Rising Damp, a popular British sitcom of the 1970s, depicted the lives of tenants of shabby bedsits in a Victorian townhouse. Emphasizing personal decline, the story highlighted ethical failings of its main characters amid a backdrop of crumbling plaster and moldy walls. The correlation between moral decrepitude and building failure brought on by an inability to manage water—in this case, due to a nonexistent damp-proof course—is far from new. Manifest signs of water action on a building façade are called “defects”—soiling, spalling, and cracking all conjure an image of doom. Even strategies to manage water, like “weeps” have a tragic semantic connotation. From Vitruvius’s linking of firmitas (“firmness”) with venustas (“beauty”) to the equivalence of building decay with poverty and blight, how effectively a building manages the ravages of water becomes not just a matter of technical performance but also one with far-reaching sociocultural, economic, and environmental impacts.
Keywords: Asia, essay, built, materials, polemics and argument.