Iron Clad Houses
Maybe it’s only because we’re from Australia and I’m interested in all aspects of architecture, but I was once again fascinated by the variety of iron clad buildings during our recent visit to Valdivia. Some are utilitarian and plain, some new, many old, and some are surprisingly ‘grande’ in size and style.
From our home country we’re familiar with the typical tin shed in the Aussie backyard, corrugated iron roofs on many structures, large and small, and old churches and farm houses completely clad in corrugated sheeting. Modern architecture once again incorporates “Colorbond” in residential and public buildings. We built a small dwelling in 1995/6 with Colorbond roof and walls, just when this new trend was beginning. Now, years later, you can find all kinds of prefabricated flashings and profiles to make such a construction with Colorbond ‘foolproof’.
Due to my familiarity with iron cladding, I first saw and became fascinated with a number of large structures in Alaska and the Yukon which were completely clad in iron . It was here also that I first noticed many decorative trimmings which, under a thick coat of paint, initially looked like wood but were in fact simply pressed metal.
Later, as we travelled south, corrugated iron was the preferred roofing in all poorer regions of Central and South America, until we ventured south into Patagonia. First in Argentina, and later in Chile, metal cladding was once again the preferred exterior material for many buildings. I guess this makes a lot of sense since all materials had to be transported in by ship; forests were small with stunted, distorted trees (due to the prevailing winds); iron sheets are thin, lightweight, and easy to transport; and they require less substantial framing than heavier outer walls. This makes it the perfect material for ‘frontier regions’.
You would think that these days you could find information about almost everything on the Internet, yet there seems to be hardly any comprehensive publications about the history of metal cladding in frontier regions. Corrugated iron sheeting was first patented by the Englishman Henry Robinson Palmer in 1829. A short time later, in the mid 1840s, the process of hot-dipping sheets to galvanise them became common practice; this made it a more durable product and suitable for the development of kit structures.
Our gallery of iron clad houses we discovered in Valdivia/Chile:
When you browse through these images you might be surprised by the detail of some of the pressed iron features such as elaborate corner flashings made to resemble hand-carved timber beams, window surrounds, and copies of ornate cast iron frills.
Would you have spotted that all theses houses are clad in iron?