Sydney’s Opal Tower is a timely reminder

Opal Tower Sydney
Opal Tower Sydney
Opal Tower in Sydney fiasco comes as a timely reminder. Image credit ColourByDesign.

Scaffold, Formwork, construction in SydneyIn the wake of Sydney’s Opal Tower fiasco, the New South Wales state government’s approach is geared toward improving the construction industry and alleviating public concerns by cracking down on private building certifiers. For all in the industry, this can be likened to taking the paintbrush off a child and leaving them with the open paint tin.

Let’s be honest: What is the purpose of building certifiers? They check that the proposed building design meets all the regulations, standards, and building codes for the proposed “classification” of the building. Once the building is complete, all they are checking to ensure the building, in its “finished” form, meets the classification requirements. The certifier will also compile every consultant, subcontractor, and builder alike, that all the appropriate evidence (aka paperwork) stating they have completed their job correctly.

At what point has the private building certifier walked onsite? Unless you are doing a partial handover, they will only come to the site at the end. How is this relevant to the Opal tower in Sydney?

Building certifiers and Opal tower

Reo in suspend concrete slabFirst, we need to ask: was the building certifier there when the concrete was being poured? Was the certifier there when the precast panels were being installed? It is highly, highly unlikely.

How is this the certifiers problem? Frankly, its not. Who’s responsibility is it? It’s ours; we have all done it: didn’t blow/clean the formwork deck off properly, didn’t remove the over-spilled concrete from the top of that column. And before everyone jumps up and down, I am not saying we are doing a bad job. The Opal Tower is one major incident that has emerged after the handover in how many buildings that we all have collectively built? More than anything, this is a timely reminder.

We all have tight timelines, and hundreds of meters of concrete booked weeks in advance, all while managing teams of contractors to meet these fictitious dates. We have become masters of balancing risk, timing, and ever-pressing constraints of construction. Of course, we let things slide; how else do you build a tower in under 12 months?

Opal tower’s timely reminder

It’s easy for us to get complacent when making decisions of what we will let slide and what we won’t. Just like the guys on the ground at Opal tower would be feeling the weight of their decisions made throughout the project, we, too, have to live with our decisions.

Construction site in Sydney

Maybe we have been lucky, maybe not. And with all the quality and consultant inspections that we have to complete on a daily basis, not to mention the continual re-checking (I know we all love re-checking everyone’s work), it’s the detail that will always cause sleepless nights.

As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” By having the person (private building certifier) that has a broad brush stroke being responsible for painting between the lines will only cause a mess. After all this has blown over, as we are the people responsible for building our buildings, we will have missed the direct government scrutiny, but we will feel the added pressure with our ever-shrinking project constraints.

Related article: Don’t stand on the outside of construction

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Precision Cranes, getting started in construction

Precision cranes article, scaffold, house frame

Precision cranes article, scaffold, house frame

Tell me if this sounds familiar? Working day after day, we get frustrated, see an opportunity to start a business; we sit on it for a while, daydreaming in our downtime. We chat with our colleagues over smoko (lunch), listen to everybody’s two cents worth of advice. Then the people that would be our potential clients give us the unofficial, “yeah we will give you ago.”

I am pretty sure that we all can relate from our own experience or know someone that has/or is going through the whole “startup” of their new business. Just the same as Yusuf, the founder of Precision Cranes.

Precision Cranes, Potain tower crane, scaffold in the foreground

Then it happens, on the back of everyone’s support we throw caution to the wind and get the ball rolling. Just like Precision Cranes, most guys, in the beginning, start out as a labour-hire business. Let’s face it; construction is so capital intensive that most of us are putting a second mortgage on our homes to get started.  And that is where labour hire lets us leverage the principle contractors buying power with materials, and we take a much smaller margin in return for a significant reduction of risk.

Precision Cranes startup route

And as Yusuf founder of Precision Cranes has begun his journey into the expensive, heavy lifting sector, the labour hirer route allows him to leverage the builders market position. Where the builder can dry hire tower cranes and Yusuf can arrange everything else; the operator, doggmen, lifting gear, crane installation and all the rest.

It’s like a safety net, a way that allows the principle to remain competitive while we get our foot in the door. There is a downside, and I am sure a lot of us have found this out the hard way, much like Jim did from Starbuck Excavations.

Where Jim had purchased his first digger and to get the “ball rolling,” he would do manual labour when his machine was not in use but still onsite. To the builder’s advantage, he would only charge full price for the few hours the machine was in use. And for the remainder of his time, he would charge a much lower labourer’s rate.

The true nature of construction

Entry to construction site, Precision cranes article, construction startupAnd it highlights the underlying culture of the industry, the sense of comradery, yet the dogged world we call work. Where on the one hand we are more than willing to give someone a go, yet once you have started, you are now just the same as every other construction business out; fair game, where you can be eaten alive or taken advantage of at any moment.

Yusuf is no stranger to the in’s and out’s of the construction industry working as a tower crane operator. I am sure as he grows Precision Cranes from labour-hire into equipment hire, there will be plenty of war stories to be told.

Colour By Design, not what you are thinking

One Shelley street building, Sydney

Matt: I’m in Sydney today meeting Colour By Design. She is not what you think. Definitely not what I thought.

Meeting Colour By Design

Matt: Donna and I met via Instagram, I was coming down Sydney.

Donna: We should catch up for a beer or coffee. At that stage, I knew who you were. But, you didn’t know who I was, I was anonymous.

Matt: I was sitting down in the smoko shed (lunchroom), and I get this photo from Donna. I just about fell off my chair as I was expecting some 40-year-old bald guy.

Why cranes and building on Instagram?

Donna: I am self-motivated, I do it because I love it. I’m not getting paid for my Instagram page, it’s just I love what I do, and it’s not for anybody else. But I have a lot of followers, so someone else is liking my work as well. Which is nice.

Matt: So what tweaked your interests initially?

Wharf cranes on Cockatoo Island, Sydney

Donna: A few years ago I took an amazing photo on Cockatoo Island. And since then it has always been a challenge to photograph cranes and buildings.

Matt: Really? Are you sure? There is a crane right here.

Donna: It is hard to get a good photo.

Matt: Yeah right, I get it.

How many followers does Colour By Design have on Instagram?

Matt: So how many followers do you have on Instagram?

Donna: Well I have over 3000 followers presently. Which is very exciting being a micro influencer, as one of my friends has pointed out.

Matt: You learn something new every day.

Donna: Yes.

What are your family’s thoughts?

Matt: What are your family’s thoughts on all this?

Donna: So when I first started, everyone thought that it was bizarre and weird. They thought it was probably like a fad.

1 Shelley streer, Sydney with cloudy sky

Matt: What do you look for when you’re taking photos?

Donna: So, I’m looking for reflections and contrast. Over there is an interesting building that has the colour blue, good contrasts and lines.

Matt: So Colour By Design is very much into keeping the colour blue as a part of the theme.

Donna: Yes I have a rule that I like to keep too, an overall look and style. I would like to transition into night time photos, but I need to consider the overall look of the page. Some people might think that’s weird and a bit obsessive, but I think it is OK.

Colour By Design’s Instagram homepage layout

Matt: What Donna is talking about, on someone’s Instagram homepage viewing in the grid format. Donna is talking about how she wants that to look interesting, not just the individual photos themselves.

Screenshot of Colour By Design Instagram page

Donna: Yes, the overall look is important to me. That’s why I started Colour By Design. A couple of years ago friends and I were sitting around talking about Instagram, and I was saying how much I enjoy looking at different pages that have an overall theme, design or where a page has a colour consistency. From that point, I set myself the challenge to do that with the colour blue on my page.
And if you look at my page you can see that a theme is showing through. I have brought in other things like reflections and cranes as well.

Matt: So how much grief do you cop from your family if you are walking around the streets? Do they get upset with the photo taking?

Donna: Well my children do. If I stop the car and walk in somewhere to take a photo of a crane or something, they get very cross. They don’t want me to.

Matt: So, you just randomly stop, pull out the camera and take a photo? Similar to fishing? Have you ever been fishing?

Donna: No.

Matt: Oh right, I was going to ask if taking photos is like fishing, where you don’t know what you’re going to capture.

Donna: Yes. Sometimes you can see amazing things that just don’t work out when you are taking photos. But then other times, you think things are not very interesting, and you end up with something that’s quite amazing.

Taking the photo

Matt: You want to just walk into that construction site over there?

Donna: Yeah I would like to walk in to take photos.

Matt: So Donna is very brazen. She’s quite happy to walk into a construction site. Have you been caught?

Donna: I haven’t been caught. I’ve had some weird looks as I think a lot of people believe I’m from a union.
Mostly because I walk up and take photos of cranes and things and then walk off. I am very calm, and I think they feel I am doing a health and safety check.
I should wear a hard hat.

Matt: And boots and a high visibility vest.

Matt: All right, thanks, Donna, look after yourself, and I will see you around.

Donna: Thanks TTB

Instagram: @colourbydesign

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Pro Build’s Greenland Centre could be Sydney’s most recognised construction site

Pro Build Greenland Centre building steel structure looking up from the street with two tower cranes

Pro Build's Greenland Centre building steel structure looking from the street up to wards the sky with two tower cranes
Street view of Pro Build’s Greenland Centre building. Image by Chiagramz

Walking through the heart of Sydney city, there are construction sites everywhere. You have what feels like every second city street having the new 12km light rail being built by Acciona. Then there is all the high-rise construction happening throughout the city and surrounding areas. For perspective, the RBL crane index has listed Sydney as having 334 cranes erected in the second quarter of 2017. Sydney currently has over 50% of Australia’s tower crane population.

Pro Build’s Greenland Centre building

Of all the work that is happening, there is one construction site that stands out, one that everyone recognise. That is Pro Build’s Greenland Centre building. At the moment the original 1960’s building steel structure rises high, which will be incorporated into the new building’s structure.

Pro Build Greenland Centre building steel structure zoomed in with two tower cranes visible
The old steel structure makes an interesting subject to photograph. Image by Colourbydesign

Looking from the street, the skeleton, the remaining steel structure of the old building has a presence of its own. So much so, that photos of the structure have been flooding Instagram. This building can almost be used as a point of reference to anyone visiting the city.

The trouble that Sydney photographers are facing is, who has that one image that sets them apart. That photo that puts them ahead of the pack. There is everything from the street view, to window reflections and far away zoom pictures.

Who has the best photo?

Well, I guess, who has the best image is a question more of personal choice. For the time being, we have a short window of opportunity to try and capture that one special photo.

The rumour on the street is Pro Build has the new concrete structure up to ground level. So if you are looking to get a great photo, you may only have a few months before this unique view disappears.

Night time photo of Pro Build's Greenland Centre building with car lights, lit up site hoarding and the steel structure.
By night the steel structure with the access lighting it all interesting. Image by Thetravellingbuilder

Take a search on Instagram using the hashtag #greenlandcentre, #greenlandcentresyd and #greenlandcentresydney to find a few more images. Also, if you search the hashtag #towercranes, you will find a scattering of some of the images that feature this unique view of the Greenland Centre building. I will let you be the judge to which photo is the standout.

Leave a comment below about any interesting photos you find of this soon to be hidden Sydney gem.

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