History? It’s in the past! Why should we look at the history of construction, if we are building for the future? The fact is we need to look at the past in order to look forward. We can learn from the mistakes of the past, build on the methods that worked, and repurpose old ideas to create new ones. The history of construction is endless, as new techniques and materials are created every year. That’s why this post will be the first of a 3-part blog series. For now, let’s start at the beginning of construction history, which essentially aligns with the beginning of the human race.
In the beginning, construction was required simply for the purpose of creating shelter from the environment. The shelters made by Nomads were usually only made to last a couple of days, and would later need to be rebuilt. In a cave in South-West France excavated by historians, rings of stone were found dating back to 12,000 BCE. The stone was used to hold down tents made of animal hide and wooden poles. However, once humans began to develop agriculture, they started to spend more time in one place. That required more durable shelters. The remnants of such structures are scarce, but remains of buildings constructed out of clay have been found by scientists in the Middle East. As well as providing shelter, permanent structures became used for various other functions, including food storage and religious ceremonies.
Historians say that what we know as traditional construction actually started in Ancient Egypt. The Egyptian pyramids are one of the first instances of large-scale permanent structures. The majority of pyramid building took place between 2,550 – 2,400 BCE. The structures built by the Egyptians involved a great deal of skill in engineering and architecture. Everything was typically made of stone, and many historians wonder how Egyptians were able to make such large complex structures without modern tools. What we do know is that these buildings took a significant amount of time and labour to construct. Archeological experts say it took 20 years and around 200,000 men to complete a single structure.
The original heights of many pyramids dating back to that period have decreased, because materials used for the outer layers were stolen to create new structures. However, most of the structures have remained uncompromised even 4,000 years later.
It would be wrong to write a blog post about construction without the bricks and mortar of construction – bricks and mortar! (I couldn’t resist.)
Bricklaying goes all the way back to 7,000 BCE in Southern Turkey, where they were used at the site of an ancient settlement. We also saw bricks in ancient Egyptian construction. These early examples of brick construction were made of straw and clay, and due to the material could only be used in warm climates.
China had one of the earliest appearances of bricks like the ones we are familiar with today. They were made of fired red clay and used as flooring in houses in 4,000 BCE. You also see bricks used in a lot of Ancient Roman structures. The Romans discovered that bricks were cheap to make and easier to lay for those with a lower skill level. In fact, the Romans introduced fired bricks to the entire country thanks to mobile kilns. The bricks would be stamped with the mark of the legion who supervised the brick production. This is something we still often see today as a form of branding materials.
Although the materials used for bricks may have changed, the technique has stayed the same. Apart from wood, brick still remains one of the most popular building materials in construction.
History is important to look back on, as it can teach us many things about the future of construction. New ideas can emerge from reflecting on outdated or less-effective methods. This post is simply an introduction to the history of construction. Stay tuned for our next post, which will highlight the advancements humans made in permanent housing, and the lessons we learned from some of our shortfalls!
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