“Soft Reds and Hard Tans” Exploring Historic Masonry Architecture in the French Quarter

by Randy Ruth

New Orleans. It’s quite the town especially during the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, known as Carnival. Technically beginning on January 6th and concluding on the day before Ash Wednesday (aka Fat Tuesday), the long celebration is concentrated on the final few weeks, giving rise to more frequent parades and events.  Granted I had never been there before but what I expected was much different from my experience. As a Philadelphia native, I had assumed that it’s nothing but one insane party similar to events that might occur during the Mummers parade on New Year’s Day in Philly, and be only on Fat Tuesday. What I had experienced was by far richer in both culture and architectural significance. I don’t mean this to down play the heritage of historically significant Philadelphia. It’s just that New Orleans has a charm that I believe to be facilitated by it organic architectural style, originating in function over form.

Spending most of my time in the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans also known as the French Quarter or as some may traditionally refer to it as Vieux Carré, I felt a certain type of warmth from the people and its buildings. The symbiotic relationship felt I found to be rooted in the architecture bound mostly by French, Spanish and African influence. This dynamic create a true Creole culture. Perhaps this is why nobody can exactly pinpoint the exact year that Carnival festivities began, a very real unique place and people whose origins can be traced to their roots but only studied in regard to its complex organic creation. The trend can be translated to local architecture in the French quarter however it is a bit easier to study.

A New Orleans local showed me around the French Quarter explaining all the influences of Spanish, French, African and local climate on many of the buildings architecture. Probably the most iconic would be the balconies and galleries extending over the sidewalks. Just to be clear balconies are cantilevered into the building with no supporting posts extending halfway over the sidewalk, while galleries typically extend to the edge of the street. Unbeknownst to me I found that the reason for this is threefold.

First, has to deal with the influence of the Spanish and French architects designing buildings since New Orleans beginnings. However, more often than not these buildings needed to be protected from the weather. Wind driven rain during hot summers created the need to have large open windows to permit air flow but something needs to prevent the buildings from getting wet on the inside, hence the need for balconies to act as an eve to prevent rain from entering the interior. The same principle also protects the inferior masonry walls. New Orleans suffers from poor clay local clay for making bricks. The result being bricks called “soft reds & hard tans” that in most cases must be protected with a stucco or render of lime.

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What is currently known as the Napoleon house was first occupied by the mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815. Although Napoleon never came he was offered this residence during his exile in 1822.

 

 

 

 

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Detailing of deteriorated “Soft red” brick rendered with lime stucco as a Trompe L’oei to imitate limestone blocks on the Napoleon House.

 

 

 

Another defining characteristic of architecture in the French Quarter is the entresol, also known as mezzanine. Entresol’s were needed for storage in commercial buildings due to the high local water table.  Looking at the exterior of a building one can clearly notice the well defined tall window front that help hide the storage floor between the 1st and 2nd floors.

 

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This store front exemplifies the use of an entresol commonly found in the French Quarter.

 

 

 

Due to New Orleans high water table, rising damp is a big issue for many of the building. Because the majority of the historic Buildings located in the Vieux Carré district were built before the advent of Portland cement, lime was used and accommodated moisture very well.  However, today pure lime technology is used to restore the local historic properties, which results in fewer lost or damaged cultural resources.

The time I spent in New Orleans was certainly too limited. There was far too much to see in the few days I was there. Its impact left me forever moved by its places and people. For anyone who has not been there. GO! The treasure hidden in the city is everywhere, waiting for people to experience it and take a piece of it home. Perhaps the next time I visit I will see you there.

 

 

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Case Study on Masonry Repair and Patching Material – Lithomex

Damaged stone and brick is a common problem for many historic structures around the world. Lithomex is a breathable in-kind repair material for most types of damaged stone and brick. The following is an example of a Lithomex repair on a historic 19th century stone house…

Lithomex Repair in Merion Station, PA:

This house, located in Merion Station Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, was constructed in the 1920s during the Arts and Crafts style movement. This movement was a direct descendant of the British Arts and Crafts movement which was initiated by William Morris during the mid 1800s as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and its lack of concern for human lives in the work place. This movement was meant to bring back pride to the true craftsmen once again with an emphasis on hand-made vs. mass production.

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Before applying Lithomex

This house was handcrafted using a variety of stone including Mica Schist, Serpentine, Red Sandstone, Brownstone, PA Bluestone, and some Limestone. It was originally pointed with a high Portland cement content mortar, either 5:1:2 or 1:3 formula of Cement, Lime and sand. Unfortunately this was a recipe for disaster.

During the following 80 years, the softer sandstones received the greatest damage due to the freeze/ thaw cycles of the cold Pennsylvania winters. This combined with later modifications including new windows which were installed improperly allowed water to be trapped behind and within the stone walls. Leaks developed within the house and the homeowners decided it was time to fix things the right way.

BEFORE PHOTOS

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Lithomex being applied

A team from Galli Masonry Restorations took on the challenge to bring this historic home back to its original glory. First they removed all the old pointing and filled in the voids with LimeWorks.us Natural Hydraulic Lime mortar. Then blended with Lithomex colors and textures to replicate the original look of the stone. The damaged serpentine, brownstone and bluestone was repaired and blended in to be virtually unnoticeable.  The color and composition of the final pointing work was chosen by the homeowner which was a mix of Ecologic® Mortar DGM non-pigmented, DGM Grey and black Slag-fleck.

 

 

 

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Damaged stone

 

 

 

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Damaged wall at window

 

 

 

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Measuring damaged serpentine stone

 

 

 

 

 

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Lithomex on chimney

 

 

 

 

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Crafting Lithomex

 

 

 

 

AFTER PHOTOS

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Side of house after Lithomex application image 1

 

 

 

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After Lithomex application image 2

 

 

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After Lithomex application image 3

 

 

 

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After Lithomex application image 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

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After Lithomex application image 5

 

 

 

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After Lithomex application image 6

 

 

 

 

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After Lithomex application image 7

 

 

 

All Photos Copyright George Galli, Galli Masonry Restoration

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The Mysterious Newport Tower, Restored Using Natural Hydraulic Lime

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The Newport Tower is a peculiarly placed piece of stonework.  It currently resides in Touro Park surrounded by one of the ritziest resorts on the eastern seaboard.  Often called the “Old Mill”, it’s generally accepted to have once been a windmill built in the mid 17th Century. But some believe it was built much earlier either by visiting Vikings, Native Americans, traveling Chinese sailors, or even medieval Scottish Templars led by earl Henry Sinclair during a voyage to New England about a hundred years before Columbus.  Either way, this structure was built to last, being a minimum of 360 some years old. A mortar comparison showed the Newport Tower to be made of lime, sand and gravel.

A team from Contracting Specialists Incorporated recently performed some structural restoration by removing Portland Cement repairs and shoring up the stone with Natural Hydraulic Lime as well as placing a new cap on the top with NHL. These repairs ensure the structure will retain its historically appropriate ingredients while also keeping it structurally sound for generations to come.

Additional Resources
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newport_Tower_(Rhode_Island)
http://www.unmuseum.org/newporttower.htm
http://www.thenewporttower.com
http://www.neara.org/images/what/Newport__loose_threads.pdf
http://www.newporttower.org

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Phone: 245-536-6706

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Green Construction in Today’s Built Environment – FAQ by Randy Ruth

by Randy Ruth

When people talk about “green” construction, I often wonder what the environmental benefit of the construction is. Is it new construction? If so what is the environmental impact? I would hope that a perfectly good existing building wasn’t torn down to make way for supposed progress.

It is my belief that the greenest building is the one that is already standing and most likely played a role in a community’s development. It could be an old department store, manufacturing warehouse or barn. Sometimes plans call for only the façade of a building to be saved which helps keep the architectural integrity of a community intact. This can be a positive compromise because the more useful modernized building can be built and yet some historic fabric is retained to tell the story and retain the flavor of what the building was in its local context.

In the end, as long as something is retained for adaptive reuse, whether it is for aesthetics or the entire structure, there is a measure of success in reducing a “green” construction project’s carbon footprint.

In most instances, a building that has been saved from the wrecking ball is old. What does old really mean? Well that’s pretty subjective but I would like to think of old in the context of US building history as being pre 1930, or roughly 80 years and older. When an old building is going to be adaptively reused one way or another then appropriate materials should be used to fix what is broken with compatible repair materials. Using in-kind repairs will further promote the legacy and overall usefulness of a building for years to come while lowering its impact on the environment.

Old buildings are usually very strong and often made of brick and stone that has proven to stand the test of time. However it’s the mortar that binds those materials together and meant to be sacrificial. Mortar should fail first not irreplaceable historic masonry units. The embodied energy to replace a masonry unit is much greater than the mortar. Therefore, it is imperative that a suitable replacement mortar be used to mend what is failing and the mortar be weaker and slightly more permeable than the surrounding masonry units.

In the case of masonry mortar, lime is typically the binder in these old buildings and should be regarded as key to the dynamic that has allowed the building to be in service so long. Often the original mortar is still in place, proving its superiority and therefore should be replaced in-kind. The use of modern day Portland cement based mortars, which are stronger and denser when placed over the top of lime based mortars, are less sympathetic to the historic masonry and can trap moisture causing further damage to the historic fabric. The historic masonry units and adjacent historic elements can best be kept in conservation with the use of the right lime mortar. The correct Natural Hydraulic Lime (NHL) mortars when used where they are appropriate can become a compatible repair materials that is sympathetic  to the working dynamics of an historic masonry building. Secondly, NHL mortars remain reversible without damage to the building unlike the alternative which is the too over-used hard, brittle and dense Portland cement based mortars which are known to cause irreversible damage in conjunction with historic masonry fabric.

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How Lime Mortar Traditionally Got it’s Color and How We Can Replicate this Today – FAQ by Randy Ruth

by Randy Ruth

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Seven factors that can affect the color of lime mortar in no particular order of significance, Lime, aggregate, pigment, water content, rate of absorption, original surface texture and erosion. By its self, the color spectrum of lime can vary from bright white, light grey, slight pink or ochre colors. This color is dependent on a few factors such as the original stones chemical makeup and burning temperature. When an appropriate limestone is thoroughly burned (calcined) at a particular temperature to produce hydraulic or non-hydraulic quicklime and then hydrated to produce either a lime putty or dry lime hydrate, the result will be a white or off-white color. The first factor affecting the whiteness index of the lime will vary depending on the raw mineral impurities in the limestone. A limestone with a higher calcium content with all other factors aside will produce a whiter hydrated lime. If that same limestone is burned at a slightly higher temperature, the result will be a slightly grayer hydrated lime. Although, lime plays a role in the final color of a mortar, its significance today, when replicating a mortar joint is minimal, often due to the lack of availability or technical characteristics like Hydraulicity. Aggregate has a huge effect on the color of lime mortar. Historically aggregate for masonry mortar would be sourced from either local sand beds, found near creeks or rivers, or from the trimmings of stone on site and possibly brick pieces or dust as a pozzolanic additive.

The larger screenings of the aggregate play a role in the overall tone of the final mortar color but it is the fines that do most of the work. The smallest particles in the aggregate AKA fines will give the biggest impact on the final color. Brick dust, limekiln dust and clay impurities are pozzolanic fines that can be found accidentally and at times intentionally accompanying the aggregate. Today these impurities are almost never allowed into a replicate mortar mix, as the resulting technical data from such a mix design is often cost/time prohibitive for a project even if historically appropriate. As a result powdered pigments are often used today to achieve a particular mortar color. Just because pigments are predominantly used today in mortar mix designs, doesn’t mean that they weren’t used over 100 years ago. Colored mortar is an important design element in any building of today and yesteryear.

The types of pigments used in mortars have not changed all that much in past few hundred years. Iron oxide, carbon black, and natural ochre’s hold a solid footing in the industry today, each presenting their own limitations. It has been proven that carbon blacks can fade dramatically over a 30 year period in masonry mortar. Even though their tinting strength is very good, if not controlled carefully shades of grey can be very difficult to achieve. Natural ochre’s can produce wonderful colors and be very accurate when making accurate replicate mortars. The problem is in their tinting strength, and consistency in production on a large-scale. It may take above a 10% dosage of natural pigment to achieve the same color in a mortar using iron oxide pigments conforming to ASTM C979. Because of their durability, tinting strength and quality in production, iron oxides have been deemed the best pigment for coloring mortar on a large-scale. Even when using appropriate pigments at the correct concentration, water content in a mortar plays a big role in determining final color. Using the same exact mix in two batches and varying the water content by 10% will produce a significant change in color. From experience, I have noted that this problem is most evident when trying to achieve a red colored mortar. Light grey’s can also be problematic but are less evident and are usually deemed acceptable. That is why it important to measure all ingredients in a mix carefully to ensure consistency from batch to batch. The practice of mixing mortars consistently should carry over to pre-dampening of masonry units. By pre-dampening consistently as possible, the rate of absorption is controlled. This is a good practice just so mortar will not reach a flash set, and to control curing of the mortar which plays a role in the final color.

 

There is some debate on how a replicated mortar should look when not replacing all the mortar. Should it look new, with a smooth surface that stands out because of the way light reflects off two different surface textures? Alternatively, should it blend in with adjacent mortar joints? Personality, I believe in the latter. If a new mortar is inherently the same color at its core as the old historic mortar, than even though a slicked smooth replacement mortar will eventually blend in it can still distract the eye. A good repair for just about anything should be as seamless as possible. Besides, won’t a different texture erode differently, resulting in the continuation of a miss match over time? This brings me to erosion in mortar. As a mortar erodes, the color of the aggregate begins to come through. This color can sometimes throw off the human eyes perception of what is the color to be achieved when color matching. Someone explained this to me so well once that I must share. He had asked a room full of people what the color of foam on the head of a beer is. All replied white in color. We all got it wrong. The answer is amber like the color of the beer. This is because of the way light is reflected back to the human eye off a larger Surface area. Now that is in extreme case of a dark color turning lighter but the principle is still applicable to mortar. However, in most cases the rougher the color the darker a mortar is, and depending on who well the color of the sand is matched, you may just get a replacement mortar that will be seamless for generations.

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Burning Lime, The Traditional Way

This is an incredible video that really shows the difficulties of burning limestone the old way. Stacking wood, limestone and coal in an old kiln these men go through the process using traditional methods to turn regular limestone into caustic burnt lime.

Uploaded on Nov 27, 2010

This is from the Edwardian Farm series – how to make 10 tons of lime mortar in a massive kiln using layers of limestone and coal burnt for days!

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A Message from Ian Cramb, a younger man…

We got an email back in 2011 with some amazing photos of Ian Cramb. These photos are from 1958 in Iona, Scotland. Ian was working on the cloisters of Iona Abbey at the time. Iona is a small island off  the west coast of Scotland near Oban. These photos came from another Ian, Ian Taylor who spent a month living in Iona as a student in 1958 where he captured these photos during his stay on the island.

Also, in the recording below Ian talks about the apron he is wearing in the photo. He only wore that apron during his time in Iona and every morning it was blessed before he began the day’s work at the Abbey.

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Get Ian Cramb’s book here: The Stonemason’s Gospel

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Lime Mortars vs. Cement FAQ with Randy Ruth

Shall I use Lime or Cement?

Q: Could I perhaps use cement and sand? What is the advantage of using lime on old stone structures

A: You should not use only cement and sand for a variety of reasons, the first being that in today’s mortars, lime adds workability and plasticity to the Portland cement mortars. Without lime in the mix or proprietary additives, the cement and sand mortar will have extremely poor workability. Secondly, modern-day cement is much different than early cement or lime, it is very hard, dense, vapor impermeable, and brittle. Cement can trap moisture inside the wall and erode the mortar behind the repair mortar, this can cause further unseen deterioration and masonry unit (stone, brick, terracotta) deterioration, thus resulting in a delayed and much larger/costly masonry repair.

The advantage of using an appropriate lime mortar on old stone structures deals with compatibility. There is a rule of thumb when approaching a restoration project and that is to repair in kind with like materials. By following this approach an individual can avoid unforeseen problems associated with trying something “new and improved” when there is such a well over 2,000 years of lime building history. There have been a number of studies done around the world on historic structures that conclude that even a small amount of Portland cement added to a lime mortar mix, can cause detrimental damage to the adjacent masonry and historic bedding mortar.

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Phone: 215-536-6706

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