Fireproof Building in Sweden.
The maxim that “in a republic all things are possible” has its limitations. It is not possible, for instance, in a republic like our own, where nearly everything is done under high pressure and in a violent hurry, for anybody to take time to erect a building actually or even approximately fireproof. There are a lew exceptions, here anil there, and it is giatifying to note that they have a tendency to increase in number ; but thus far they have been only the exceptions which prove the rule. Nine buildings out of ten, probably ninety-nine out of a hundred, are put up on the theory that if no i’ll luck attends them, if the occupants are as careful as they should be, and if the fire department is prompt in the discharge of its duty, they will not burn down ; that if they do burn down, the owner’s loss, assuming him to be a man of ordinary business prudence, will be fairly covered by insurance ; and that even the insurance companies will have no occasion to complain, inasmuch as they are perfectly aware of the risks they take, and charge and receive corresponding premiums therefor. Perhaps, on the whole, this manner of doing the business is not without its merits. At any rate, it seems to be adapted to the American temperament. Leaving the peril to human life out of the account, possibly there is money saved in the long run by erecting flimsy and combustible buildings, a certain well determined percentage of which will burn down in a given time. It may cost more to build permanently and safely, once for all, than to build recklessly and cheaply, and rebuild from time to time. The question, not being a proposition in Euclid, undoubtedly admits of argument.
But there is one country in which debate on this point does not seem to be entertained. We learn from a recent highly instructive book on Sweden and the Swedes, by William W. Thomas, Jr., United States Minister to Sweden and Norway, that the intending Swedish builder does not have to consider whether or not he will comply with a foolish prejudice in favor of fireproof structures. The law of that country settles the matter for him with most unmistakable clearness. In the fir>t place it provides that every house shall be either of brick or stone. The cellar must be built of massive arches of stone laid in mortar or cement. The ground floor, supported by these arches, must have iron beams, the spaces being filled in with clay and mortar, gravel and broken brick. The attic floor must likew ise be filled in between the beams, and must have a continuous, solid upper surface of brick or ti’es laid in mortar or cement. The roof must be of tiles, slate, or sheets of metal. On each side of the house there must be fireproof walls, a foot or eighteen inches thick. The stairs must be of stone or iron, laid in stone walls at least one foot thick from cellar to attic Elevator shafts, if there are any, must be of solid masonry, with iron doors. The attic and cellar must each be closed with an iron door set in a stone doorway, and this door must be kept shut and locked at night, and at all times when not in use. Finally, no house is permitted to exceed sixty-eight feet in height.
W hen Charles Dickens made his first visit to this country, and his first journey by rail through New England, the thing which struck him most forcibly was the unsubstantial look of the houses. Riding from Boston to Worcester on a Saturday afternoon, he observed that “all the buildings looked as if they had been built and painted that morning, and could be taken down on Monday with very little trouble and at Lowell he found “a large hotel, whose walls .and colonnades were so crisp, and thin, and slight, that it had exactly the appearance of being built with cards. 1 was careful not to draw my breath as we passed, and trembled when I saw a workman come out upon the roof, lest with one thoughtless step of his foot he should crush the structure beneath him, and bring it rattling down.” This was fifty yeais ago, and even then there was a good deal of poetic license in the remarks of our distinguished vi>ilor. But notwithstanding the marked advance in architectural science which has been made in this country between 1S42 and 1892, the reproach of flimsiness and fragility still rests upon the great majority of our buildings, and most of them are even more combustible than frail. That their builders and owners do not escape the penalty of this misplaced economy is indicated by a comparison of American with Swedish rates of insurance. The premiums paid in this country have a very wide range, according to locality and other condit ons ; but in one of the safest classes of risks, that of detached dwelling houses occupied by the owners, the premium in an instance before us is four-tenths of one per cent per annum. Mr. Thomas, the author of the book above mentioned, paid in the large city of Stockholm a premium of one tw entieth of one per cent per annum. In other words, the Swedish rate was only one-eighth as much as the American. But the Swedish builder must take time and infinite trouble in erecting his house. The American has no time to spare, and still less patience ; and he pays his eight-fold premium with cheerful alacrity, and thanks a gracious providence morning, noon and night for having set him in a large place, where the plodding ways of the Old World are rejected and despised.