A Brief History of Building Before High Rise Cranes

Building huge constructions projects are now easier because it is highly mechanized and it is becoming more so everyday. Commercial property sales are increasing because of this. With the growing industrialization modern construction, there is a shift towards offsite prefabrication of structural finish that are just installed instead of the traditional production on site. Production equipment are now being replaced by transportation equipment. Material handling and lifting are now more dominant in construction sites than in previous years and determines most of its productivity.

A construction site typically uses several or all of the following equipment: cranes, concrete pumps, material handlers, hoists and lifts, and forming systems. Concrete is commonly made on the site itself only if it’s a huge project or when the travel is too far for ready-mixed concrete.

In North America, the construction industry has always been fond of mobile crane culture with the number of cranes in the United states being more than its tower crane population.  However, tower cranes, the icon of construction in Europe and most of the industrialized far East are increasing on US construction sites. The demand for tower cranes in America is forever rising as cranes form the backbone of the United States construction industry. Crane rental companies, upon seeing the demand, have increased the share of tower cranes in their arsenal.

Not limited to tower cranes, but bubble cranes can often be seen on smaller to mid-sized projects as well as high-rise construction. This is mostly true for buildings having a concrete structural frame. The use of tower cranes are driven mostly by the type of work and the long service durations of a building plus the limited space that cannot hold mobile cranes.

A Short History of Building Construction Equipment

“I am accustomed, most of all at night, when the agitation of my soul  fills me with cares, and I seek relief from these bitter worries and sad thoughts, to think about and construct in my mind some unheard-of machine to move and carry weights, making it possible to create great and wonderful things”. Ross King talks about this sentence on his latest book on Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome (of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence), which was built without wooden falsework and explains how the famous scholar Leon Battista Alberti keeps dreaming about machines to help in constructing iconic buildings.

Builders have always fantasized of better machines to work with to make the tasks of moving, lifting and fitting buildings a whole lot easier. The builders of these monuments, buildings and residential houses in antiquity still found ways, even as they dreamed, to create their structures using traditional sledges, wheels, and very crude scaffolds.

Construction equipment has a rich and diverse history that precede most other types of machinery.  Roman architect and engineer Marcus Vitruvius Pollio from the 1st Century B.C., described in the 10th book of his De Architectura the state-of-the-art in mechanical contrivances, going back to early Greece.  These included winches and pulleys for hoisting levers and fulcrums; wagons and carts; buckets, water wheels, and pumps; and the infamous Archimedean water screw (Morgan 1960). The first cranes were made up of derricks with large tread wheels.

Roman semicircular arches and domes were constructed on elaborate wooden falsework, a good example would be the Pont du Gard in France and the Pantheon in Rome which were erected from 27 to 25 B.C. The greatest master builders in medieval Europe supervised construction sites that in the case of cathedrals take up to more than 100 years to finish. They were in charge of architecture, engineering, and construction aspects, including creating the means and methods of construction and organizing the logistics for the process. Their notebooks and illuminations found in old medieval manuscripts give an idea of the great technology they developed.

Medieval mechanical accomplishments took inspiration on the previously described machines. Tread wheel and winch cranes were found being used for loading and unloading medieval ships used by merchants. Water wheels, pumps, and shoring were used in mining for iron ore and some precious metals throughout the medieval times in Europe (Rae and Volti 2001) and in the 1800s were utilized in the growing number of shipping and water supply system projects (Kirby and Laurson 1932). Concepts such as selling land for development were not so known in those times, thus the need for quick development was not urgent.

The growing industrialization of building construction, the nature of duty-cycle concrete construction work, and the required pattern in erecting a concrete frame building, all accord give certain an edge to using tower rather than mobile cranes on mid-rise and high-rise building construction sites. These advantages however, have been obvious for years, yet in the United States the development of tower crane popularity just began a decade ago, along with this the crane hire industry has been and continues to boom.