The Construction Industry

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Construction is a cyclical industry, meaning it reflects fluctuations in the national economy sensitively and rapidly. During economic recessions, construction is often put off; whereas, in times of economic growth, the industry may find it difficult to keep up with the demand for its product. Since construction is so important to our economy, all levels of government have developed policies on the construction of public works in an attempt to minimize economic fluctuations. Extensive public construction projects are often undertaken in times of recession to stimulate a lagging economy.

Many other elements of the American economy join with the construction industry in building and maintaining our physical environment. Your school, for instance, contains thousands of separate products supplied by many different sources. Each product was conceived, designed, manufactured, shipped, and assembled through the employment of labor, materials, and capital supplied by various elements of our economy. To these activities must be added those required for daily servicing, maintaining, and repairing your school if we are to identify all those elements of our national economy that participate in the creation and maintenance of this single piece of your physical environment.

The many vocations included in the construction element of our national economy can be grouped into three general classifications:

The Design Group. Architects, engineers, and other professionals and technicians who design our physical environment.

The Constructor Group. Contractors, suppliers, manufacturers, and building trades who construct our physical environment.

The Support Group. Financiers, realtors, educators, insurance underwriters, testers and researchers, public administrators, and others who supply land, loan money, train personnel, and perform other services ancillary to the creation of our physical environment.

While a common thread of interest-construction-runs through all three groups and touches each person involved, there are considerable differences in individual motivations that lead each person to a particular type of work within the industry.


The design group includes people who have a basic interest in conceiving, programming, synthesizing, and planning our physical environment. These are personalities that think "in the round." They can visualize the effects of various relationships in space, color, texture, warmth, and light without first having to see, feel, or otherwise experience them. Characteristically, these are highly skilled and trained people with refined senses for what is appropriate to particular types of environments and functions. Typically, people in this group regard themselves as professionals- placing service to society and their profession above any personal gain.


Those in the constructor group are people of action. They want to experience the construction process firsthand, to work directly with the machines and materials used in the building process, and to see the building rise as a direct result of their effort. Many are business-people-contractors, suppliers, manufacturers-who, through astute management of personnel and machines, earn substantial monetary rewards in their various vocations.


The motivations and interests of those in the support group are as varied as the list of professions would indicate. The trades in this group render many vital services to the construction industry and, in turn, look to construction for a large share of their daily endeavors. Frequently, they must be as knowledgeable of the workings of the construction industry as are designers and constructors, and may well have gained their education or started their careers in those fields.

This summary of construction industry prospects and of the vocations encompassed within the industry gives you an idea of the breadth and potential of career opportunities it offers. You should particularly note that those who choose a career in design are at the heart of the industry-their decisions put other elements of the industry into action. Consequently, those trained in architecture find their careers can carry them throughout the industry- into engineering, construction, finance, manufacturing, public administration-as well as into design.


To illustrate the broad potential of those trained and experienced in architecture, let us consider the design and construction of a high school.


To start the process, the board of education and the superintendent determine that a new school building is required. Their decision is based upon the need for more space to accommodate a growing student population, or perhaps an existing school needed replacement. In either event, architectural services are required to help them decide where to locate the school, what facilities to include, and its approximate cost. An architect in private practice is retained to make studies on location, function, and cost and to assist the school board and the administration in making their decision. The private practice of architecture engages by far the greatest number of architects in the United States. It offers the opportunity to own and operate your own business and professional enterprise and to share in all the challenges and rewards of being your own boss and directing your own affairs.

Public agencies, such as your school district, often employ architects on their administrative staffs who perform in-house architectural services on buildings that house agency functions. They also work with architects in private practice when the agency undertakes major building projects. Such public agency positions offer rewarding careers to those architects attracted to public service.

In making studies on location, the architect working for the school district consults with local city planning commissions on plans for neighborhood development. These plans are a matter of urban design in which architects have participated, as members of the planning commission, employees of the commission's staff, or private planning consultants. Urban planning is a challenging field for those trained in architecture. Architects with special interests in urban design, geography, sociology, economics, or public administration have many career opportunities either as private consultants or as staff members of federal, state, and local agencies concerned with urban development.

As the architect and the school board study the functions and activities to be included in your school building, they call in special consultants on various educational planning problems, such as television and team teaching, visual aids, and auditorium and stage design. Some architects in private practice specialize in particular kinds of buildings: for instance, schools, theaters, hospitals, or shopping centers. Others specialize in particular functions within a building, such as kitchen and cafeteria areas, hospital operating suites, or X-ray and radiology rooms. As a building-type consultant, an architect has an opportunity to concentrate on those areas of the construction industry he or she finds of greatest interest.

To develop cost figures for constructing and maintaining the school building through the issuance of bonds, the school board and the architect consult with taxing and bonding authorities expert in the field of construction financing. Construction requires loan money; that is, money loaned to the owner of the building- in this case your school board-by commercial institutions, such as banks and insurance companies whose business it is to supply money. Such lending institutions offer unusual career opportunities for architects with particular interests in construction economics and finance. Further, many such institutions deal principally with public construction that is financed through tax and bond revenues. These institutions offer additional career openings for architects knowledgeable in public finance and tax administration.

Having determined that the school should be built, the school board directs the architect to prepare detailed drawings and specifications for the construction of the building. The architect then brings together and directs a team of professionals and technicians skilled in the many disciplines required in building design and construction. Most of these talents are members of the architect's staff. For certain specialized areas of design, the architect retains other private consultants to assist in the preparation of the drawings and specifications. The design of contemporary buildings requires architectural designers, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, specification writers, interior designers, planners for special equipment, draftsmen, and a host of special supporting talents, such as computer programmers, statisticians, technical writers, systems analysts, researchers, business administrators, and estimators. Those trained in architecture can be specialized in any of these fields, depending upon their desires, talents, and special education.
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