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Witt: What can be done to speed up modern construction?

One has to wonder why it takes so long to build things these days.

Of course, there are multiple reasons, a myriad of them related to different projects and different circumstances.

And for those with a sense of history — or who have lived it — the pace at which construction has taken place in the past was truly astounding compared to what seems to attain today.

The Empire State Building was build in a little more than 400 days in the early 1930s, chiefly because there was an abundance of labor available, because of the lingering depression when so many were looking for work.

Hoover Dam was constructed between 1931 and 1936, dedicated in September 1935.

The Golden Gate Bridge was completed in four years and four months, from 1933 to 1937.

Ground was broken for the Pentagon, the largest office building in the world at 6.5 million square feet, on Sept. 11, 1941, and dedicated on Jan. 15, 1943, barely 16 months.

Books about some of the projects mentioned above include “The Pentagon” by Steve Vogel and “Colossus” (Hoover Dam) by Michael Hiltzik.

Today, it has become more and more difficult to find the necessary laborers for building projects, partly because fewer individuals are entering the construction trades and partly because the current unemployment rate is so low.

Many of the trades in construction require an advanced level of education to deal with mechanical systems, tech systems within the buildings, even the more mundane things like laying masonry or performing carpentry skills.

Weather, too, is often a factor in how a construction project progresses, with things like rain delays and, of course, snow and other inclement weather during winter months.

Excavation is often curtailed when rain makes earth moving impossible.

Concrete cannot be poured (without special additives and/or heating methods employed) when temperatures are near freezing.

Likewise, laying masonry comes to a stop at these temperatures because mortar cannot cure in such conditions.

But today there seem to be other issues involved in the long periods necessary for building projects.

One of those issues is the amount of advanced technology that goes into buildings, especially hospitals, research buildings, even factories and retail stores, technology that was not even dreamed of when the projects listed above were designed and built.

This does not explain, however, why relatively simple structures like homes take so long to build, and while part of the answer lies in the same lack of skilled labor as previously mentioned, another factor would appear to be that of the methods of home construction today.

Those methods essentially are not dissimilar from those used three-quarters of a century ago, stick building homes with dimensional lumber, in the field.

While certain parts of buildings must be completed this way, there are numerous ways in which the process can be mechanized or performed in factories under controlled conditions, thereby cutting down the time necessary for field work.

Some of these reasons might explain why one can see foundations of new buildings in place awaiting completion of the building, but not all.

Construction of cookie-cutter buildings is typically done quickly. CVS, Popeye’s and Domino’s are a few recent examples. Their methodology should be looked at for other projects, especially homes.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.