The organisational challenge of building large, complex buildings became increasingly apparent with the emergence of the modern skyscraper. In large part skyscrapers emerged out of evolutions in construction technologies (such as the elevator), coupled with a growing imperative to achieve higher financial returns from each parcel of land in increasingly space constrained urban centres. This was further encouraged by the irresistible compulsion in some cities to go higher, faster.
The increase in building height, the separation of the structural frame from the façade, the extensive use of glass, steel and concrete, and the need for complex services at every level of the skyscraper brought increased need for stricter specialisation in the design and contracting professions. Rules-of-thumb in engineering design gave way to precise and increasingly sophisticated but systematic calculation. Architects used this opportunity to derive a new aesthetic, while responding to the structural and service challenges the modern skyscraper presented. General contractors lost their competitive edge to specialist subcontractors who became more efficient at delivering specific trade packages of work than could any one firm.
When it came time to procure material, manpower, and other resources in order to build, it was the job of the main contractor — the recipient of client information and the coordinator of all downstream labour, materials, plant and equipment — to deliver the vision. This role required bringing together diverse individuals and organisations to work effectively to deliver the project safely, in accordance with the design specifications, and in a financially prudent manner. The general contractor became an integrator and manager as opposed to a manufacturer, fabricator, and installer.
The inherent mutual dependency between specialists, the need for speed and cost control without compromising quality, design intent, or health and safety, and the need to realise a target rate of profit all presented formidable challenges to the project team and especially the main contractor.
The main contractor required orchestrating moving parts on a new scale: securing and distributing plans and specifications; checking changes and notifying those affected; negotiating with subcontractors and suppliers; scheduling and plotting subcontractor work; knowing what and when materials need to be delivered, ensuring they’re on time; coordinating work on site and rushing materials to workers; running between architect and engineer, client and financiers, ensuring needs are met while never losing sight of contractual requirements.
The process of constructing buildings and structures is part of a continuous history that can always be made better, more efficient, safer, more predictable, and more satisfying for those creating the built environment. We hope Keepsite can contribute to those industrial goals.