The nightmare before construction
TV presenter and architect George Clarke looks at the global shortage of construction materials.
The global pandemic has been difficult for everyone. I still remember the turmoil in the first few weeks of the national lockdown with everyone trying to work out what we could do and couldn’t do.
Construction was allowed to continue and was seen as ‘essential work’ to the UK economy.
However, there was still massive disruption across the industry. Fearful of catching the virus some construction workers simply wouldn’t turn up to work, others found it difficult to travel to physically get to site.
Some would catch the virus and have to self-isolate for weeks, others would catch the virus and not make it through. My heart goes out to anyone who lost a friend or relative to Covid.
The lack of building materials for the industry soon became apparent and transporting supplies and moving products became really difficult.
Disruption was rife and the combined effect of increased demand with a supply chain struggling meant that the cost of materials went through the roof.
Supply chains for many construction materials, particularly from the EU, have now been stretched further since early 2020.
Oh, and let’s not forget the global shortage in raw materials, labour rates going up, and (wait for it) the national shortage in lorry drivers.
Predictions are that struggling supply chains for building materials and their delivery to sites across the country aren’t going to get much better anytime soon.
We are facing tough times ahead. The word being used so much at the moment is ‘recovery’. But, I’m an eternal optimist.
What we have been through over the last year should make us look at all aspects of our global economy.
Is a capitalist global economy obsessed by ‘growth’ really the right way for us to live in harmony with the planet?
This is an opportunity for us to really look at the ways we design, manufacture and transport the things we need to build from.
Should we really still be using materials like steel and concrete that we know have a hugely damaging affect on the planet?
A frightening statistic I came across recently is that China has used more concrete in the first 16 years of the 21st century than America used in its entire 20th century!
If I’m honest I don’t see much change across the UK housing industry when I see how things are being built at scale. Estate after estate being thrown up very quickly using a lot of concrete in poured and precast blocks form
Concrete is one of the most polluting building materials we can use.
We have to change the way we do things and we have to change things quickly, even during tough times.
My worry is that some powerful companies are using COVID as an excuse to push back on improved design, building and ecological standards.
The government keeps saying “tough times call for tough decisions” but that shouldn’t mean a race to the bottom. It should mean a genuine shift and radical improvement in how we do things.
If they claim we need “Build Better, Build Beautiful” then we can’t just talk about it, we need to do it!
Building the greenest, zero carbon homes should be the norm rather than the exception, if we want to see genuine change in an industry that seems to struggle with change.
Of course the health and well-being of people should take priority and we need an economy that provides secure jobs for people.
But, we are also in the middle of a climate crisis that could have devastating effects on our very existence.
How we balance the recovery and growth of our global economy while our shared home, Planet Earth, is getting warmer by the day, is the biggest challenge we face.