Houses & Buildings


Association of Wall and Ceiling Industries Australia and New Zealand (AWCI)

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Did You Know?

The oldest traces of plaster renders are 9,000 years old, and were found in Anatolia and Syria. We also know that 5,000 years ago, the Egyptians burnt gypsum in open-air fires, then crushed it into powder, and finally mixed this powder with water to make jointing material for the blocks of their monuments, such as the magnificent Cheops Pyramid for example. The ancient Egyptians used models of plaster taken directly from the human body.

Sample of Egyptian work

The Greeks also used gypsum, in particular as window for their temples when it was of a transparent quality ("selenite gypsum"). The writer Theophraste (372-287 BC) described quite precisely the fabrication of plaster as it was done at that time in Syria and Phenicia.

The Romans cast in plaster many thousands of copies of Greek statues.

Plaster of Paris. Throughout the centuries, expertise was gained in many parts of the World with gypsum calcinations. In the 1700's, Paris was already the "capital of plaster" ("Plaster of Paris") since all the walls of wooden houses were covered with plaster, as a protection against fire. The King of France had enforced this rule after the big London fire literally destroyed this city in 1666. Large gypsum deposits near Paris have long been mined to manufacture… "Plaster of Paris".

From Gypsum to Plaster of Paris. Gypsum is a sedimentary rock, which settled through the evaporation of sea water trapped in lagoons. According to the nature of its impurities, gypsum can show various colors, ranging from white to brown, yellow, gray and pink.

(Source: A Brief History of Plaster and Gypsum)


Plastering is one of the most ancient of the building handicrafts. Historical evidence shows that primitive man plastered mud over a framework of sticks and reeds to enclose a protective structure to keep out the elements.

The Pharaohs of Egypt used plaster surfaces in their palaces and pyramids. It is known that this plasterwork, and the decoration upon it, was applied more than 4,000 years ago. These plaster surfaces still exist in a hard and durable state today.

Ancient hieroglyphics were often painted on smooth plaster surfaces.

Research has also indicated that the principal tools of the plasterer of ancient Egypt were practically identical to those we use today.

The finest plasterwork accomplished by the Egyptians was made of a plaster produced from calcined gypsum (gypsum made powdery by heat action) just like the plaster of Paris of the present time.

The methods of applying plaster were also very similar to the methods used today. The Egyptians plastered on reeds -- a method which resembles in every way our method of plastering on lath. Hair was introduced to strengthen the plaster even at this early date.

A study of ancient Greek architecture reveals that plaster and stuccowork (plaster was primarily interior, while stuccowork meant exterior) were used by the Greeks at least 500 years before the birth of Christ. It is from the Greek, incidentally, that we get the word "plaster." In the ancient Greek language, the word meant "to daub on."

The sanitary value of using plaster was apparent to those early users. The density of the material, plus its smooth surface, provided both protection and a surface ideal for decorative treatment. Later, lime and sand were combined as a mortar to cover both the reed lath and masonry walls and ceilings. The antiseptic value of lime was used by ancient people in preventing the spread of vermin and disease.

Plaster was recognized long ago as a protection against fire. Its value as a fire retardant was demonstrated in the many fires that ravaged London during the Thirteenth Century. The king at that time, ordered that all buildings were to have plastered walls. Houses that did not meet this specification within a stated period were to be torn down. During this period and through the Sixteenth Century, the plasterer's skill was developed to a height unequaled in history.

From almost the first use of plastering to the middle of the 19th century, plasterers used lime and sand for the basic plain work of covering walls and ceilings. This mortar took about two weeks to set (harden) under favorable conditions.

Gypsum plaster set faster, but it was too costly for ordinary plain work. It was used only in the ornamental work and for various imitation marble finishes called scagliola, a skill developed in Italy in the 15th century.

With the development of modern processing methods in the early 20th century, gypsum plaster has gradually replaced lime as the binding agent for sand in plastering mortar. Its rate of set can be controlled, allowing the plasterer to build up layers or coats of plaster in a matter of hours rather than the days and weeks required with lime mortar. Speed became an important factor in the continued growth and development of the craft.

Irish Farm house
This Irish farm cottage is stucco over masonry.

A number of other factors helped to change the centuries-old style of plastering. These factors included the following inventions: Portland Cement by Joseph Aspdin, a bricklayer in Leeds, England, in 1824; Keanes Cement, a slow-setting but extremely hard plaster by R. W. Keane of England, in 1841; metal lath in mesh form developed in England in 1841; and plaster board or gypsum lath first produced in England in 1890 which, in the early years of the 20th century, developed into the modern "rock lath" and eventually spawned drywall.

Today new developments and solutions continue to change the plastering industry. The introduction of synthetic finishes in the 1960s led to a revolution in exterior cladding. The exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS) brought increased insulating value with low maintenance.

The addition of polymers to traditional stucco materials produced superior bonding and curing qualities while maintaining the traditional look and weather resistance of the original.

(Source: Plaster: A History)








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