It is always intriguing to look to the past when there is a multitude of developments in the present and future; from technology to architecture, design to social politics – we can learn so much about ourselves and our society from those who have gone before us.
This is the same for the history of construction, a fascinating topic that has laid the foundations for how we build homes today. As leaders in the field of pile foundation design, we have put together an exciting blog looking back and the different building methods in the ages, from ancient civilisations to the current day. This enlightening topic will show us the different architectural designs that influenced how homes were constructed, as well as the differing sociological and political factors that were also heavy influences too.
Neolithic, also known as the Stone Age, was a period that occurred between 9000 BC and 5000 BC. Construction tools and materials included many natural and animal-derived products including bone, antler, hide, stone, and wood. These were used to create basic hammers, axes, choppers, simple shelters and huts. As trade didn’t necessarily exist – many of these materials were locally sourced.
Many of these structures are presumed as none of them exist, archaeologists and anthropologists have come to these conclusions from watching and studying modern nomadic tribes and hunter-gatherers. However, the first mud bricks belong to the late Neolithic period, and were handcrafted rather than made from moulds. This shows that society and civilisations were starting to become more and more refined.
Temples and dwellings were constructed from wood and stone as shown through the major megalithic site of Stonehenge.Yet, apart from this, there is little trace of these sites and many conjectures have to be surmounted from ruins; the symmetrical and geometric configuration of stone can be seen in these archaeological ruins – which suggests that these builders had a sophisticated knowledge of surveying methods.
From the Iron Age,the Copper Age, and the Bronze Age, the discovery of these materials meant that weapons and utensils were heavily constructed from these. A construction method that was popular and developed through this period was post and lintel. This was where strong horizontal elements were held up by strong vertical elements with large spaces in between them. The strong horizontal elements were known as lintel, header, architrave or beam and the strong vertical elements were known as columns, pillars or posts. This beginnings of sophisticated construction was widely spread amongst Neolithic architecture, ancient Indian architecture, ancient Greek architecture and ancient Egyptian architecture.
From the Mesotopians to the Ancient Romans, the term ancient civilisations refers to a period that is roughly 5,000 years long from 3,000 BC to 500 AD. Though this time period is vast, little records existed so we have learnt much about this time from older scholars and archaeological discoveries. These early civilisations had, surprisingly, sophisticated technology, construction methods and warfare. Furthermore, many of these civilisations followed polytheistic religions before the introduction of Christianity which meant that there were many temples that were constructed and had different styles.
Ancient Mesopotamia – Ancient Mesopotamia is situated in Western Asia, and encompasses both modern-day Syria and Iraq. Many of the smaller dwellings only survive in traces of foundations, whereas the larger foundations of impressive palaces, temples and ziggurats can still be seen today. Bricks during this time were constructed from mud and were formed in wooden moulds – these varied in size depending on their application. Studies of this ancient civilisation concluded that life was carried out in a ritualistic way, and this was the same for buildings and construction – these included archways and glazed bricks for the interior of buildings. Furthermore, the development of ancient cities created demands for new technologies like sewage drains.
Ancient Egypt – During Ancient Egypt, the important devotional structures were constructed from stone rather than mud. Many of these buildings like the pyramids and sphinxes have been preserved due to the arid climate present in Egypt. Yet the domestic dwellings were constructed from mud brick too, as this was also a great material for the hot and dry climate. Ancient Egyptians can be credited with inventing a large variety of different items like baths, ships, standard measurement systems, windows, irrigation systems, doors and glass.
Ancient Greece – Like the Mesopotamians and ancient Egyptians, many of their common dwellings were constructed from mud brick. After 650 BC, the famous Greek temples were constructed from stone and fired clay was used for roofing tiles. Though largely the construction methods were from a beam and column system, the Greeks did construct groin vaults, arch bridges and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. We also know that the Greeks were exceptional in their mathematics, being able to create incredible landscaping surveys enabling for the construction of the Parthenon.
Ancient Rome – Unlike other ancient civilisations, there are many remains of Ancient Rome that have been well preserved in cities like Rome and Pompeii. This was also the first introduction of concrete into building structures. The vast majority of buildings constructed were from the social impact of trade guilds including free labour and slaves. This meant that buildings could be constructed at a low cost which meant that more were created at a larger scale.
Due to the fall and destruction of the Roman Empire, many of the modern technological inventions that occurred, like drainage systems, central heating, and aqueducts became lost. This meant that science and technology became more simplistic, allowing the primary focus to be on God and Christianity. Great construction projects were cathedrals, churches, castles and fortifications, Monasticism allowed for more sophisticated Gothic building techniques.
Throughout this time, wood and brick remained the most popular building material. Brick was popular in countries like the Netherlands, Northern Germany and Denmark. Medieval stone walls were constructed with weak lime mortars, meaning that they easily fell into disrepair and rubble. Much of the work was carried out by paid labourers, from skilled apprenticeships and craftsmen. Medieval towns were small by modern standards with nobles, merchants, and peasants and were populated with churches and cathedrals due to the heavy Christian faith. Some of the most important relics to this day are Notre Dame in Paris, Kings College Chapel and Beauvais Cathedral.
During the Renaissance, there was a rediscovery of Vitruvius, a Roman architect, meaning that the way that buildings were constructed dramatically changed. Before this, the building trade was learnt by word of mouth, and heavily relied on experience. However, Vitruvius stated the perfect architect must be both experienced and profoundly skilled in both the arts and sciences. This meant that only extremely skilled men designed and constructed buildings – giving buildings a more symbolic purpose and a pursuit of the aristocracy. So, the process of building changed from medieval craftsmen approaching a problem with a technical solution in mind, to a carefully thought out idea of what an end product would look like – resulting in a rise of engineering advancements like domes and more sophisticated archways.
The 17th century saw the birth of modern science, and use of scale models which meant that construction could be more carefully thought out in the preliminary stages. The first glass production was started, and most of the buildings had stone ashlar surfaces with rubber cores and basic lime mortar. Yet many of the building techniques were still relatively medieval.
The 18th century allowed for the professional industries of architecture and engineering to develop, with mathematics becoming more and more sophisticated and employed in buildings, this was alongside the rise of neoclassical design and thought. Iron production increased during this period, which meant that it was heavily prevalent in buildings.
The 19th century saw the birth of the Industrial Revolution, meaning that the rise of urban development exceeded all else and the mass production of steel, glass and concrete. Furthermore, sophisticated plumbing systems dramatically altered the general public health. However, this did not occur until the late 19th century, the earlier buildings were cramped together – meaning that many people died from the spread of disease.
During this time, building codes were established which had regard for fire safety and general health. These included the Public Health Act in 1875 and the London Building Act in 1894 which amended rules related to building foundations and the thickness of external and party walls. Many of the foundations for new builds in the late 19th and early 20th century were shallow; and it was only until the 1950’s were raft foundations and strip foundations become more commonplace.
With the Second Industrial Revolution in the Twentieth Century, there has been a rise in monumental builds like skyscrapers, and the introduction of heavy power tools. Furthermore, the rise in modern warfare meant that a large number of buildings were destroyed en masse, meaning that construction became a priority for the government.
This also led to the establishment of trade unions which protected the construction worker’s interests, occupational safety and health. Little things like personal protective equipment like hard hats, earmuffs and high visibility jackets became a requirement on construction sites.
In 1965 and twenty years later in 1985, there were changes to building regulations until it all came under one legislation which was the Building Act 1984. This was where it specified that raft foundations and piling foundation design always needed to be separately designed depending on the houses needs. Piling foundations became increasingly popular due to the fact that it was affordable, and smaller lighter piling rigs were available.
Towards the end of the 20th century and in the 21st century, there has been a rise in the interest of sustainable development and eco-buildings. This is because the boom that occurred during the first and second industrial revolution meant that unsustainable building materials like concrete and plastic, and consequently pollution, was produced at unprecedented rate leading to climate change and breakdown. Furthermore, it has significantly depleted the earth’s natural resources, meaning that we need to find sustainable alternatives before it runs out. This coincides with the general public looking for a more eco-friendly way to live, by utilising natural energy resources and finding cleaner, less polluting ways to mass produce materials and products.
Here at 118 foundations, we find the history of construction and building methods fascinating. We are constantly inspired by the past and always look forward towards future projects creating foundations for any type of building project. Our contractors boast a wealth of industry experience, offering incredible customer service and efficient practises in tandem. Simply contact us today to find out more.