Construction site management, why I love it.




Hi, I am Matt The Travelling Builder.

In this episode, I am going to talk about why I love construction site management and site supervising. Over the years I have had many roles, a carpenter, manager, leading hand and a laborer. I get the biggest kick out of construction site management. I thoroughly enjoy working with all the guys on a project, working with hundreds to well over and well over thousands of people.

Working with different trades

It is great getting to work with all the different trades and getting to experience something new. There is never a day that goes by where you don’t learn something new. Also being able to work with the architects, engineers, and designers and finding out how came up with their designs. Problem-solving with the design teams is great as well. The last thing that I will touch on in this episode is the cool projects that we get to build.

Working with the different tradesmen on a project can be like working with a bunch of friends. Over time you get to make new friends. As you move from project to project, you catch up with guys you haven’t seen in years. Sometimes it is like no time has passed. Catching up on what projects they have worked on, what they have been up too, how their families are. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people, which is one of the things that I enjoy about construction site management.

Working with the guys, I get to experience the pride they have in their work. Especially when a problem arises, everyone has their thoughts on how to solve the problem. How we can move forward and get things back on track. Everyone gets in and gets the work done.

I don’t always work with tradesmen, but mostly all the guys that you do work with are genuine people. They are doing the best they can with what they have. The best part about working with them is getting the opportunity to learn something new.

Every trade has some other tip or trick for solving a problem or making something work. Even just showing you new tools that they have collected which make their job easier. Learning makes going to work enjoyable. You get to go to work and spend the time learning something new. Not just learning for your personal benefit, but what you learned today will come into use on a different project. This learning always gives further insight into various ways to view problems.

Working with design teams

Not only do you get to work with the trades on site, but you also get to work with the architects, designers, and engineers. The beauty of this, they have a vision of what it is they want to build, but also how they are going to get there. The practicality of building, not all of the architects and engineers have trade backgrounds or experience. As a site manager, you become invaluable to them. Your experience to figure out how it is you are going to build the intended building. Sometimes the design has to change slightly to complete the building. You have to get involved with the design team to produce the result.

Architects

Architects and engineers have spent many years learning their trade and skills. Being an architect, being creative and being able to design a building inside of a client’s briefs. Being able to figure out what is intended is something that I don’t have the patients. I am clear that it would drive me mad sitting down and trying to draw this stuff. Trying to figure out how to make the bathroom fit with the kitchen, and the bedrooms and lounge rooms, while meeting all the compliance requirements. Certainly in an apartment building. Even houses have the similar constraints and minimum requirements. I have a lot of respect for the design guys. Some designers aren’t so great to work with, very fixed on what it is that they want. At the same time, they have spent a lot of time and effort to get to develop the design and I am quite ok with that.

It makes my job that much harder, it’s a challenge that isn’t insurmountable. It just gives another level of excitement to what it is to be a site supervisor.

Engineers

Working with engineers is good. It is an opportunity to learn the workings of the structure of the building. Learning which are the key components. Even the simple things like the reinforcing in the concrete and how all that works. There have been so many progressions over the years that each high rise has a new product, a new method of building to be able to make the building work. The best part is you might have a problem, the contractors and yourself may have missed some structural element or component. For example, one project I managed, we got the centers of the reinforcing on the top layer wrong. Instead of being told to pull all the reinforcing up and redo it, the engineer worked with us to solve the problem.

Being able to have a good working relationship with engineers and architects is a real privilege. Having that relationship is a way to learn so much more than-than focusing on one trade. You get to be a part of the process; it’s an opportunity I am so grateful to have been given.

Building cool buildings

The last thing I wanted to mention was the cool stuff you get to build. I was very fortunate to work on a project at Australian Catholic University, as the guys on the site referred to as ‘Building T.’ That building was built by Tomkins Commercial and Industrial Buildersand went on to win National Awards. On ‘Building T,’ I was the finishing foreman. There are four skylight tubes in the center of the building; the architect showed what the intent of these skylights. Between the glazing contractors, other site managers, and myself, we were able to work out how we were going to build them.

It wasn’t exactly a straightforward process, there was four of them, they had to be identical and line up. It was a bit of fun and games to make them work. I think we did a pretty good job. The architect liked what we had come up with and built. Overall the whole project turned out to be an amazing project, and I am so glad I got to be a part of the team.

Completing a project

Just getting to build buildings is the ultimate joy. Standing back, looking at what you have achieved in that last six, twelve months or however long the building took to complete. Knowing that you had a role in that building and all your efforts have paid off to contribute to the delivery of the building.

When you get to the end of a project, it can be comical. All the problems, all the struggles you had on the way you seem to forget. You stand back and ask yourself why was it so hard? I haven’t done a project where it was an easy project. I have always got to the end and looked back, and said to myself, I don’t know why it was difficult. At the time it was, by the end, you have forgotten all the hard yards. It’s just a joy to be able to stand there and say I built that. Looking at all the work the guys have done, you know all the stories in the building. A lot of stories that most people will never know, lots of dramas, lots of funny stories, lots of crazy weekends where people have come to work when they shouldn’t have.

Being about of the construction site management team is a good job that I enjoy.

Berlin, Germany – construction is a little different




Hi, I am Matt, The Travelling Builder.

This week I have been to Berlin, Germany. I got off the train at Berlin Central. What I noticed most while walking to my hotel, was how much construction work there was taking place.

Getting off the train, you are meet by four construction sites in a row. One of which was beside a river partially flooded with water, I will talk about this later. Walking along the streets, I can’t help but notice the amount of tower crane’s in the sky. And the number of cranes being erected. The volume of construction sites that you had to walk past, I should say, the amount you had to walk under scaffolding, to get around was equally impressive.

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Skyline over Newstead looking from Fortitude Valley in Brisbane.

The volume of cranes reminded me of Brisbane and the amount of construction work happening and the number of tower cranes in the skyline. On one of the last projects that I worked on in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, when standing on the roof, looking north in a short radius, you could count 16 tower cranes. If you looked around a full 360 degrees, you could count a total of 24 cranes. The project I was working on was only a couple of stories tall with most of the skyline blocked by other high rise buildings.

To walk into Berlin and see such a large volume of construction work going on was surprising. While walking around, there was a vast variety of different types of construction working happening. A new subway getting built (what I think was a new subway). Towers (high rises) going up everywhere. Building refurbishments, and minor works you could hear in the background when you walked past apratment buildings.

Berlin construction site

Berlin construction, berlin construction site, construction in berlin germany
Berlin construction site partially flooded. On the other side of the job site is the river.

As I mentioned earlier, getting off the train, there was one construction site that gained my attention above all else. The site was on the river’s edge next to Berlins central train station. The first thing I noticed was the lack of secure fencing and hoarding (hoarding is non-see through or solid fence) around the construction site. You could just simply walk straight in off the street through holes in the fence that were not designated entry points.

Looking down into the construction site, they were digging out the basement. As you looked down, you could see how much water was in and around the work area. The water was up higher than what the guys were working. They had a couple of excavators down low, behind what looked like remnants of an old buildings basement. The old building remnants were all that held back the water. I was surprised to see this going on, back in Australia if you tried to do the same work below the water line, you would have a lot of explaining to do.

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Piling machine doing the foundation work for the new building.

The piling rig that was doing the foundations was massive; the mast was around the 6-7 stories high. The footprint of the machine was comparable to a small one bedroom apartment. The photos do not do the piling machine’s size justice as you walk past and try to look up to the top of the mast.

Berlin Cathedral

There was one building in particular that caught my attention, which was the Berlin Cathedral. Some background information about the Cathedral, it had five architects working on it over its lifetime.

Martin Böhme (1717)
Johann Boumann, the Elder (1747-1750)
Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1817 & 1820-1822)
Julius & Otto Rashdorf, father, and son (1894-1905)

Berlin cathedral, berlin buildings
Berlin cathedral

The first building built back in 1451, and oddly enough the second building which got completed in 1345 (I have no idea why). In 1750 the third building was completed, followed by the fourth building a century and a half later in 1905. After the war repairs had been completed, the building got inaugurated in 1993.

The highest part of the building is 115m. The part of the building that stands out the most is the gold on top of the spires. On a dark overcast winters day, these spires were bright and shiny.

Diffence in construction compared to Australia

There was a notable difference of the scaffolding setup on construction sites. In Australia, our scaffold has to have mesh and shade cloth around it to keep the dust and debris inside the building site. Here in Germany, the thing that I noticed was how much scaffolding didn’t have any mesh around it. There was nothing from what I could see; that would stop debris from falling off the sides. I do want to acknowledge there was hoarding (solid roof) over the footpaths to catch anything if it did fall. However, the hoarding didn’t stop debris from falling off the sides and out onto the roads. I noticed this on quite a few job sites I walked past.

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Meshless scaffolding in Berlin. The mesh stops debris from falling.

The other thing that surprised me was how many construction sites had insecure site fencing. And how much see through fencing was around, allowing the public to see what was happening. Back home in Australia, if we have a job site where the fencing isn’t secure, and someone walks onto the construction site and gets hurt, we are in a world of trouble. I guess at some level; this demonstrates the culture of the German people’s respect for what is going on around them and what other people are up too.

Berlin has been a great city to visit, and casually wander around. I will certainly be back again.

A special thank you to GoEuro for organizing my transportation for this trip to Berlin. If you are planning a trip through Europe, check out their website at GoEuro.com for great transportation deals.

Australia failing apprentices – its a problem




Hi, I am Matt, The Travelling Builder.

I had a few comments about the last video where I talked about the breakdown of trades in Australia. The reason for my view that such a breakdown is a bad thing for the industry is as follows. Nowadays tradespeople, more to the point apprentices are now working for companies that specialize only in a particular portion of their trade. What happens, these apprentices come out of their time not knowing or experienced in how to handle all of their trade.

Australia failing apprentices

Australia failing apprentices is a problem; I see this first hand as a site manager. Just imagine on a construction site where you are managing 200-300 people, you have a couple of tradesmen that have just come out of their time that is supposed to be doing a particular task. But they are not able too because they do not have the experience for this work. This lack of expertise makes you ask their company to move them on from the task. All because they are now holding up other contractors from doing their work.

The tradesmen are not at fault, they have never learned this, its a fault of the industry, their employer, people in the past that had taught them what they know now. This lack of overall experience something that we need to deal with as an industry in a whole. I will give you an example, my very first apprentice carpenter that I had employed. I spent six months trying to find a formwork company for him to work with, simply because my business did not do formwork.  I tried to have him work with them for three months; I was willing to pay half his wages for that time. There was no interest; no one cared about trying to help teach an apprentice the full scope of his trade.

Australia’s next big problem

It is a huge deal Australia failing apprentices, give it five years, and I think the cracks in the industry are going to start to show. A massive problem. There are a few different people I have spoken to in the industry, one person in particular who specializes in trade waste (plumbing) who said, that he is getting out of the business simply because it’s too hard.

There are a lot of the older guys who are now starting to get out of the industry. They have had enough. There is too much breakdown of every trade, everyone is out to try and make a few dollars and to do that they have to niche down, they have to specialize. But what is happening to our apprentices? They are now learning only part of their trade.

I don’t think the Australian general public in are ready for the disaster that is about to unfold over the next 20 years. I reckon in five years maybe even just a few years; we are going to see the cracks show. This is something that now has become a systemic problem in our industry. Our building industry is failing, and there aren’t too many people out there doing a lot about it. It is the time that something happens before it’s too late.

Everest Base Camp – The buildings along the way




The  Mt Everest Base Camp Trek has a great glimpse into the buildings of the Himalayas.  The biggest thing to keep in mind when looking through the photos, all the building materials have been carried by hand.  I mean, someone carried the building materials on their back for days to get them to construction site.

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After a week of trekking we came back to a new roof on the house in Namche Bazar.
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New house in Namche Bazar new roof framing getting built.
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To put this building into prospective, most of the material to build this building where carried by porters. They walk for two days to get it here, one part of the trip has an 800m rise that takes 4hours to walk.
Khumjung bridge, khumjung bridge collapse
A landslide late at night caused the Khumjung bridge to collapse. Lucky no one was hurt.
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After the Khumjung bridge collapsed, the locals built a new temporary bridge.
Khumjung hydro power station, khumjung hydro power
Dotted along the trek, little hydro power stations can be found. This one can be found at Khumjung.
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Looking inside one of the Khumjung hydro power stations. Not much to see, but it works well.