Wood has always been used most commonly in the construction of domestic structures that do not require the same level of durability as temples and funerary monuments, which are more typically constructed from brick or stone. Timber became more prevalent in northern Europe after the end of the last Ice Age, so wood post-framed huts with thatched roofs dating to Prehistoric times were constructed across Europe. Neolithic timber shelters were built with vertical corner and side posts placed in a large rectangular shape and topped with a timber-framed roof that could support thatching. The roof was constructed with a long timber ridgepole, a horizontal beam that formed the gable of the roof, while smaller, slanted poles called rafters ran perpendicular to the ridgepole. These were lashed together for support while rows of posts lining the center of the space supported the ridgepole from below. The walls were filled in with wattle and daub in a process whereby twigs were woven together like a basket and then covered with mud or clay. While timber structures were probably far more prevalent than masonry, it is the more durable bone and stone materials that are prevalent enough to be studied today. Nonetheless, timber architecture endured despite its more flammable nature, and even Ancient Romans, known for their masonry, often constructed timber ceilings in their northern European settlements, given the scarcity of stone in many regions of Europe.
   The architectural tradition of timber continued through the Early Medieval architecture of the Vikings. Settling in northern France in the early 10th century, the "northerners," called the Norsemen, built in masonry and also wood. Their wooden structures were of two types: horizontally stacked logs lashed together at the corners (the so-called "log cabin") or the vertical constructions introduced in the Neolithic era. Each method was then completed with wattle and daub and enclosed with thatch. Although most roofs were gabled with a ridgepole, sometimes a naturally forked piece of timber was cut into two equal pieces and used for the corners of a gable. This is called cruck construction. Most buildings, however, featured a more elaborate post-and-lintel construction consisting of a series of lintels supporting a triangle of rafters to divide the internal space into three parts supported on the interior with two rows of posts, much like the format of a church, with lower side "aisles" and a taller "nave." On the inside, a hearth was located in the middle, and the doorway was off to the side to minimize the circulation of air across the hearth.
   Although most of these constructions have not survived, a few beautiful examples of timber stave churches still exist in Norway. The Borgund stave church located in Sogn, Norway, dates to around 1125 to 1150. Four large timbers, or staves, form the core for the building, which features a series of smaller rooms encircling the rectangular core and a round apse attached to the high altar, with its own three-tiered conical shingle roof. The shorter side rooms help to buttress the taller central core. The walls are formed by vertical timbers slotted together, and the entire structure is capped by a steep wooden shingled roof formed into varying heights to protect the walls by allowing for snow and rain to run easily off the building. The central core has an additional three-tiered pinnacle that rises above the structure, and the corner gables feature carved crosses and dragons consistent with their symbolism and inviting comparison with the gargoyles found on later Gothic churches. These stave churches are then decorated with intricate interlaced patterns much like the decorations found in Viking carvings and Celtic manuscripts; although most of these buildings have not survived, some of their tracery can be found in museums today.
   In some cultures we see a more extensive use of wood than other available building materials. This is particularly true in Japan and China, where natural building materials conform to religious and aesthetic ideals, and are used in Shinto temples and Buddhist shrines. In fact, the oldest original wood building in the world is thought to be the Japanese temple compound at Horyuji located in the central plains of Japan, which dates to around 711. This small compound consists of two buildings: a solid five-story pagoda and a large wor-ship hall, called a kondo. These structures are located in a rectangular courtyard that is surrounded by covered walkways. The largest collection of ancient wood buildings in the world is the Forbidden City in Beijing, dating to the early 1400s. Many of its buildings feature massive timber construction using native trees such as the Chinese evergreen called Pheobe zhennan. The Golden Carriage Palace, built in the center of the Forbidden City in 1406, is supported by a total of 72 single-post pillars that are each over 59 feet tall. Exceptional in their own right, these buildings are also important due to the survival of their original wood materials.
   In more recent times, wood has retained its appeal either because of tradition or due to its abundance as a building material. In the United States, the American frontier was initially covered with log cabins, and wood continues to be favored in American domestic construction. The early-20th-century Arts and Crafts bungalow homes feature exposed wood beams, built-in wood cabinets, and other such features that are similar in their general aesthetic to Japanese architecture. In addition to the use of wood as a building material, Shingle- and Stick-style Victorian homes also highlighted hand-crafted wood decorative detailing on their exteriors. In Europe, wood has remained popular in Scandinavian house construction and in Swiss chalets and other rural and vacation homes. Despite the gradual introduction of stronger and more durable building materials, wood, now regularly treated to protect it from water and insect damage, will certainly remain popular as a natural and aesthetically pleasing building material.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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