11 August 2014

2014, August 11 | Monday 12:28 pm

by Peter Samuel

New materials present a challenge for historic preservationists. Their kneejerk reaction is usually to say: No, quite inappropriate. And so you have design rules or guidelines banning pressure treated wood, insulated glazing, asphalt shingles, wood-only garage doors, fiber-cement siding, even the ultimate absurdity a bar on power tools, insistence on hand tools.

Trouble is new materials are likely to be better value than old, otherwise homebuilders won’t buy them. Given they are better value the bar on their use by historic preservation regulators is bound to be a source of contention.

Now if a historic district is very compact and rather homogenous, and if it is confined to rather wealthy people that contention may be muted. If it has been enlarged many times by power hungry preservationist fanatics and covers a whole swathe of the City and people of a whole cross section of incomes – like Frederick’s historic district – then such bars on using better-value materials is bound to be difficult to sustain.

It becomes a major handicap to development, and increases the costs of preservation and rehabilitation. And so, one by one, the bars on use of a new material collapses. Regulatory preservation tends to limit, delay and obstruct adoption of new materials, but in the end, not to stop their use.

Joel Mokyr, professor of economic history Northwestern University writes that we’re on the threshold of an era of huge advances in materials:

“The terms Bronze and Iron Ages signify the… importance (of materials); the great era of technological progress between 1870 and 1914 was wholly dependent on cheap and ever-better steel.

“But what is happening to materials now is a leap far beyond any of the past, with new resins, ceramics and entirely new solids designed in silico, (that is, on a computer) developed at the nanotechnological level. These promise materials that nature never dreamed of and that deliver custom-ordered properties in hardness, resilience, elasticity and so on.

“One example is graphene, a sheet of very thin carbon whose molecules can be arranged to make it either the strongest or the most flexible material on earth. It conducts electricity and heat better than any material ever discovered. In the future graphene is likely to replace silicon in transistors, solar cells and other applications we cannot yet imagine.”

Graphene manufacture is largely an invention of Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, immigrant European scientists at the University of Manchester in England, but is now the subject widespread R&D. Its first uses will likely be in high value, weight-sensitive applications such as electronics, aircraft, vehicles, and medical devices. But as costs go down it seems likely to find spectacular uses in construction materials and coatings.

Known in shorthand ‘G’ graphrne is 200 times the strength of steel, so thin they call it 2D because it’s just one atom thick, harder than diamond, a better electricity conductor than copper, flexible or rigid as engineered, impermeable yet transparent, and also the lightest material invented. It has spawned a whole new range of crystals that can be rearranged on command to create materials with specified characteristics – designer materials.

http://online.wsj.com/articles/joel-mokyr-what-todays-economic-gloomsayers-are-missing-1407536487?tesla=y&mod=djemMER_h&mg=reno64-wsj

http://www.graphene.manchester.ac.uk

http://www.extremetech.com/tag/graphene

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphene

editor 2014-08-10

Your Comments are invited.Please send feedback to petersamuel@mac.com
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About Us

Why Restore Sanity... This website is for people who love Frederick and its history but who are fed up with their bossy nannyish or obstructionist treatment at the hands of the City's "Historic Preservation Commission" - which has become more about nitpicking interference and generating paperwork and hearings than about preservation. Founded with the best of intentions the Commission has morphed into a costly obstruction to property improvements and an unreasonable burden on the people and businesses of central Frederick. The aim of Restore Sanity is to provide a platform for people to document their experiences with this Commission, and...

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