As societies evolve, there is more and more technological development and innovation. Things that seemed impossible only a few years ago are now part of our daily reality. It can be seen in all industries and walks of life, from medicine and automotive to consumer electronics and entertainment. Companies worldwide continue to push the envelope in creating state-of-the-art solutions that are smaller, faster, and more efficient than ever before.
In the construction industry, there are also several instances of this. Largescale, one can look at high-rise buildings and the research, development, and implementation of earthquake prevention systems both at a residential and corporate level. Small-scale examples include using environmentally friendly construction materials, pre-fabricated residences, and the installation of rain gutters to protect a property’s structural integrity, and smart homes.
As we consider these and other inventions, let us explore a few decisive, innovative moments in the construction industry.
In simple terms, land reclamation entails creating new land from seas, oceans, lakes, and riverbeds. Many people will associate this with luxury mega projects in Abu Dhabi, Bahrein, and other well-known Arab city-states. After all, few will fail to recognize the Palm Jumeirah or the World Islands Archipelago in Dubai.
Still, most people might not be aware that these islands, these symbols of opulence, oil might, and technological development in the Arab world are far from the first landfill projects in history. Not only that, but they are also nowhere near as great, be it from a design, financial, or environmental perspective.
If one were to look at the annals of history, one would find images from the seventies of the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Changi Airport in Singapore, and Tokyo Disneyland in Japan. Unlike their monstrous counterparts in the Middle East, these are fully-functional, profitable, problem-solving solutions to overpopulation, employment, and a lack of livable space.
Can you imagine what buildings would be like if columns didn’t exist? How different would the Parthenon in the Athenian Acropolis look if it were made of four solid walls and a roof? Would it even be considered an architectural wonder close to 2500 years after it was first built?
To say the advent of columns is one of the chief moments in the history of architecture and construction is one of the biggest understatements of all time. Aside from providing structural support at a fraction of a wall’s size, a column also increases space, allows for natural light to come inside, balances out gravitational forces over a specific area, and serves as an important design element for decorative purposes.
But it wasn’t the Greeks who first made use of these circular, tube-like pillars. The earliest columns date back to the Bronze Age, more than 5000 years ago. At their inception, they served as a single support system for the roof of small buildings, while in ancient Egypt, cut-down tree trunks were used as columns to prevent them from growing back again. This served as a way to maintain existing space and a natural farming system that would designate certain areas for the sowing of fruits and vegetables.
Iron and Steel
The introduction of elements like iron and manufactured products like steel into the construction industry has proven to be a turning point in the history of modern architecture. Aside from making buildings stronger and more resistant to natural elements, they also allowed designers to come up with taller, more unique, and much more unconventional buildings. Without it, modern wonders like the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Brooklyn Bridge and Empire State Building in America wouldn’t exist.
Before iron and steel became integral components of construction, they were being used for minor purposes. It included roofing and windows, the bonding of masonry, and tension members such as chains in the building of domes. As the years went by, people realized that entire structures made of these materials could rise from the ground and reach far into the heavens.
Today, cast iron, a group of iron-carbon alloys, plexiglass, metal composites, and plastic-iron amalgamates, are at the forefront of the industry. One needs only to look at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai or the Shanghai Tower to recognize and marvel at just how far iron and steel have brought us.
As we have seen, three key moments in construction history are land reclamation, columns, and the debut of iron and steel.
American singer-songwriter David Allan Coe once said, “It is not the beauty of a building you should look at. It is the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time.” Whether he was talking about actual buildings or something else is unknown and irrelevant. What matters is that it is true.