since at least the 14th century. Building with stone—literally “stones” goes back much earlier. Stones were also a method to obtain food by brining down animals.

Great skill and training is a trademark of a good stonemason. Constructing with masonry, as used in this particular blog, takes longer time schedules than steel, tilt-up concrete, curtain walls, etc. Long time schedules lead to being a more expensive building.

In today’s world, many owners (not all) look for low cost and quick schedules because an occupied building equals income from rentals or production. Technology have given us the tools to create buildings quickly and economically. Someone mentioned to me recently that many of today’s buildings are throwaway buildings, not the iconic buildings of old. While I fully believe there are still some really great buildings being designed and constructed, it would be interesting to see those buildings in another 30 years.

Being in the design and construction trade for 54 years and being an admirer of "great" buildings, has been an education in seeing the progression of buildings. Think about some of the buildings created even 50 years ago are they still in service and offer the amenities of a 2020 designed building. Even hospitals of 50 years ago find it difficult to provide the care we demand today, although when constructed THEY were iconic in accommodating the medical practices of the time.

David Lewis CSI
Associate Principal & Commissioning Project Director
Clayco Construction


For millennia, designers and builders were limited to earth, stone, wood, and brick for building materials. Consequently, buildings were limited by the properties of these materials, for example, in terms of a maximum span or minimum wall thickness. With that in mind, it is remarkable that buildings that pushed the envelope of their material limitations are still standing; Hagia Sophia (with its immense, heavy dome), Notre Dame, (those fabulous flying buttresses) and Beauvais Cathedral (gravity-defying height, in what remains of the choir and transept) come to mind. They really were the high-tech buildings of their day.

The Monadnock Building in Chicago, at 16 stories, is the tallest brick bearing-wall commercial building in the world (although a wing of the building is steel-framed). The walls at the building’s base are six feet thick, which illustrates another drawback of tall bearing walls-the space required by the building’s structure.
David Metzger FCSI, Member Emeritus, CDT, FAIA, SCIP