Weathering & Wear


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     Old, damaged, or ruined buildings are frequently used for wargames or roleplaying scenery. However, many models seem to end up looking more like a partial construction that was abandoned before completion. I hope that this page will provide some ideas to add the impression of age to your creations, and I will add links to specific techniques as I get the tutorials completed. Here is a list of processes which could occur to any building during the course of its lifetime.

Changes During Use

     These should be familiar to everyone. These things happen to every building in any time period. The pace of the changes may be different now - fashionable styles lasted much longer, but many building materials were less durable in the past.

1. Wear and Tear

This could be considered as "erosion caused by use". Carpets and even stone floors and steps get worn in areas of high traffic, paintwork gets scratched, things get broken and are repaired or replaced.

2. Redecoration

This would include repainting, changing furnishings and floor or wall decorations. Further aging damage may reveal evidence of the underlying paint colour or a clean patch where a picture once hung.

3. Extensions and Remodelling

Occupied buildings change over time with the needs and tastes of the residents. Windows and doorways change in size and shape, or are blocked. Annexes and extensions are built, often not matching the original building materials. Rooms are divided or joined together.

4. Weathering

Whilst the building is occupied, the effects of weathering will be mainly on the exterior, although factors such as unglazed windows or leaky roofs could allow some damage to parts of the interior. In general the effects will be minor and maintenance will be done regularly, but some effects will still be evident: iron rusts, copper forms verdigris, lead oxidises, untreated wood bleaches in sunlight and softer types of stone can erode quite noticeably. Minor damage may well be left untreated, like chipped roof slates and ridge tiles, cracked floor tiles. Certain repairs will also be noticeable - new roof tiles or slates, replacement masonry with sharp edges, plain glass panels in a stained glass window. There will also be a continuous build-up of detritus, which will accumulate in any corners and crevices that are not cleaned regularly.


Cause for Abandonment or Ruination

     At first glance, the reason a building was left uninhabited may seem unimportant. However, there are many reasons why a building would be abandoned and these have a direct bearing on its story. It is worth noting that the strongest sections of a building will be the parts that survive in the best condition: thick defensive walls, chimney stacks and corners of walls tend to survive, whilst weak areas like large window openings and doorways are often the worst affected.

1. Natural Disaster

A natural disaster could easily be the cause of a buildings ruination and subsequent abandonment. Tornadoes, hurricanes, tidal waves, lightning strikes, wildfires, landslides, floods, earthquakes, and volcanic activity still destroy buildings today, and each would leave its own signature on the ruins.

2. Bankruptcy of the Household

It was not very uncommon for even quite wealthy households to end up bankrupt, whether  through bad fortune or decadence. If no buyer could be found for the entire estate, it was usually split up and sold as smaller lots to help to pay off their debtors. In the case of larger houses, this could even lead to the sale and dismantling of sections of the fabric of the buildings themselves. This did not just apply to the furniture and fittings - everything possible was sold, from statuary and other ornately carved masonry features to the bricks and stones of the walls. In the case of the monastic houses of Great  Britain, the "bankruptcy" was enforced when Henry VIII split with Rome and dissolved the monasteries.

3. Land Clearance

Reasons for land clearance include political, economic and social factors. Tenant farmers were evicted in great numbers during the Highland Clearances, when the price of wool allowed greedy landowners to make more money from grazing sheep than leasing the land. The Great Plague led to many entire villages being deserted in Britain, many of which were never re-occupied.

4. War

Wars have led to buildings becoming ruinous in several different ways. Clearly, military strongholds like castles were attacked or besieged, and were often deliberately damaged further to prevent them being used again. Sometimes the castles' own occupants destroyed them to prevent the enemy using them. Other nearby buildings may have been abandoned to escape the conflict, and people could also be evicted so their houses could be used as temporary barracks. Rather less obviously, the homes of any soldiers who were killed in battle could be left without occupants, and slowly go to ruin.


Subsequent Events

     Once abandoned, a building will continue to be attacked by weather erosion but the damage will no longer be repaired. In addition, there are other processes which will also affect the appearance of what remains.

1. Robbing Out

After abandonment, many buildings were treated as free supplies of good building stone. Lawfully or not, people would remove any good quality building stone to be incorporated in their own constructions. Sometimes even the foundation courses of stone were dug out and taken. Many buildings near Hadrian's Wall were made from its stone, and stones from abbeys and priories can often be seen in nearby houses and boundary walls.

2. Aging of Building Materials

This aspect was mentioned in the first section, but deterioration will now continue without remedy or replacement. Wood bleaches, dries out, warps, splits and rots; stones are eroded by frost, wind and rain; metals oxidise; thatch rots; paint and whitewash peel; daub and plaster gradually dissolve in the rain.

3. Detritus Build-up

Detritus will also continue to accumulate unchecked. Fallen leaves gather in sheltered corners and gradually build up a layer of soil. Dust and sand will continue to accumulate in cracks and crevices. This detritus provides the nutrients and substrate for plants to grow.

4. Vegetation Growth

Vegetation of some sort will grow almost anywhere on a building provided the conditions are right. Wood will slowly be rotted down by fungi. Algae and lichens will grow on bare rock. Mosses need very little by way of soil, but only grow in wet conditions. Ferns and climbing plants will spread over standing walls, whilst rambling plants will gradually cover paving and low rubble. These early pioneers help to stabilise any existing soil and also provide additional sheltered spots for even more detritus to accumulate, thus accelerating the process. Grasses, shrubs, and even trees will begin to colonise a ruin very quickly, given favourable conditions.

5. Animals

In addition to plants, animals will also colonise the structure. Most small creatures may go unnoticed, but many spiders make webs, ants build anthills and some bees and wasps construct communal nests which are easily visible. Rodents and birds could make use of sheltered spots for nesting sites, digging out burrows or accumulating nest material. Humans could also make use of ruins. Brigands may use the buildings as a hideout, or someone may just shelter there for a night. In a fantasy setting, many other creatures and races could inhabit the ruins, possibly making some repairs and changes of their own.


Conserved and Tended Ruins

     You may wonder why almost none of the historic ruins you see are covered in soil, grass and trees. The answer lies in the fact that they are managed. Because they are now valued as historic monuments and have become tourist attractions, they are constantly being maintained, conserved and repaired to prevent further deterioration. Weed-killers keep the vegetation at bay whilst the structures are regularly monitored for erosion and other problems. In essence, these are "working" ruins, preserved and protected as historic specimens. Left untended, nature would quickly reclaim them for its own.


Making Old or Ruined Models

     The first steps in making any model should be the idea and a plan. The plan is important, and it will often lead to changes and refinements to the original idea, so the two procedures evolve together. Often overlooked when making models of ruins, is the fact that they were once complete structures with doors, windows and roofs. Whilst it may be unnecessary to design the sections which will not be built, it is nevertheless useful to consider the layout and structure of the complete building before deciding which sections to construct.

Some Techniques for Aging Models

Dust Water Stains Extensions Blocked Openings  
Detritus Eroded Stone Flaky Paint Damaged Plaster Subsidence
Battle Damage        
Rust Verdigris Lead    
Webs Nests Rubble    
Ivy Creepers Moss Lichen Fungi


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