Posted: August 22, 2013 By:

It was 20 years ago today (well, 25 actually)….

I can always remember the day I started work (proper work that is, not my Saturday job in Dixons or collecting glasses in the local pub). It was 22nd August 1988 or, in other words, 25 years ago today. I had somehow landed my dream job at Anthony Hunt Associates, based down in their Cirencester office (they didn’t have a huge number of offices, one in London of course, whilst another had just opened in Sheffield on the back of winning the competition for Don Valley Stadium).

To be honest, I can’t remember a huge amount about the day itself (it feels like a life time ago) but I can remember how we did things back then, and how far we have moved on (or not, as the case may be) in the last 25 years.

The main changes have almost certainly been driven by technology – some good, some not so good. I think we had one or two computers in the entire office when I first started working (which you had to book in advance – can you imagine?), whereas now it’s one per desk (and some people even have two – go figure). Each computer had a hard drive capacity of about 40 megabytes (and no, that’s not a typo). ‘Windows’ were something you looked out of, as opposed to an operating system (that was called MS-Dos). The internet and e-mails hadn’t been born – meaning that once you’d dealt with the morning post, and the occasional fax, you could get on with proper work for the rest of the day without having to constantly check your e-mails (although in fairness, it is now much easier to check the latest score in the test match). ‘Mobile’ phones looked, and weighed, like bricks.

Calculations were mainly produced by hand – which meant you really had to understand what you were doing. ‘BIM’ and ‘BIM Wash’ sounded like products for cleaning floors or bathrooms with, whilst drawings were hand drawn by ‘draughties’ on A0 or ‘double-elephant’ size drawing boards lined up in rows, and copied using ammonia printing machines which wouldn’t stand a chance under current health and safety regulations unless you had an oxygen tank to help you get out of the print room alive.

Which brings me nicely to the next major difference between now and then – Health and Safety. Whilst it’s something of an overstatement to say it wasn’t on the agenda 25 years ago, it was undoubtedly much further down the agenda (CDM regulations were only introduced in 1994). Even further down the agenda was sustainability and the environment, which was really only talked about after the Rio summit of 1992. Whilst BREEAM has (apparently) been around since 1990, it has only been widely used since the lates 1990s. My, how things have changed!

Some things have not changed that much however. They cyclical nature of the construction industry meant job losses were only round the corner (as I found out first hand in the early 1990s). Despite the huge leaps in technology, I’m not convinced this has had a significant impact on the quality of design and construction. Sure, BIM will minimise, if not eliminate, errors and improve coordination and integration but, at the end of the day, it’s only as good as the person or people operating it. Still, it’s early days – perhaps I’ll let you know how the next 25 years go, if I’m spared!

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