Joints in the Construction of Buildings

Detailing of joints and edges of elements are one of the primary means of differentiation between modern and traditional architecture.

Joints in and between dissimilar materials in traditional architecture are typically provided with profiled moldings to cover the joint between two fields of material.

Traditional South Louisiana built-up column detail

Traditional building with intricate moldings at changes in materials, planes and edges


In modern architecture, one of the most common joints  is the reveal joint. It allows transition from one material to another without the need of moldings especially at interior wood panels and most exterior applications. Joints can tie disparate elements together, provide rhythm and base lines that help create holistic compositions to the various materials and elements in a building.

Horizontal reveal joints in interior gypsum board walls coincide in height with exterior joints in exterior materials to tie the differing materials together

 Reveals  can have the backside of the reveal painted black or filled with a metal or other material in keeping with the design. If a reveal wider than 3/8″, wood panels edges need to have nosings applied so the panel plys are not exposed to view.

Reveal joint in wood panels with stainless steel plate knifing through


Joints in materials where they turn an outside corner are especially prominent and are material depended on how they are detailed. Most materials can be butt jointed. Materials thicker than 3/8-inch such as stone and precast concrete typically are quirk mitered to prevent edges from damage. Modern detailing will likely have a recessed seal at the joint while traditional corner joints will likely have moldings.

The joints at the acute angle of the panels are quirk mitered.

Typical Quirk Miter


Even more important than the aesthetic reason for joints, most building materials need joints to control contraction and expansion. Joints are necessary to break up large areas of plaster, masonry and concrete. Typically, joints should be installed to be squarish in proportion in the field of these materials.  Poured-in-place concrete paving joints are typically limited to 15 foot spacing while plaster joints on walls are typically limited to 10 foot spacing. Brick veneer expansion joints on walls are required with spacing as much as 40 feet but spacing and location is depended on openings and configuration of walls. I suggest further reading in industry standard technical notes, such as the Brick Institute of America,  in order to understand specific joint requirements for materials being utilized in construction. Of course joints in sheet metal have their own requirements and technical guidelines need to be adhered to or there will be a good chance of failure.

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