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Last edited 12 Jun 2022
Mitchells construction series reprint
|Article written by Professor Steve Scaysbrook FCIAT, Chartered Architectural Technologist for the AT Journal Winter no. 140 entitled 'Mitchell’s Construction Series 1881 – present day: the preservation of construction knowledge"|
 The preservation of construction knowledge
Article written by Professor Steve Scaysbrook FCIAT, Chartered Architectural Technologist
 A spotlight on the 1906 edition
Ever since the initial issue of the Mitchell’s construction books in 1881 by Charles Frederick Mitchell, (the photo here is one of the few taken of him), no other book series has a continued presence in the built environment sector. For almost 140 years, students and practitioners have referred to both the First Stage or Elementary book and the more detailed Advanced and Honours copy as the stand-alone references to construction detailing and materials.
Through a prestigious career as a lecturer at The Polytechnic Institute, Regent Street, London, which became known as the Regent Street Polytechnic, and finally Westminster University, Charles F Mitchell (1859- 1916) was the senior lecturer. His older brother Robert Mitchell CBE (1855-1933) was head of the school.
Together, with his younger brother George A Mitchell, they embarked on an almost 30-year project of writing, updating and modifying what became two separate construction books, the First Stage or Elementary and the expanded Advanced and Honours series, published initially by Batsford, and later Routledge.
 A growing series
The series grew from the initial single volume in 1881, as the First Stage or Elementary course, (an electronic version of the first issue can be viewed online at the Reese Library California University) to a two-volume issue in 1893/4 and expanded very quickly from two books into a collection of support issues by specifically qualified authors, dealing with structure, environment and services and components and finishes, with a specific issue of 40 plates of the detailed drawings used in many of the releases, with other more specific books on carpentry and bricklaying, offering a complete cross discipline guide to construction technology.
The book series was originally aimed at students attending the Regent Street College, but quickly spread with the current editions aimed at those studying construction technology as part of a qualification route to a degree level attainment and above.
Mitchell continued the development and updating of his series till his death in 1916. His younger brother George continued his legacy and continued to expand and correct the series until his death in 1953. From then on, several industry professionals took over the helm updating and adding new content.
Many of the older books are still available as hardback paper versions found on many booksellers lists who deal in older books and other specific collector book sites. Their importance to the built environment sector as a description of construction practice at specific points in history is now beginning to be appreciated to modern-day professionals as they prepare to update or simply repair existing buildings from the late 1890’s through to modern day.
Over the past year, I have amassed a collection of both First Stage or Elementary and Advanced and Honours issues. The issue numbers of the two separate books titles do not correspond to each other with updates to the First Stage or Elementary editions being slower than that of the Advanced.
The control and use of many materials used at this period differ in both the way they were made, and installed, to the site practice of the time performed in a different way to that enjoyed today. The main purpose of this electronic issue is to make current designers aware of these differences and the perhaps the climate enjoyed internally being different to the warm and often humid internal space we now seem to enjoy.
The weather of 1906, although not that dissimilar to 2021, should be considered as over a 100 years of continual warfare against the materials, changing them in so many ways from the mortars used in the often-solid wall construction, and mostly none insulated environment. The weather together with heating provided via an almost room by room basis with coal fires, released sooty smoke that smothered big cities and coated buildings in soot and city grime, further adding to the alternative weathering
The Mitchell's series of books from this period give both an understanding of design and construction for this period, but also showing the way to upgrading and or repairing historic structures, which demands an understanding of the manufacture of the materials used at the time, their installation and even more important, the ageing of the individual material over the lifetime of the building. This is individual to each project, and its position in the building, internal or external and its orientation to the sun.
Although this reprint is dedicated to 1906, each edition offers a similar insight to that particular period of construction history, showing materials and construction of that age, offering professionals a unique timeline of material development and construction technology.
The current rewrite, published in December 2021, will make reference to linking back to the complete timeline and offer ways to refer to specific editions, to repair, extend and enlarge heritage construction buildings to modern living without compromising the architecture, materials and construction.
There is no simple heritage material list to consult, each project being distinct and separate from any other. This will mean a detailed survey of each, and every element, to establish a baseline, with sensors employed to collect data on a timeline. Destructive testing is not normally an option in heritage buildings, so electronic scanning and data collection and analysis, should be the way forward, collecting as much data as possible on the materials used from thermal to density to moisture content and solar orientation.
(ISBN for both Volumes 1 & 2) 978-1-032-19904-7
 Contemporary understanding
Modern-day CAD programmes with their inbuilt ability to add data to any element, or component, should be the repository of the scanned data, often as embedded data within the model or as is the case in walls, data collected on a grid format to suit the element and saved typically within a spreadsheet. Graphical programming using Dynamo or grasshopper will be useful to analyse the data and understand the effects of time, weather and orientation.
Electronic scanning and data collection from embedded and external sensors will play an important part in any historic refurbishment project, allowing a vast amount of data to be collected. The use and integration of the data will allow designers to run scenarios to establish the true nature of the living building materials, establishing almost micro spot data. As sensors add new data the historic buildings internal environment can be adapted, or any required maintenance drawn to the clients’ attention, drawing attention to a failure and outline corrective measures to prevent any damage.
Modern-day electronic linking via wi-fi, blue tooth or what is becoming known as the internet-of-things (IoT) will allow this vast array of data to be linked to the servers without the need for internal wiring. Power required to run the sensors can be a combination of live wire feed, traditional battery for external sensors, and or backscatter technology for embedded sensors taking power from the atmosphere itself. This later technology developed by MIT will be discussed at length in updates of the current series.
The opening up of this vast literary repository to researchers, will enable further understanding of the effects of life, use and weather as a comparison to many other heritage buildings.People also have a dramatic effect on any building, from just touching and leaving their scent, and grease, staining the external skin of any material, although this patina, should have little effect on the building’s performance; it is a historic link to the past and should be preserved. This is in direct contrast to the deposits of an industrial age with soot and grime from so many open fires and industry, coating buildings with often acidic deposits, that will erode the fabric of the building, and help in its decay. This should be removed, but not until the structure and materials of the building have been analysed and understood.
Throughout the life of any historic building, the actual use of the building might change from a gentleman’s residence to office accommodation or a commercial outlet such as a shop. The original building being designed with open fires as its main source of heating, with a cool if not drafty environment. Later being converted to a more updated gas central heating and radiators and windows and doors sealed to prevent drafts. Changing the environment and that of the construction materials which must alter to suite the new inhabitants and use. So often the cause of cracks in the masonry and timber alike, from excessive drying.
 Todays Lessons
The explosion of distinguished buildings for large corporations and businesses after the death of Queen Victoria, and the arrival of Edward VII left behind a legacy of architecture which Charles Mitchell would have been well aware of, working in the centre of London amidst the ongoing construction of so many notable buildings. Certainly, his 1906 advanced and Honours edition reflected this in the constant revisions made in previous editions (made on an almost yearly programme) both in the written text and the addition of so many well-drawn technical details which expand the detail described.
It is this area of technical drawing that so many of the modern-day designers fail to understand relying upon modern CAD to draw with and communicate the desired detail, little realising the constraints CAD puts upon free-thinking. It is of no surprise to see Mitchell’s First Stage or Elementary editions starting with a detailed explanation of the instruments and methods of drawing with pencil ink and tracing paper; emphasising the need to learn basic drawing skills and the need to think about a detail and the materials used to create a detail capable of lasting well over 100 years or more. The simple act of making a scale from a drawing with only one dimension may be lost to modern-day students, but not to Charles Mitchell, who describes the method and its use.
To preserve the ideals of the book and make it available to researchers, and student and professionals, a sample year, 1906 has been chosen to represent the invaluable information contained in this unique series, with the preservation of the hard backed paper versions as a facsimile hard backed paper edition and a digital scan to enable search and note taking in a modern digital programme, by professionals who will use this series as a reference in research on specific topics of construction used in a specific time frame.
1906 was a year of great upheaval, Edward VII was on the throne and he was embarking upon and encouraging a huge building programme across, not just the UK, but within the (then) global British Empire at its height with industry, pouring out goods to the world, many of which are still in existence and used as they were original designed all be it with modern updates.
Although the European political environment was in turmoil with the build-up to the 1914-18 war. Edward VII ushered in a new style of construction and elegance, with buildings of immense importance in London, such as Admiralty Arch (1912), Australia House (1918) and the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) by Edward William Mountford being built, with similar properties being erected in this period around the UK and abroad in the British Empire. Classic examples such as the Central Railway Station, Sydney, Australia, the Birkbeck Building, Toronto, Canada and the Ripon Building, Chennai, India. Together with many local town halls, civic buildings and notable manufacturers like Alfred Bird who built his then, modern factory in Digbeth, Birmingham.
Mitchell successfully includes many of the details, materials and concepts used during this global expansion of classic Edwardian architecture, in this 1906 edition. Later editions of Mitchell’s continued this legacy of updating and expanding the series to its current nine volumes and taking into account new materials and methods of construction and technology advancement.
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-003- 26147-6
 140 years of construction
Many similar books have been created, all trying to fill in gaps left by the series, but never surpassing the continuity and depth of the Mitchell’s series that offers such a detailed insight into construction techniques and materials for the whole of the 20th Century and into the 21st Century, from the original 1881 first edition to present day. The complete series offers an unprecedented insight into construction covering over 140 years of construction development.
The current nine books, see the Routledge website, are being updated and expanded to take account of new construction methods, and above all the transition to computer aided design (or CAD) and its development in the communication of the design via BIM. Also how data and sensors in the industrial 4.0 period will aid the buildings use, and help owners run and maintain both their heritage and more modern buildings far more efficiently, against an ever-changing global climate.
With the help of the digital scanning and preservation of the existing hard-backed paper books It is also the intension of the new authors to incorporate and provide electronic links to past issues to expand the students understanding of construction through history, based upon the 1906 editions.
The Mitchell’s 1906 First Stage or Elementary and Advanced and Honours editions will add a valuable aid to building pathology, allowing students and practitioners to research construction methods and materials pertinent to the period.
An electronic scan of the original 1906 edition allows a true issue of the original as a paper facsimile, PDF and ePub electronic book. This final electronic issue will allow new sections to be added, from external academic research papers dealing with historic construction, via links and reference to the electronic documents, as a stand-alone issue. With a new preface expanding the use of the 1906 version to modern researchers and students, the scanned issues, as well as being linked to the new construction series. The readers own research notes can also be added via readers such as Calibre, and personal knowledge programmes such as Obsidian. The Calibre electronic ePub reader has a rich toolbox to aid adding notes, together with an ability to read almost any format of the electronic document.
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-003- 26167-4
The interlinking of the current nine books in the series now establishes a cross-platform of information linking details together with CAD, material data, BIM and its benefits to construction with a specific section in each book detailing the links to older versions of Mitchell’s looking at construction for the period and methods of integration into modern construction.
To apply the lessons learned from the 1906 books, it is wise to try and visit some of the buildings that were designed and constructed during this period. There is so much for students and professionals to appreciate, from the elegance of the design to the detailing, that is still in current use, and never been touched. Has it survived, and worked as originally intended, have alterations been made to replace or repair?
Observation is a skill, that is so important to surveying so much can be observed and noted, sketching trains the mind, and forces the observer to take time in looking at the detail, Photos are an easy route out, and offer clarity, but sketching offers so much more.
- Construction drawing.
- Working drawing.
- Detail drawing.
- Floor plan.
- Design drawings.
- As-built drawings and record drawings.
- Section drawing.
- Scale drawing.
- Site layout plan.
- Symbols on architectural drawings.
- Engineering drawing.
- General arrangement drawing.
- Technical drawing.
- Types of building models.
- Types of drawings for building design.
- Production drawing.
- Site plan.
- Shop drawings.
- Title plan.
- Types of projection.
- Concept drawing.
- Component drawing.
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