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The Evolution of Construction Technology The Key Breakthroughs

Edwin Warui

The Evolution of Construction Technology: The Key Breakthroughs

Adrienne Clarkson once said:

“Each of us is carving a stone, erecting a column, or cutting a piece of stained glass in the construction of something much bigger than ourselves.”

But when did construction start?

Construction is as old as human civilization. To explain, shelter is one of the basic human needs and our ancestors needed to protect themselves from the elements.

In the beginning, the structures were simple and could only last for a few days or months. Over time, people refined their construction practices and developed durable structures. This coupled with the rise of agriculture enabled the early families to stay in one place for long periods of time.

So what are some of the key breakthroughs that shaped the construction industry? Let’s jump right in.

#1. Prefabrication

Early humans constructed walls using packed clay with regions such as Europe and Middle East using the wattle-and-daub method. To explain, it’s a wall construction method that involves vertical wattles tied together with horizontal twigs or branches and then daubed with clay or mud to provide rigidity and weatherproofing.

Enter the bronze age. The cultures shifted from the packed clay walls and replaced it with prefabricated units—mud bricks. The bricks were made from mud and straw with the straw acting as reinforcement to prevent shrinkage during the drying process. Next, wet mud mortar or bitumen was used to lay the bricks in walls.

The result?

Away from the free forms of packed clay, the prefabricated units allowed the construction of more regular structures..

#2. The Arch

A seemingly simple breakthrough, the arch solved a persistent problem in masonry construction because unlike horizontal beams, arches can support greater loads and span much wider openings.

Notably, the arch formed the foundation for the evolution of the vault. In fact, corbel vaults were used in tombs in Mesopotamia. Also, the arch technology was used in the construction of ancient Roman aqueducts and arched stone bridges. Similarly, the Arabs popularized the pointed arch in their mosques while in medieval Europe, the pointed arch was a basic element in Gothic architecture.

Today, the arch has become a major structural form especially in bridge engineering.

#3. The Combustion Engine

Think about this:

The Egyptians were able to move stone blocks sometimes weighing as much as one tonne from quarries to distant building sites. This was an amazing accomplishment as their only machinery was levers and wooden sledges powered by human and animal muscle.

Later in 1896, Gottlieb Daimler produced the first motorized truck and a year later, he set the stage for today’s truck by putting the engine at the front. In other words, Daimler revolutionized the haulage of building materials.

Eventually there were other inventions such as the concrete mixer, the forklift, excavators and mobile cranes that has led to the development of more durable and efficient structures.

#4. Concrete

In the past, cements were made by crushing and burning limestone or gypsum. When water and sand were added to these cements, they became a plastic-like material (mortar) that was used to bind stones to each other. Over time, these materials were improved upon, blended with other materials and ultimately evolved into what we call concrete today.

In 6500 BC, Bedouins or Nabatea traders who occupied parts of southern Syria and northern Jordan, built the first concrete-like structures. And while concrete was mainly used for industrial buildings in the 19th century, in 1854, William B. Wilkinson constructed the first home (a servant’s cottage) using reinforced concrete.

Today, the market size, measured by revenue of the ready-mix concrete industry in the UK is £2.7billion.

#5. Computers

When you think about it, constructing some of the world’s iconic buildings was a remarkable feat. It’s mind-blowing considering that the architects, engineers and builders relied on two-dimensional plans and section drawings to do the construction.

Later, key inventions such as the silicon chip and the internet revolutionized industries such as construction. For instance, as early as 1960, computer-aided design (CAD) emerged, changing construction for good. Similarly, Building Information Management (BIM) has allowed the collaboration of architects, engineers, contractors and subcontractors using the same database and computer model.


What’s Next For Building Technology?

It’s only by looking back that we can see how far the construction industry has come. And the innovations won’t stop or disappear because technology will keep affecting the construction industry.

Here’s a question for you:

Can you handle it?

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The Evolution of Construction Technology The Key Breakthroughs

The Evolution of Construction Technology The Key Breakthroughs
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