Tech Level Discussion

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Built4ever's avatar
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Sometimes I have discussions with myself! No, I'm not crazy, but I have to try to come to grips with complex decisions and issues, or things that just boggle my mind. One of them is designing for a specific tech level or time period. For example, I execute designs of homes, including design sketches and finished construction drawings, for "current" modes of living and needs. A typical set of requirements for home plans might include: three bedroom home, open-plan kitchen/dining/large living area, master suite, usually on the first floor, and at least two bedrooms. Also, minimum of at least a 2-3 car garage, almost always attached to the house.

But sometimes I sketch elevations, streetscapes, or villages with "cottage" style homes arranged along a road of some kind, with not much regard for driveways, garages and garage position, and other features that might give away the "time period", let's say, that it's early 20th century, or "pre-20th century (carriage house or outbuilding/sheds only,) or modern (large attached garage.) There's a turning point where you have to decide what your tech level is. 

Now I know I'm not the first to devise a tech level designation. I've seen a few, especially in the game systems. Question is, when do you decide ABSOLUTELY that a drawing of a castle-village, or a street of cottage homes, or anything else, is either one tech level or another. Because I also do concept art/design for games and novels, a fictional tech level is a possibility.

So, for example, we could have:

Hunter-Gatherer/Tribal/Primitive: Basic hand-made shelters from natural materials, sometimes nomadic 
Classical/Ancient/Roman: advanced architecture, permanent cities and monumental architecture, some technology
Medieval: Highly advanced sculptural monumental architecture, fireplaces/chimneys, windows w/glass, narrow streets, high buildings in towns
19th century/Steampunk: Mechanical systems, advanced iron and steel, coal power, complex multi-styled "period" architectures, trains and horse/carriage
Modern era: Advanced materials, heating and cooling systems, electrical and plumbing, insulated structures, modern informal floor planning, natural gas and petroleum power, including need to store individual vehicles
Retro-Future: space age, elevated rail transport, monumental skyscrapers, steel and glass construction, advanced flying machines, advanced energy sources, robots

These tech eras could also be subdivided into finer categories, like early medieval and late medieval, or early 20th century vs today's tech. This is just a broad description that helps to define the limits and requirements of the architecture. 

Any thoughts or ideas on this topic? Feel free to comment.

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Sings-With-Spirits's avatar
When creating/describing buildings in role-playing games, often I think of just where the building is located; many architects (and wannabes) forget that in the real world, few places are monolithically similar in style; an ultra-modern tech company may be located in a century-old former beer-can factory simply because after upgrades it fits their needs and saves them money.

Likewise, in historic sectors you might have an ultra-modern building that just has an outward classic appearance to fit in.

Many homes are decades old, if not centenarian, and some really old homes/buildings have been remodeled so many times that they are hard to classify.

IMHO, the best way of dealing with this aspect of design is to think about the history of the location in relation to when it is being portrayed; a 400-year-old city in the modern era might have streets designed for horse and foot traffic, but over the years they have been expanded, and several building may have been converted to parking lots (flat or multi-story), or have had their first floor converted from shops to parking space for residents.

An ultra-modern city might have a driveway for each home, or it might provide reliable public transport to a communal garage.

Materials change; in Puerto Rico concrete is king, but you still find the odd wooden house that has not been upgraded. It is easy to figure out the relative wealth of an area by the concrete-to-wood ratio, but even after most wooden buildings have been replaced, the street layout remains the same, reflecting an earlier era where few families owned cars. A block of old-school buildings demolished for a modern building or big-box store, or a long strip of homes cleared for a modern road provide character and a feeling of realism, along with the dynamic of a living, breathing urban environment.

IMHO, of course.
Built4ever's avatar
Yeah what you are addressing is a city/area's propensity to grow and change as it goes from tech age to another, so you have overlapping tech and different architectures. This is the true history of civilization of course. Some of my castle-village complexes actually show that. Late medieval/19th century built on castle ruins. Enchanta castle-town is built on an ancient technical device, maybe a power generator, thousands of yrs older than the present city, for example. You can see the remnants of it as a huge radial device, with houses built out of ribbed sections. 

I went to Puerto Rico's Old City a few yrs back, very nice! Hope your electricity is restored. I might be losing mine in a day, Hurricane Florence is here!

Castle Village #4, Enchanta, Detail Study by Built4ever
ToaKraka's avatar
GURPS Low-Tech Companion 3 has some information on this topic.

- TL0 (Stone Age): Hard earth (mud brick, rammed earth, or sod), rubble, thatch, wood
- TL1 (Bronze Age, from 3500 BCE): Ashlar, brick
- TL2 (Iron Age, from 1200 BCE): Concrete

- TL0: None, mud
- TL1: Plaster
- Mid-TL1: Lime mortar

Construction and civil engineering:
- TL0: Monumental earthworks, roads, tunneling
- TL1: Corbeled masonry, cribwork, hypocaust, tiling, plumbing
- TL2: Embossing, vaulted masonry
- TL3 (Middle Ages, from 600 CE): Gothic masonry (broken arch, flying buttress)
- TL4 (Age of Sail, from 1450 CE): Water cooling

Structural limitations:
- TL0: 20-foot wood spans
- TL1: 30-foot corbeled vaults
- Mid-TL1: 50-foot wood trusses
- TL2: 140-foot true vaults (anything above 70 feet requires masterful labor)
- TL3: 90-foot wood trusses (anything above 50 feet requires masterful labor)
- No structure made from hard earth, rubble, ashlar, brick, or concrete can have more than 5% of its surface taken up by windows and doors, but Gothic architecture raises this limit to 75% for a building made from ashlar or brick.
Built4ever's avatar
Yes, thats all good, some of that could be looked at more closely, especially regarding architecture. Their TL0 matches my hunter/gatherer/tribal level. They split medieval into pre or after 1450, I would have to think about that pretty hard as far as architectural achievements. In some ways, Gothic architecture at its best was easily some of the best, most complex, fully sculptural architecture on the planet, and many of its most famous monuments were long completed before 1450. Tech level in many ways stays flat for architecture for a long time, until they invent iron and steel structures. The Crystal Palace (1851) in England is a good example of a huge tech jump forward, all glass, monumental structure. Tech advance is simply large plate glass availability.
Avarus-Lux's avatar
when a per house design "tech level" within any given period is used you will always find elements and influences of recent previous periods, and not only that, if any natural disasters struck, these help too in sudden change of style and additions or mixing of the original architecture.

you mention castle villages or "multiple buildings" here.
the tech level between just a few houses or in even just a single house can vary greatly, an example is my own house and those right next door to me:

our house built around 1914, the houses behind ours are built and almost finished now, 2018, and styled to "look older" to fit in, but have every luxury modern elements like a garage, the way how it is built, or even just the electric, heating and insulation differences as our house in contrast is still a modern house when you look at the living standards but a massive patchwork of "things and styles" as our house for example has 5 different foundation technologies in 5 different areas, and about 4 noticeably different styles of built on additions that shaped the house to what is is now, its a large headache for those people that try and wrap their head around as to how it was built and maintained up till now and how any if any future additions might be done XD.
then theres the neighbours who have a house also from the early 1900s but besides it looking old and it actually having old walls, it has everything you expect from a modern house on the inside, the old insides stripped and rebuilt, but it looks from way back then outside.

now granted, these are closely related "architecture styles & tech levels" as they are early 20th century and modern era combined respectively, but its not uncommon especially in the old city centers or the more rural areas of europe and also  the americas to find very old mansions, houses or rural farms from the victorian era or older up to medieval era castles with the interiors (and sometimes exteriors too) completely revamped to the owners taste and budget, the only thing that sets the lot of them apart are the outside looks and the basic architecture/construction elements utilized at conception.


designing for a specific tech level or time period is usually great for setting the limits to what "can and can't be" and as such is a architecture and style baseline, but do keep in mind a modern, a victorian 19th century, a roman or simply medieval building (variety as can be found in and around rome italy) can exhibit ultra modern retro future architecture and technology with a classical ancient vibe to boot or just stuffy 1930's (or older) interiors and features as over time things get reshaped, removed and added or rebuilt "similarly", and be buildings located about right next to each other at that.


to answer the question more directly:
"Question is, when do you decide ABSOLUTELY that a drawing of a castle-village, or a street of cottage homes, or anything else, is either one tech level or another."

well, best thing to do as far as my knowledge goes is to keep and make your classifications, preferably create some detailed eras you can rely upon, as a baseline for when a building or group of buildings were built to get the architecture and overall style right, then the details and everything else, especially the respective inside layouts and the involved level of wealth (garage or no garage, multiple bathrooms/toilets/living rooms/stories/rooms/etc) depend on the actual time period the building is then used in and also after considering the "in story owner's" modifications/wishes/wealth and/or according to logical modifications that could and/or should have been made to make it work if you have been given a history to work with, which in RPG/story/game design is usually the case to an extent.

you have my greatest respect as designing single homes and buildings is one thing and difficult enough as it is even if you only have to work with the basic modern style, but then also having to modernize or alter older architecture styles or age buildings to suit a narrative as they have to "age" in combination with life's random nature to fit in... that is a whole new level of headaches.

i don't know if you remember from back when we had mail contact, i think about 2 years now?, it is not unlike that 2 tower castle/mansion monstrosity that i tried to design (and am still considering finishing if i find/have the time), which is an old medieval building, but the insides are fully "new & rebuilt" with extra additions all around, so basically 2 clashing architectural styles (being medieval/19th century and Future/modern) that somehow need to work together to make a whole with a bit of history to it to stitch it together, i only have to worry about that building alone, seeing your account here and by the journal text you put here, you have to worry about designing a whole world and more :)


ps, apologies for the wall of text, and no you are not crazy, talking to oneself to flesh out ideas and stay sane that way is pretty normal, i hope/think/have heard/seen... anyways, i hope the input i gave here is of some useful value to you even if it may or may not make sense in some areas... after all this is just my 2 cents on a topic from a scatterbrain that is me :)
Built4ever's avatar
Yes, thanks for lengthy reply. Things you addressed directly or obliquely: over-lapping styles or tech periods, which certainly includes my own renovation practice when I have to re-do a 1914 bungalow for example, "blended" styles, for example, a classically-based city (Roman/Greek architecture) blended with retro-future architecture.
Renovating 20th century structures is basically fixing up the interior, updating mech systems, and changing to modern floor planning, BUT staying within the "shell" of the existing historic structure. A hundred years ago they still used 2x4 studs with hollow wall cavities. BUT, in Europe, you could be working with a 500 yr old structure with solid stone walls at 2' thick, no insulation, and no mechanical systems in the walls! Updating medieval to modern is much more difficult.
Avarus-Lux's avatar
glad to hear its of some help to you.

and yeah, updating anything really old is difficult and requires both knowledge of the old and the new or at the very least some basic knowledge from the period of which the building is from and some construction basics altogether lest you make irreparable damage and unforgiving mistakes as there are a great many factors one has to consider to keep everything from crashing down, become a hazard, keep it functional or from simply from looking completely off and out of place.

Updating medieval to modern i can imagine is an even more difficult task no doubt, adapting medieval architecture and styles compared to an early 20th century architectural house is worlds apart and requires very different skill-sets and experience, there are very few who can do both as either field is such an extensive one that once a person starts to work in one field you likely spend a lifetime on mastery and even then always find new surprises and challenges.

seeing you are creating a pretty broad range of architectural styles with your building plans ranging from just a theme applied to a modern home or plans to what to me looks like time period architecture, i'd say you are well past the point of me being able to give any sort of substantial comment other then being a fan and maybe help sort your thoughts.
Built4ever's avatar
I need a mental secretary to sort out my thoughts!
Avarus-Lux's avatar
i suggest finding a local person you can talk face to face with, preferably someone that likes about similar subjects overall and just start talking, that way you can discuss and straighten out your thoughts fairly nicely as you receive direct outside input which helps a lot (as your own inside brain discussions lack that different perspective input you need to sort things).

another way is to try talking but doing that online from the comfort of home, perhaps find a "discord" group for life chat and perhaps even voicechat if you prefer that, there's groups for everything these days if you look for them on places like reddit, which is another thing you could do, post ideas and scribbles like this journal entry not only here on deviantart but on reddit as well to get more feedback.
don't use facebook though, thats just a cesspool of sewage in my honest opinion (not a fan of most social media options myself at all).

either way, i can always try to help with feedback when/where i can right here :D
Built4ever's avatar
Yeah lots of bad politics and mis-information on FB!
Avarus-Lux's avatar
sure is...

so, if you need to vent or order thoughts, try overthere for more direct aproaches with multiple feedback.
that, and i'm not going anywhere anytime soon either unless hit by a bus or something... can always try for a chat np.

enjoy your weekend :)
Built4ever's avatar
I shall, hurricane remnants are here! 
RebellingLemming's avatar
Where I have to decide what my tech level is when magic turns into some sort of mechanism. 
Built4ever's avatar
Yeah, in the fantasy gaming world of course, there's also magic, which can be part of the medieval universe, and maybe telepathic powers, which can be part of the retro-future universe, but for me, they don't generally impact the architecture, unless I am designing a specific "magic-based" feature that's part of an architectural feature/ensemble.
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