Throughout our lives, construction runs simultaneously with our development, from the building of relationships with family members, school friends, and later in life with teachers, tutors and employers. Continuing on, building and constructional skills change, merge, form partnerships and fall apart. This happens throughout the world.
However, real life and the construction industry then have a parting of the ways. With the century just a few years old, the building industry has not surged ahead as some had predicted, whereas our lives and lifestyles have. We do have new forward-thinking building taking place around the country, with the Fourth Grace for the Liverpool waterfront and the new city-centre development and redevelopments in Birmingham, Southampton and elsewhere. But where will our construction industry go from here? Will these small markers on the fabric of our land be the foundations for a rush forward of the building industry?
No, they will not.
Ever since we progressed from living in wattle-and-daub huts, our the skills that we have acquired have ensured that our homes and buildings have developed, too, using better and safer construction methods, finer materials, and honing our skills to ensure that buildings can withstand the forces that nature throws at them. But we will still be living in similar style housing 30, 50 and 100 years from now. Our offices and workplaces will be developed along the same lines as at present, our manufacturing industry will still operate from large warehouse-style buildings, our hospitals will still be based on a ward system. We may finally learn not to build on flood plains, we may improve our measures to ensure the safety of our workers on site – but we will fundamentally still be living and working in the same type and style of buildings as we have done for the past x number of years.
The Space Age technology envisaged before the dawn of this century was never realistically going to come about. Space 1999 – the jumpsuits, hover vehicles and outer-space-style housing – all just pipe dreams, and with the tragic loss of the Columbia shuttle in February this year, pushed even further backwards.
This is because along with the great British public, the Americans, Europeans, Asians, Antipodeans, we all live in housing that suits our lifestyles. Where it floods, they raise their buildings on stilts; where there are earthquakes, they build their foundations to withstand the forces. Housing being built in hurricane or tornado-hit countries is being developed to cope with the raging tempest, with below-ground safety features. All small dolly steps, not great striding leaps into the future.
In Britain, our housing, road, rail and drainage systems cannot be adapted to cope with a more modern way of life without massive expenditure and redevelopment. The government's promises to house the homeless need to be enforced, and disused inner city areas should be redeveloped to house those who cannot afford to put their hand on the first rung of the increasingly expensive housing market. And with road charge systems coming into force, there may well be fewer cars on the inner city roads, and more companies moving out to the Countryside surrounding the larger cities, where the "look" of their buildings will be in keeping with the agricultural developments they will encroach on.
Small changes may come about, the landmark buildings spurting forth from some creative architects, a newly developed material will be used imaginatively, but then we resume with building from blocks, bricks, tiles, concrete, wood and plastic. Sure, things progress, material structure improves, but we always revert to the "it's always been done like this" mentality. Our building and the construction industry does make progress, but at a slow pace. The forward-thinking architects are kept in check by the vote-hungry politicians, councillors and planning committees. The innovative designers bring out wonder materials, but the construction industry still clad over and around it, to keep their enhanced profit margins safe.
Nothing will bring a burst of energy into construction. It will plod along, much as it has done for hundreds of years. We will not suddenly wake up to new glass and metal houses, with blinds that appear at the touch of a button, or upon the forming of a mental image. Our lives are just not going to be like that.
The reason why? Our older generation like living in their bricks and mortar, whether it is in their country mansions, their country cottages, their seaside bungalows or their terraced houses. You will not change their minds. That stoic British resistance met when they are forced to leave their homes and move into warden-assisted flats has been instilled into their children.
The kids, now the middle generation, also like living in their bricks and mortar, albeit on housing estates where their gardens are overlooked from all sides, where their vehicles bump slowly over ever increasing amounts of speed humps, through ever tighter pinch-points and finally into driveways just long enough (perhaps) to park two of their four household vehicles – leaving the go-faster hatchback and funky moped to stand at the kerb.
What of their children, the last generation? When they finally save enough money to fly the safety of that bricks and mortar nest, where are they going to live? Will it be some swanky high-rise apartment block, overlooking the wharf, or will it be a converted warehouse flat, overlooking the edge of the moors, now sharing the views with the out-of-town industrial and office units? No, it will be into a studio apartment, or shared accommodation with several friends in the heart of the redeveloped inner city centre. They will work in the offices edging the town, on the outskirts of shrinking suburbia, in the shops lining either side of the pedestrian walkways of the once out-of-town designer outlets.
What about when this generation need to build their own nests? Will they be choosing the high-rise inner city apartment that they can just about afford now that they have saved every penny they could? No, they will have met Miss or Mr Right, and be spending their hard-earned cash on a two bedroom semi on a similar estate to that of their parents, just down the road from where their grandparents used to live.
Their very own bricks and mortar, in which to raise their young, to buy them the wooden building blocks, sit them in front of the flat-screen plasma television to watch their Bob the Builder DVD, and spill juice on the laminate floors, watch them move onto the building bricks of Lego and Duplo, watch them as they build and develop their own relationships.
Life, as it has done for many a year in much the same vein, will go on, and on, and on. The great British construction industry. Marching on the spot.
Toni Mannell works as a secretary at The Andrews Partnership, a Southampton QS. She lives in Chichester.