Is building with wood "inferior" than building with stone?

Dec 2015
341
NYC
Looking back on a few past threads about this topic, i've notice that many have suggested that building with stone is harder than building with wood and it takes more skill to build with stone than building with wood. In a past thread about Chinese wood building (since Chinese tend to use wood for architecture) that Chinese didn't use stone until in recent dynasties because they "lacked the skill" to use stone, and that Greeks and Romans had the skill to work with stone. I personally disagree with this statement because I fail to see how Chinese originally "lacked the skill" to work with stone when wood is more abundant in China than stone is. Plus, wood decays easily so it's understandable why Chinese later on decided to use stone in some areas (although wood was still preferred), and speaking of Greece and Rome, isn't stone more abundant than wood, considering the geography of both places? And Chinese were still able to display impressive feats of architecture using wood.

So is building with stone take more skill than building with wood, or is there a bias towards stone masonry?
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,347
Sydney
Chinese architecture developed with the material more readily at hand
compacted earth being prominent . in alluvial plains bricks is usually used
wood is way cheaper to transport than stone both by land and water
except in rocky places , public stone buildings are , everywhere , prestige buildings
wood has outstanding characteristics as a building material
it is strong ,make throwing spans quite simple , offer good insulation is readily shaped and pleasant to the user

all of those things the Chinese architects were fully aware of

as for decay , a modicum of care and maintenance can see wooden building last for centuries
the Horyuji Temple is dated from the 6th century and Japan as notoriously wet climate

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Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,889
I'd say no. Stone can trickier to maintain though. (I love timber buildings as proper timber has about 90% structural integrity redundancy, i.e. 90% of a beam can rot away and the building will still structurally sound – and anything and everything can always be replaced.) It also depends a bit on climate. Wood flexes and structures need to be designed to deal with seasonal variations.

It's a bit akin to the old question why pottery made such a late appearance in Chinese pre-history? Wood and in particular bamboo containers being perfectly serviceable and functional can be part of the answer.

Part of the problem is how in any archaeological record effectively a premium gets set on relatively imperishable stuff like stone, or metal for that matter. There is a distinct tendency towards overdetermination of their significance for evaluating any society. When softer more perishable material HAS been found from prehistoric societies, the general consensus tends to be astonishment over how advanced it all was.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,726
Dispargum
In Early Medieval Europe there was some, but very little, stone construction. Builders may have used wood more often, but of course those wooden buildings haven't survived to the present. It's widely believed that Early Medieval builders had lost some of the skill and techniques of the Romans, but wood was preferred not for simplicity but for cost. One only invests the cost of stone construction if one wants the building to last. Many Early Medieval builders, especially the Church, were pessimistic about the future or perhaps expected an early second coming, so they saw no need for stone construction. Also, Early Medieval Europe was much poorer than Roman Europe. Builders could no longer afford stone so they used wood instead. I think this is where the idea in the OP comes from - that wood is simpler to work than stone. There were multiple factors occurring simultaneously - wood is cheaper, wood is less durable, and there was a loss of skill from previous times, but that doesn't mean that wood is simpler to work than stone.
 

Menshevik

Ad Honorem
Dec 2012
9,391
here
Were earthquakes taken into consideration when deciding what to build, especially in places like Japan? It’s my understanding that wooden structures are more suitable for regions that are prone to have a lot of earthquakes.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,365
Italy, Lago Maggiore
To build using stone is not more "difficult" in the sense that it requires incredible skills [to build is to build, regardless the material you use the problems are always the same, I mean building], but in the sense that logistically stones present more problems [because of weight and dimensions: and to reduce them you have to cut them ... and cutting a stone is not that easy, that is to say cheap, as to cut a piece of wood].

This is substantially why the civilizations in history [the Chinese one included], after acquiring the capability to build using stone, thought to create bricks [which are actually artificial little and light stones, if we think well]. You can even avoid the transport of the bricks: you can transport what you need to produce them to the construction site and make them directly there.

Usually, being it socially and economically expensive, stone was used by rich civilizations when it was available in suitable quantity. China did the same [think to the Great Wall!], but as noted by others, stone wasn't the most common construction material in Eastern China. Anyway we've got interesting examples of usage of stone [the Summer Palace shows not a few stone].

This said, it's possible that experience with earthquakes has influenced the choice of the wood and probably they noted that the pagoda tower tends to oscillate without falling down [if made of stone this would be impossible].
 

PADDYBOY

Historum Emeritas
Jan 2007
6,502
Scotland
When James IV of Scotland decided to build the Great Michael ship for the Royal Scottish navy in 1507, it is said that it consumed all the forests of Fife as well as timber purchased from Norway, France and the Baltic Sea as well as other regions of Scotland and that was just one ship.
My point is, depending on where you lived, timber could be a very precious and protected commodity. So it was much cheaper to build with stone and use peat to burn in your fires.