(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘construction

“They swore by concrete. They built for eternity.”*…

 

concrete dam

The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, China– the largest concrete structure in the world

 

In the time it takes you to read this sentence, the global building industry will have poured more than 19,000 bathtubs of concrete. By the time you are halfway through this article, the volume would fill the Albert Hall and spill out into Hyde Park. In a day it would be almost the size of China’s Three Gorges Dam. In a single year, there is enough to patio over every hill, dale, nook and cranny in England.

After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on Earth. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world with up to 2.8bn tonnes, surpassed only by China and the US.

The material is the foundation of modern development, putting roofs over the heads of billions, fortifying our defences against natural disaster and providing a structure for healthcare, education, transport, energy and industry.

Concrete is how we try to tame nature. Our slabs protect us from the elements. They keep the rain from our heads, the cold from our bones and the mud from our feet. But they also entomb vast tracts of fertile soil, constipate rivers, choke habitats and – acting as a rock-hard second skin – desensitise us from what is happening outside our urban fortresses.

Our blue and green world is becoming greyer by the second. By one calculation, we may have already passed the point where concrete outweighs the combined carbon mass of every tree, bush and shrub on the planet. Our built environment is, in these terms, outgrowing the natural one. Unlike the natural world, however, it does not actually grow. Instead, its chief quality is to harden and then degrade, extremely slowly.

All the plastic produced over the past 60 years amounts to 8bn tonnes. The cement industry pumps out more than that every two years. But though the problem is bigger than plastic, it is generally seen as less severe. Concrete is not derived from fossil fuels. It is not being found in the stomachs of whales and seagulls. Doctors aren’t discovering traces of it in our blood. Nor do we see it tangled in oak trees or contributing to subterranean fatbergs. We know where we are with concrete. Or to be more precise, we know where it is going: nowhere. Which is exactly why we have come to rely on it…

Solidity is a particularly attractive quality at a time of disorientating change. But – like any good thing in excess – it can create more problems than it solves…

Another entry for the “any solution can become the next problem” file: Jonathan Watts on the many ways that concrete’s benefits can mask enormous dangers to the planet, to human health – and to culture itself: “Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth.”

* Gunter Grass

###

As we muse on materials, we might recall that it was on this date in 1844 that Linus Yale patented the “safe door lock” (U.S. patent no. 3,630), the first modern “pin tumbler lock.”

yale-door-lock-patent-1844 source

 

Written by LW

June 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Cathedrals are unfinished. It is just the nature of the beast.”*…

 

St John

 

Why do cathedrals take so long to build? Because the finish line is besides the point. Cathedrals are so compelling because they make visible the continued commitment that every building, city, and institution requires of their participants if they are to survive. Cathedral building ritualizes construction; they are compelling because they are never finished…

Cathedrals are distinct from typical megaprojects in a very important way: an unfinished Cathedral is by no means a failure.

As Dr. Atif Ansar, a professor in major project management at Oxford, frames it, most infrastructure projects (the dams and bridges that are focus of Ansar’s research) are binary. They are done, or not; a 99% complete bridge is not very useful. Cathedrals, one the other hand, are not binary. The aspiration may be much larger, but in essence, a single room could act as a cathedral. Salisbury cathedral took a full century to build, but services commenced almost immediately in a temporary wooden chapel. At St. John the Divine, the congregation used the crypt for the first services in 1899, just seven years after construction commenced. Cathedrals, Ansar posits, are accretive – they gain value as they are built, “like a beehive.” Accretive buildings pose a challenge for the iron triangle, because the scope is, by nature, open-ended; the project will never be complete.

Accretive projects are everywhere: Museums, universities, military bases – even neighborhoods and cities. Key to all accretive projects is that they house an institution, and key to all successful institutions is mission. Whereas scope is a detailed sense of both the destination and the journey, a mission must be flexible and adjust to maximum uncertainty across time. In the same way, an institution and a building are often an odd pair, because whereas the building is fixed and concrete, finished or unfinished, an institution evolves and its work is never finished…

A consideration of construction (and on-going maintenance) as a way of being: “Building a Cathedral.”

[This piece is via a newsletter, “The Prepared,” that your correspondent highly recommends.]

* Tour guide, St, John the Divine, Morningside Heights, N.Y.

###

As we take the long view, we might recall that it was on this date in 1891 that Carnegie Hall was officially opened, with an orchestral performance conducted by Pyotr Tchaikovsky.  First know simply as “Music Hall,” the venue was formally named for it’s funder, Andrew Carnegie, in 1893.

Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

A: Practice, practice practice…

Carnegie Hall in 1895

source

Carnegie Hall today

source

 

 

 

Written by LW

May 5, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Why were Europeans, rather than Africans or Native Americans, the ones to end up with guns, the nastiest germs, and steel?”*…

 

steel

Oil painting by E.F. Skinner showing steel being produced by the Bessemer Process at Penistone Steel Works, South Yorkshire. Circa 1916

 

The story of steel begins long before bridges, I-beams, and skyscrapers. It begins in the stars.

Billions of years before humans walked the Earth—before the Earth even existed—blazing stars fused atoms into iron and carbon. Over countless cosmic explosions and rebirths, these materials found their way into asteroids and other planetary bodies, which slammed into one another as the cosmic pot stirred. Eventually, some of that rock and metal formed the Earth, where it would shape the destiny of one particular species of walking ape.

On a day lost to history, some fortuitous humans found a glistening meteorite, mostly iron and nickel, that had barreled through the atmosphere and crashed into the ground. Thus began an obsession that gripped the species. Over the millennia, our ancestors would work the material, discovering better ways to draw iron from the Earth itself and eventually to smelt it into steel. We’d fight over it, create and destroy nations with it, grow global economies by it, and use it to build some of the greatest inventions and structures the world has ever known…

The story of the emperor of alloys: “The entire history of steel.”

* Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel

###

As we celebrate strength, we might recall that it was on this date in 1867 that F. Joseph Monier launched a (then-)new use for steel: a gardener in Paris, he received the first patent on reinforced concrete (which he used to create stronger garden tubs, beams and posts).  Monier had found that the tensile weakness of plain concrete could be overcome if steel rods were embedded in a concrete member… and in so doing created a key material that would be used in skyscrapers, bridges, and much of what we now take for granted as the infrastructure of modern life.

Joseph_Monier source

 

Written by LW

July 16, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Life is a highway”*…

 

In the beginning, the Lincoln Highway was more an idea than a highway. But it was a very powerful idea.

On its dedication—Halloween, 1913—the towns and cities along the 3,300-mile route erupted in what the San Francisco Chronicle called“spontaneous expressions of gratification”—a wave of municipal celebrations animated by “the spirit of the great national boulevard.” The governor of Wyoming declared a day of “old-time jollification … and general rejoicing” that included, in a town called Rawlings, the erection of an enormous pyramid of wool. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, residents enjoyed a festive shower of locally made Quaker Oats.

The Lincoln Highway, which ran from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco, gets credit as the first transcontinental road of the automobile age, but it was no highway in the modern sense; when it was dedicated, it was more like a loosely affiliated collection of paved, gravel, stone, and dirt paths, some recently trailblazed through the trackless rural West. Its boosters—a collection of auto industry execs and ex-politicians led by an auto-parts entrepreneur named Carl Fisher—were gifted promoters, and they successfully sold America on the notion that a sea-to-shining-sea motorway could both unite the nation and sell a lot of cars…

Head on down the road with CityLab On The Road.

* Tom Cochrane

###

As we put the top down, we might spare a thought for Gebhard Jaeger; he died on this date in 1959.  An inventor, engineer, and manufacturer, he designed and patented the first cement mixer in 1905, then went on to add other patents (including, in 1928, the mixer truck) and build a successful manufacturing company equipping the suppliers who served road builders and construction contractors through the road and building construction booms of the 20th century.

From American Builder (March 1925)

source

 

Written by LW

September 11, 2017 at 1:01 am

“They swore by concrete. They built for eternity.”*…

 

These are interesting times for the concrete industry. After the misery of the 2008 financial crisis, construction in America is back in rude health, albeit patchily. Texas, California, and Colorado are all “very hot,” attendees say, as places where new hotels and homes and offices are being built. Demand is so high in these states that concrete-pump manufacturers are apparently having trouble filling orders. Employees worry that with baby boomers retiring, there isn’t the skilled labor force in place to do the work.

But America’s public infrastructure is still a mess—rusting rebars and cracked freeways stand as miserable testaments to a lack of net investment. It’s a complex and cross-party problem, as James Surowiecki has described in The New Yorker. Republicans have shied away from big-government investment– though of course Trump paved his pathway to the White House with pledges to build roads, hospitals, and, of course, a “great great wall”– and the increasing need to get the nod from different government bodies makes it hard to pass policy. For politicians keen on publicity, grand plans for big new things are exciting. But the subsequent decades of maintenance are thankless and dull…

Georgina Voss reports from World of Concrete, the concrete and masonry industry’s massive trade gathering—a five-day show that attacts more than 60,000 attendees.

How the construction business and the politics of the moment are mixed for the pour: “Welcome to the SXSW of Concrete.”

Pair with this piece on the state of dams in the U.S.

* Günter Grass

###

As we wait for it to set, we might recall that it was on this date in 1845 that a method for manufacturing elastic (rubber) bands was patented in Britain by Stephen Perry and and Thomas Barnabas Daft of London (G.B. No. 13880/1845).

In the early 19th century, sailors had brought home items made by Central and South American natives from the sap of rubber trees, including footwear, garments and bottles.  Around 1820, a Londoner named Thomas Hancock sliced up one of the bottles to create garters and waistbands. By 1843, he had secured patent rights from Charles Macintosh for vulcanized india rubber.  (Vulcanization made rubber stable and retain its elasticity.)  Stephen Perry, owner of Messrs Perry and Co,. patented the use of india rubber for use as springs in bands, belts, etc., and (with Daft) also the manufacture of elastic bands by slicing suitable sizes of vulcanized india rubber tube.  The bands were lightly scented to mask the smell of the treated rubber.

 source

 

Written by LW

March 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

Dream homes…

 

Facit Homes has claimed to be the first builder to use digital technology to fabricate a bespoke home on site (the one above, built for a couple in the UK).  Managing Director Bruce Bell explains, “we bring our compact high-tech machine to site and make it there and then—its an amazingly efficient way of designing and making a house.”

As GizMag reports,

Facit Homes first designs the house using a 3D computer model, which contains every aspect from its orientation, material quantities, even down to the position of individual plug sockets. The patented “D-Process” then transforms the 3D digital designs into the home’s exact physical building components, using a computer controlled cutter. These components are usually made from engineered spruce ply and are light and easy enough to then be assembled together on site. Since the components are produced on demand, costs are kept to a minimum and lead times are eradicated. “It’s not a building system but a way of working,” said Bell…

Read the full story here; and watch the process in the video here:

###

As we work on a new welcome mat, we might recall that it was on this date in 1986 that Oprah first entered homes across America:  this is the anniversary of the first national airing of The Oprah Winfrey Show.  It went on, of course, to become the highest-rated syndicated show in television history.

A September, 1986 ad from TV Guide

source (and other such ads)

 

 

Fractal lifting…

 

A massive LR 13000 crawler crane lifted three other cranes (totaling 1,430 tonnes) in this product demonstration by heavy equipment manufacturer Liebherr. The demonstration began with Liebherr’s smallest crawler crane, the 62 tonne LR 1100, lifting a toy train. The LR 1100 was then lifted by the 288 tonne LR1350, which was then lifted by the 1,080 tonne LR11350 which was then lifted by the LR 13000. According to the manufacturer, the LR 13000 is the largest crane of its kind. The demo occurred in June during an open house event at the Liebherr factory in Ehingen/Donau, Germany.

More photos at Laughing Squid; video of the demo here.

***

As we feel the lift, we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that Henry F. Phillips received several U.S. patents for the Phillips-head screw and screwdriver.  Phillips founded the Phillips Screw Company to license his patents, and persuaded the American Screw Company to manufacture the screws.  General Motors was convinced to use the screws on its 1937 Cadillac; by 1940, virtually every American automaker had switched to Phillips screws.

 source

Written by LW

July 7, 2012 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: