Unlooked For Defects in New Houses May Point to Improper Construction


Continued investigation of buildings about Harvard, started when it was found that extensive repairs upon the Business School and Biological Building were necessary due to defective brick setting, has revealed serious flaws in many of the newer Houses and the new Wigglesworth Hall completed in the summer of 1931.

Trouble with the mortar between the bricks found in the Business School Buildings has also been discovered in the Houses and on the stone facings of the gates about Dunster House. Workmen have been at work for several weeks in an effort to stop the decaying of the mortar on the gate posts. The stone facing on the posts is only one half an inch thick and the mortar has dried and fallen from its position, leaving the concrete beneath to the exposure of the weather which has already started to rot the inner section of the pillars. Expensive major repairs have been found necessary in order to combat the decay which has set in on these comparatively new structures. As has been the case with the majority of the repairs of a similar nature which have been found in University buildings, the work has been undertaken by the Maintenance Department at the cost of the University.

On the Houses themselves it was found that around the round tops of some of the windows the wood has pulled away from the brick, and has there by necessitated a complete recaulking with plastic filler around the sashes at the top in order to prevent water and wind from coming in through the cracks.

Squash courts in Leverett House caused a great deal of unexpected trouble when it was found that the wood backing the rear walls of two of the courts is improperly cured, and has caused the timbers to swell and buckle. The back frame is made of square timbers of about three inches in thickness, set up vertically and horizontally about nine inches apart. On swelling, the horizontal tim- bers forced the vertical ones out, caused the whole wall to buckle, and become unfit for play, and necessitated a complete rebuilding of the wall by the University Maintenance Department. Investigation reveals that this is an unusual circumstance in a court only three years old, one which can be laid to faulty construction resulting from using improperly dried woods.

In the interior of Wigglesworth Hall in the Yard several large cracks have developed in the walls, one of which is pictured in the accompanying illustration. Here the plaster about the shower has cracked, and is in such a condition as to be in imminent danger of falling from the walls. Similar cases have been found in the bathrooms of many of the Houses where not only the walls have cracked but the floors have swelled also, as a result of improper waterproofing underneath the showers. In the rooms beneath the bathrooms water has leaked through from the floor above causing much repair work. Investigation has revealed that inferior waterproofing material was used and that it failed to give the necessary protection.


All these buildings were built at practically the same time and all show serious and, in view of their newness, unusual defects.

Investigations have been under way to ascertain if these faults in the setting of the brick, and the floors may be laid to the contractors or to some defective materials which they used. So far, no conclusive evidence has been received which would in any way determine the cause of the present trouble. Whether it was undue economy, on the part of the University in an effort to construct the houses and other buildings as cheaply as possible or whether the Houses were a victim of the boom year construction so frequently found in work of that period when buildings were put up as fast and as cheaply as possible at the expense of durability and other qualities which would make it possible for the buildings to stand for many decades to come with a minimum of repairs is a question yet to be settled.PLASTER CRACKS The above picture shows the unusual spreading of the cracks that have developed in the plastering of the walls around a shower in Wigglesworth Hall, built in 1931.