Review of Building Pathology: Principles and Practice

Structural Survey

ISSN: 0263-080X

Article publication date: 1 May 2000


Parnham, P. (2000), "Review of Building Pathology: Principles and Practice", Structural Survey, Vol. 18 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Review of Building Pathology: Principles and Practice

Review of Building Pathology: Principles and Practice

David WattBlackwell ScienceISBN 0632048751

I am a building surveyor with a passion for the diagnosis of defects. There is nothing I like better than grappling with the mysteries of a damp, cracked and rotting building, identifying the signs and symptoms, narrowing down the range of possible causes and finally isolating the reason why the building is under-performing. Consequently a book with the title of Building Pathology is of great interest to me and other surveyors who have developed a more technical specialism. Could it be a defining text for a small but committed sub-set of our profession? In many ways it is. Watt begins by describing building pathology as "... The holistic approach to understanding buildings". This is right because defects are often the interaction of a multitude of factors which combine to reduce the functional performance of any building. Watt tackles this broad topic by covering a range of inter-related issues including:

  • understanding buildings - this chapter poses some functional questions like what is a building? How do we perceive them? What are our expectations of buildings? These may appear esoteric issues but as Watt points out the answers can lead to more informed evaluations of building performance;

  • building performance - this chapter deals with the more familiar topics of building structures, materials, services and the principles of building performance;

  • defects, damage and decay - the agents of decay are described in this section which includes all the usual suspects;

  • survey and assessment - focusing on the more extensive building surveys, this chapter includes many useful checklists of information that will have to be collected on site. The outline of a historic structure report is particularly interesting;

  • remediation in practice - this includes several international building defect case studies that show the different techniques and approaches that can be adopted;

  • building management and aftercare - the final section looks forward to the future and how buildings can be cared for more effectively.

The majority of the topics are covered effectively and there is a clear attempt at showing how they are all inter-linked. I like the writing style and each chapter is extremely well referenced allowing the more technically proficient reader to take their study to a deeper level. My only criticism is that some parts are a little too broad. Overviews and bullet-point lists dominate large parts of the text which I find frustrating. The case studies on remediation are similarly treated. Although it is good to get an international perspective on how building defects are identified, diagnosed and repaired, the examples are so short I find it difficult to engage with the problems presented. I would have rather seen just two or three case studies more fully considered.

These criticisms are probably unfair because they reflect the failure of the book to meet my expectations and needs. For someone who is beginning to study building pathology and building performance it will be very useful. In these cases the broad overview it gives will be its strength.

I will recommend this book to a wide range of courses that I teach from general practice and building surveying undergraduates to postgraduate facility and property managers. But the more experienced building pathologists amongst us might, like me, find it a little too general.

Phil Parnham