The history of construction and how it has changed and developed over the centuries
Humans are natural builders – the need for shelter, warmth and safety have been driving the inclination to construct since early times. However, while the same basic urges might have motivated humans in the Stone Age or Ancient Greece, construction has changed and developed significantly over the centuries.
Early construction – starting with the New Stone Age
The New Stone Age (9000 BC to 5000 BC) is what many regard as the earliest beginnings of the construction industry. At this stage, shelters were being built from materials such as mammoth ribs, wood and rock but only very primitive tools were available to lift, pound, cut or shape. Many of these early structures failed to last and tended to leave no trace. However, we know that some of the earliest types of construction were mud huts, dry stone walls and timber framed and log structures – such as a Neolithic long house – as some of these have remained.
The evolution of tools and materials
From 5,000 BC to 50 BC, the Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages changed construction by providing materials for tools that were more durable and more effective. Wheels came into use for moving heavy loads and techniques, such as the post and lintel construction method used by Egyptians to build stone temples, started to become commonplace. Mud bricks began to replace the more primitive materials in use and, as construction industry tools evolved even further, rock and stone could also be expertly shaped and hewn. The Ancient Egyptians are probably the most famous for their work with stone, which they used to build structures such as the Great Pyramid of Giza, the tallest building in the world for over 3800 years. During this process the Egyptians invented a number of tools that were crucial to later construction, including the ramp, proportional scale drawings, the rope truss, the lock and a form of plaster of Paris.
The changing shape of workforces
The Romans were renowned for their use of vast workforces and for developing materials – such as Roman cement – that meant these workers could be largely unskilled. However, by the Renaissance, construction was far more focused on expertise, as buildings were built by those who designed them. While unskilled labour was still required, the more complex and artistic construction relied heavily on master craftsmen, such as masons and carpenters. By the time of the first Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, humans had a lot more construction support, from the railways to steam engines, machine tools and explosives, and so the need for large workforces again began to reduce.
Building up and innovating
During the 18th century, iron was first used in construction, enabling buildings such as Sir Christopher Wren’s House of Commons, to be constructed. Brick production began to be scaled up, changing the face of residential construction. The mass production of glass panes and steel in the 19th century was another key step in enabling humans to achieve height in buildings, as well as durability and innovation in aesthetic design. In the early 20th century, elevators, cranes and advances in plumbing made construction possible at new levels and a range of advanced construction techniques brought us skyscrapers and seemingly gravity defying structures.
Today, the construction sector is more advanced than it has ever been. We enjoy a wider range of more versatile materials and a wealth of equipment and construction techniques to support cutting edge design – all of which are the product of centuries of construction evolution.
If you’d like to know more about construction today, or to talk about your projects, contact a member of our team.