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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Does ivy ruin buildings or make them?

Pictured is a little ivy covered house in the village of Nomexy-Chatel on the banks of the Moselle River in the North East of France, taken on a recent trip.

Recently I read a magnificent article on ivy and the 'ruination' of buildings.
I am an ivy lover.
Ivy growing up, on, around and in buildings is the height of the romantic ruin, even on functioning buildings, it seems to me wonderful.
A combination of man made and god made.
A mix of the harsh, right angles of concrete/brick buildings, and the wild beauty of the green ivy climbing haphazardly up the building.
The article, written by Christopher Gray, in the NY Times, briefly goes into the history of the discussion as to whether or not ivy is destructive to functioning buildings.
It appears that in the late 1800's ivy was pronounced by both Chambers' Encyclopaedia of London and Edinburgh as well as the The New York Tribune as not only being harmless to buildings but as ''gracefully clothing'' them "with the interlacing vine". However, shortly after, The American Architect magazine, in the early 1900's described the climbing vine leaves as "coarse and rank" hiding beautiful architecture, and even quoted the English Builder magazine saying, "there exist two principal ways of destroying buildings, both equally efficient: a) dynamite, b) ivy." !!!
The argument went back and forth over the years, until recently, in 2010, an Oxford report was published, called Ivy on Walls, which gives a more scientific and decisive answer to the issue.
It seems that ivy does not damage masonry walls. On the contrary it even protects the brick surface from being attacked by 'airborne pollutants', and moderates the temperature and humidity around such walls, thereby reducing damage made to brick walls by extreme fluctuation in temperature/humidity.
This magnificent article even quotes from a a poem written by Byron in 1817 on the romance of the decaying Colosseum (I don't recall if Josh found this and already previously quoted this, if so, apologies, but it is nevertheless a superb quote regarding the romance of ruins...):

"Ivy usurps the laurel's place of growth
But the Gladiators' bloody Circus stands
A noble wreck in ruinous perfection!"

If only the ivy had been left to climb the ruins of the Colosseum...