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Construction History Through the Centuries

Construction is one of the first necessary trades in human history. When did construction begin? Starting with the Stone Age and moving to today’s advanced construction practices, find out how humans started the construction trade, and how construction management history has transformed.

The New Stone Age (9000 BC – 3000 BC) notes that humanity needs construction to survive its environments. As one of the basic human needs, shelter allows us to adapt to changing climates, which in turn allow us to populate much of the earth that would be otherwise inaccessible.

During the Neolithic Age, also known as the New Stone Age, people pursued construction as much as they could, without the use of wood working. They made tools from mud, grass, stone, wood, and animal remains such as hide, tusks, and bone. These tools allowed them to build simple structures like temporary huts, tents, stone monuments, and tombs.

As prehistory advanced to the Bronze Age, copper and bronze allowed tool creation to advance. Durable, sharper saws allowed rocks to be more easily cut. While construction existed as a necessity for every human to survive during these periods, the advancement of tools made way for what would soon become a successful specialized trade, and the history of construction tools evolved.

The Iron Age (1200 BC – 700 BC)

With the end of the Bronze Age, our history of construction timeline pushes forward. During the Iron Age, iron and the even stronger steel gave way to a new tool: the first plane, which allowed for fine wood-shaping and, therefore, more complex structures. While civilizations advanced at different rates, here are some major accomplishments from across the globe during this time:

  • China
  1. Built the Great Wall of China with wood, earth, stone, and mortar
  • Egypt
  1. Credited with having the first recorded architect, Imhotep
  2. Constructed pyramids from an abundant supply of stone, dragged from quarries to the construction site
  • Greece
  1. Build stone-frame temples inspired by Egypt’s use of stone construction
  2. Independent skilled masons focused on detail were hired to build the Parthenon
  • Roman Empire
  1. Made the first true stone arch and created a major industry out of brickmaking
  2. Advanced timber technology by mastering trusses
  3. Created advanced pipe systems, including the Roman aqueducts

The Middle Ages and Renaissance (4000 – 1700)

While Rome experienced a decline in construction progress following its fall, Europe experienced some advances during the Middle Ages, including the fireplace and chimney. This advancement in the history of building construction led to the partitioning of homes into several rooms heated by individual fireplaces.

With the rise of the Italian Renaissance, the construction trade began to make the important distinction between designer and builder. This separation allowed each role to develop greater depth of expertise. With a greater-than-ever focus on appearance, Romans displayed their religious and cultural pride through arches and domes, particularly on churches. These stylistic choices allowed Romans to heavily influence construction and architecture across Europe, spreading all the way to England’s St. Paul Cathedral.

The Industrial Revolutions (1600-1900)

Construction history continued onward. The first industrial revolution in the late 1600s was a result of the creation of large-scale iron production. Iron, particularly cast iron, was readily available to construct new building frames and strengthen existing ones. Glass also began to be manufactured, but many limitations still existed, such as a continued dependence on wood for cranes and scaffolding.

Progress accelerated in the 1800s, the most commonly referenced industrial revolution, sparked by electricity and railroads. Wrought iron structures improved, allowing the invention of high-rise buildings. Some advancements included the use of brick casing to protect the iron structures from heat caused by potential fires, and foundations filled with concrete to support the heavier loads. Electric elevators allowed for easy transportation through buildings, and daylight could be supplemented by electric light. Internal-combustion engines manufactured power the construction trade had yet to see.

Modern Construction

With continued advancements in high-rise construction and architecture, modern building practices are complex but still call back to construction throughout history. Critical construction roles and areas include the following:

  • Carpentry
  • Electrical conductors and circuit breakers
  • Plumbing systems
  • Lighting
  • Remodeling
  • Framing of walls, ceilings, floors, doors, windows, and roofs
  • Construction management

As the practical and technical details of construction have been refined over the centuries, today’s construction focuses on the comfort of its structures’ occupants. Interior function and aesthetic are valued more than ever, widening the construction industry to include principles of design. Additionally, indoor plumbing and electricity can be considered a subfield of construction because of how critical they have become to the design, value, and function of a structure.

As style and mastery evolves, construction history will do the same, allowing individuals in the field to explore areas of interest and provide the best interior and exterior structures for their customers.

Want to take your interest in building to the next level? Explore the Construction & Building Skills program at Apex.

Disclaimer: Apex Technical School provides training for entry-level jobs. Not everything you may read about the industry is covered in our training programs.