I did a lot of driving over the holidays and as I was driving I noticed a lot of buildings, new, and old. Here’s what struck me- Most commercial buildings are cheaply constructed. This cheapness manifests itself in (primarily) these ways: metal stud construction, aluminum flashing, synthetic exterior cladding, cheap roofing.
Old buildings built with masonry construction, brick cladding with stone or concrete parapets and window sills, copper or lead flashing and roofs of (real) hand seamed tin, clay or concrete tile or (probably) low slope tar and gravel roofs looked solid even if the businesses occupying them were marginal.
It may be that the “old” business model- the building is a long term investment that has value after the initial tenant is gone has changed and now the “new” business model is that the building is seen as a depreciating asset that reaches “zero” at some point in the business cycle. Whatever the reason, what we’re left with is rapidly deteriorating buildings that weather poorly and look “cheap”, because of their wavy walls and fading/peeling paint on their pre-finished parts.
When we built our office, we decided to use materials that would last- brick veneer and a hand seamed copper roof. The doors and windows are wood and must be maintained but none of these materials will ever look “cheap”. We try to design houses the same way.