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Andrew Rabeneck All Planned Out? - The Worldwide Impact of the British Town and Country Planning System
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1. Robert Wood, Standard Construction for Schools: Post-War Building Studies No. 2, London, Board of Education, HMSO, 1944

2. Linda Clarke, 'The production of the built environment: backward or peculiar?', in The production of the built environment, Bartlett Environmental Studies No 6, London, University College London, 1985

3. Michael Ball, 'Is the Construction Industry Backward?', in Rebuilding Construction: economic change and the British construction industry. London, Routledge, 1988, Chapter 2

4. Construction Task Force, Rethinking Construction: The report of the Construction Task Force to the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, on the scope for improving the quality and efficiency of UK construction. London, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, 1998, chaired by Sir John Egan

5. James Woodhuysen and Ian Abley, Why is construction so backward? Chichester, Wiley-Academy, 2004

6. David Edgerton, 'Ever accelerating hype', in Prospect Magazine, 18 April 1997

7. David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900, London, Profile Books, 2006

All Planned Out?
The Worldwide Impact of the British Town and Country Planning System

18 and 19 May 2007

Andrew Rabeneck

Andrew studied and worked with Ezra Ehrenkrantz in New York and San Francisco, later moving to Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz. A pioneer in Facilities Management for 10 years as Director of European Facilities at Salomon Brothers in London. Later as European Divisional MD for Interior Services Group PLC, and a former Assistant Director of Estates, Imperial College London.

Andrew is now a doctoral candidate at ICL in the History of Technology. He is concentrating on twentieth century attempts to improve construction productivity, by market aggregation, prefabrication, and government intervention. What worked and did not work, and why. What lessons might there be for the present?



14.00 to 15.30 on Saturday 19 May 2007

Construction Myths: Do they get in the way of success?


It's been popular to deride the construction industry and to mock it for backwardness for a very long time, despite the fact that during much of the nineteenth century construction and civil engineering epitomized technical progress in ways that were visible to all. In the popular imagination manufacturing began to surpass construction only at the end of the century.

Since then the rhetoric of construction backwardness has escalated from the anxieties of post-war re-builders, (1) through academic papers (2) and economic texts, (3) via government sponsored reports, (4) to full book-length bloom. (5)

The marks of backwardness are many - construction is "fragmented", lags behind other industries, uses old-fashioned technology, has a low "innovation-rate", is under-capitalised, exhibits low productivity, and is still a labour-intensive economic sector with accident-prone and health-endangering practices.

Most damning of all, construction fails to measure up to an image of industry propagated by "techno-hype", the dominant yet unrealistic way we have of thinking about technology and change. (6)

Over time the backwardness stories have coagulated into a largely unexamined mythology, which has blinded the complainers to actual technological and social change going on among "the builders".

And yet... construction remains a £50 billion a year activity, about 40% of which is spent on looking after a built environment we already have. Vitally, it is a responsive industry that does not control its markets. On the contrary, margins are small and capitalization is low, so it must mirror the market in order to survive.

We get the construction industry we have asked for... supply responds to demand.

So I'm investigating the origins of the backwardness rhetoric, and I'm asking where it has come from as much as where it's directed.

Who might have a stake in disparaging the industry?

What might their motives be, and what do they hope to accomplish?

I expect to find peddlers of better mousetraps, social engineers and politically motivated technocrats, to name but a few.

A most salient example from the "techno-hype" today is the "innovation" industry, which has been spawned from the backwardness myths about construction - no rationale for "innovation" now need be invoked - more innovation must be better. (7) A flood of invented products and processes pours from government and the professions (all those reports). Meanwhile the supply side is variously shamed, cajoled, threatened and bribed into pulling up its socks.

It is time we tried to really understand construction - strengths as well as its weaknesses - its deep conservatism, its pragmatism, its capacity to invent from within, and its ability to survive.

Construction Myths: Do they get in the way of success?

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