The Three Little Pigs: Revisiting Building Material Mythologies

 In Construction

The story of the “3 Petits Cochons” (the 3 little pigs) is as well known to Americans as to the French. Any culture which has grown up with this story probably has certain prejudices about the relative value of the building materials described. Brick is best, wood is next (but won’t stand up against the wolf), and straw is worthless.

The first little pig built a house of bricks

In France, and much of Europe, the traditional building materials of brick and stone have gradually given way to their modern day equivalents, concrete and concrete block. All of these materials represent the permanency of construction in a place where buildings have lasted, and are built to last, for hundreds of years.

The second little pig built a house of sticks
In the United States, on the other hand, due to the original availability of vast forest resources, wood has traditionally been the building material which made the most sense. It can be used to build sturdy, adequate housing quickly and economically. The housing is not as permanent, but this is a more mobile society, without the same sense of permanency and historical continuity found in Europe.

Fooling the big bad wolf

Interestingly enough, there are a fair number of wood structures with brick or stone veneer on the front façade. Does this reflect the “brick is better” mentality of the 3 little pigs? Is the owner attracted to the look or permanency of brick, but not wanting to pay the higher price? In Switzerland, where wood is highly valued as a building material, the opposite occurs. Many large buildings are made of concrete covered with wood veneer.

In Europe as well as here we find the same phenomenon of materials pretending to be something they are not: concrete floors stamped to look like stone pavers, laminate countertops made to look like granite, a variety of materials which imitate wood grains. The materials which are being imitated are invariably more expensive (otherwise, the real thing would be used). Although the imitation somehow reproduces the feel of the admired original, the directness and honesty of the material is compromised.

Subsequent pigs built beautiful, practical structures from concrete, steel, wood, glass, asphalt shingle . . . .
By using the materials which make the most sense in a given time and place in a creative and honest way (rather than wasting resources to transform them into an imitation of something else) architecture becomes a true, local expression of the people it is created by and for.

And the last little pig lived happily ever afterward in a cool and comfortable house of straw!
What about the house of straw? On a recent visit to the Congo, I had the occasion to compare homes with thatch roofs with those with steel roofs. I was surprised by how cool, comfortable and visually pleasant the homes with thatch roofs were. Similar homes with metal roofs felt like an oven during the day. A well-crafted thatch roof can last for 30 years or more.

In Crestone, Colorado, we eventually took it as far as protecting our clients from the big bad wind, the big bad freeze, and the big bad heat by designing and building a home out of 14-inch thick strawbale. This was combined with a solar and in-floor heating, and where thermal comfort was required we obtained thermal delight. All in all, there is real solidity and a sense of safety with a softness and visual warmth that is captured by the strawbale structure. The sheer thickness of the walls makes you wish for the wolf to put this home to the test. Maybe the little pig that built the house of straw wasn’t doing so poorly after all!

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Showing 5 comments
  • Dominique Gettliffe

    Tom is perfect as one of the little pigs

    • Aditya

      11.) I think the animals were not alwloed to wear clothes because it would be too much like the humans. Also, for the animals to wear clothes would be bringing them into human customs for example, shoes, clothes.12.) I believe that the pigs did not want the animals to believe in Sugarcandy mountain because they wanted the animals to not believe in this fantasy land to take their mind off of the revolution. Also they did not want them to get adjusted to the life they all live.13.) I think the pigs wanted to teach themselves how to read because they may have wanted to understand more, and to develop an organized animal raised farm.

  • Amin

    I think they add the fluorescent green eortpin as a marker to the end of whichever DNA strip (?) they add to the genome to see if it’s incorporated and the right eortpin is eventually expressed. It’s just an easier way to distinguish which pigs, in this case, will have the right DNA (i.e. human DNA) for transplant. In the above research, for example, only 2 of the 11 piglets expressed the GFP. It’s easier to find which two with fluorescence rather than a DNA test on the 11. Multiply this by orders of magnitude once you have a real organ farm.It’s an old research idea (at least 15 years old). With respect to transpecies organ donation, the big issue some years ago was transferring viruses across species. I think they found some organisms that were pretty benign in pigs, but could potentially create new problems in humans. Lastly, just to be pedantic, the fluorescence has a specific excitation range. You don’t really expect to see glowing pigs, unless you change all your houselights to the right UV range.

  • Satyendra

    11. Why weren’t the animals aloewld to wear clothes?They werent aloewld to wear clothes becuase they werent supposed t get the human habits becuase the there would be no rebellion if u just act the same way their enemys do .12. Why didn’t the pigs want the animals to believe that Sugarcandy Mountain was real? they didnt ant them to get their hopes up and loose focus on something else besides their animalism13. What might have been the pig’s reasons for teaching themselves to read and writethey probably taught their self to read and write becuase if they tried to learn from Mr.Jones or Mrs.Jones then they might have been sold for being such smart pigs

  • Payton

    I’ve been visiting your blog for a while now and I aywals find a gem in your new posts. Thanks for sharing.

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