Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Building Light

Shira Yehudit Djalilmand

Today, with modern technology and concern for the environment, many large buildings are designed to be lightweight. What is a lightweight building made of, how can it still be safe and sturdy, and why does it matter how much a building weighs?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

 Mishpacha image


Although lightweight buildings might seem a modern innovation, it’s actually a really, really old idea. One lightweight structure has been around for thousands of years — the tent! There are many examples in the Torah of people living in tents, and of course in the Torah we have the perfect example of a lightweight building, made from natural materials and portable — the Mishkan!

But the beginnings of today’s trend to build light really began in the 19th century. You probably never heard of Joseph Paxton, but you might have heard of the famous building he designed — the Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace was basically an enormous greenhouse, made from huge sheets of glass over an iron framework, which, when the sunlight shone through, looked like it was made of thousands of crystals. It was built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851, held in London’s Hyde Park, to celebrate art in industry. Paxton’s design was adapted from a glass and iron conservatory he’d built for the Duke of Devonshire

Lightweight Building Evolving

The Crystal Palace’s revolutionary design set the stage for more lightweight buildings. In 1889, Paris’s famous Eiffel Tower was completed. Because it was built using a similar iron lattice framework, the Eiffel Tower (even though it was then the highest building in the world) used a relatively tiny amount of iron; if all its iron was melted down, it would fill just six centimeters of the tower’s base!

The Eiffel Tower was followed by another revolutionary lightweight building, the Carson Pirie Scott and Company Building in Chicago, designed by architect Louis Sullivan. After the Great Fire of 1871 destroyed much of the city, Sullivan designed a new building for the Jewish dry goods store of Schlesinger and Mayer. The building used a steel-frame structure with huge expanses of glass, and instead of heavy, expensive marble between the windows, lightweight, inexpensive terracotta.


The building was renamed the Sullivan Center in 2006. In 1964, German architect, Frei Otto, founded the Institute for Lightweight Structures at the Stuttgart College of Technology. Frei Otto became world famous for his wild and wonderful designs, all using lightweight materials. The shapes of many of his buildings were based on nature — bubbles, the wings of insects, bats, birds, spider webs, trees… Otto’s building were so revolutionary that he was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2015 — the “Nobel Prize of Architecture.”

Bamboo and Blocks

So what exactly are lightweight buildings made from? We’ve already seen how steel and iron are used to make lightweight frameworks, and of course, how fabrics are used to make tents. But there are plenty of other lightweight building materials, too.

Bamboo is incredibly useful for building. It’s super lightweight but also extremely strong and flexible and is very popular in the Far East for building light, inexpensive, and surprisingly elegant homes. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 657)

Related Stories

Much Ado about… Nothing!

Rochel Burstyn

What’s the smallest number? One, right? Well, actually, it’s zero. Let’s zero in on zero, so you can...

History Highlights: Salonika

Rabbi Meir Goldberg

In History Highlights this week, we head to Yavan! That’s right, Greece. But not the Greece of Antio...

Stand Up and Be Counted: Chapter 4

Devorah Grant

Libby contemplates the concept of peer pressure. The “Are You Normal?” survey is launched, though Da...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"