Jamaica’s Concrete Transformation
To appreciate and understand where the construction industry is going in these times, it is useful to know where it is coming from, states retired foreman Roy Green.
He should know. For many decades, he worked on major construction projects which helped to change the Jamaican landscape. And he has seen its evolution to the use of modern products and new methods, which save time and effort.
"Precast concrete is being used more and more because this modular construction is cheaper and faster," Green stated. Working with Leonard I. Chang Developments Limited, and later, the Jamaica Building and Development Company, he participated in the revolutionary use of prefabricated construction systems, starting
in the 1960s.
"Block and steel construction is still popular now, as it allows construction to take place as the funds become available," he pointed out. That process, along with the use of prefabricated modules in construction, transformed the landscape of Jamaica, as well as, employment in the industry.
"We used to build houses with wood, wattle and daub or lime nog," said Green, whose career began in 1944 at the age of 14. Employed by a builder in Guys Hill, St Mary, he found that "it was a lot of work".
Most workers in the industry at the time were carpenters, he said, as local and imported wood were the most common construction material. This changed after the Caribbean Cement Company started production in 1952, and concrete gradually overtook wood as the most popular construction material.
That was the material employed in the projects he worked on, such as the expansion of the University Hospital of the West Indies, the Marine Park housing development in St Catherine, and the Gun Court.
The face of post-colonial Jamaica was gradually transformed as highways opened lands for housing; and the mass-production methods being applied in the industry ushered in the development of new housing schemes, schools, roads and other infrastructure.
Martin Lyn, principal of Martin Lyn Associates, noted, "In earlier days, a mason did everything related to concrete. Now different tradesmen are employed to handle specific elements of a project."
"In our current environment, you will always find work if you are a top-notch tradesman, such as a carpenter or mason," the architect said, but added, "Projects have many more specialised elements in these times, and you need someone to manage all of them"
Lyn advised, "Project management is, therefore, the wave of the future."
Damion Anderson, construction project officer with the JN Group, pointed out that those involved in construction now have access to an enormous range of materials, compared with earlier days. There are materials such as drywall, cement board and foam concrete easily available, but the Internet and modern logistics create the opportunity to access even more construction elements globally.
"These materials provide local homes and commercial buildings with better construction quality today," Anderson said. "Not only are there better quality materials more readily available, but there are locally trained experts who can use them to make safe and durable buildings."
The expertise and materials available to the industry have provided the base for a generalised push to make new construction even safer against natural hazards, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, as well as being more environmentally friendly.
Green notes, "High-quality construction was something only the rich could afford when I started in this business. Homes built for ordinary Jamaicans faced problems, such as 'chichi' and dry rot, which is why not many survive today."
"Greater professionalisation today also means that we now have the ability to build what you want, based on plans you can explore and amend," the retired foreman said. "Before, you told the builder what you wanted and simply took what you got."
"Today the level of expectations is higher," he pointed out. "The trend is towards paying far more attention to the end consumers, to ensure that construction projects meet their requirements. This requires expertise in understanding the customer and the construction process."
A member of Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS), Green also spoke about the role which building societies played in assisting thousands of persons to build on their own lands or acquire a mortgage to purchase a home in a new scheme.
"Over the years, I encouraged my workers and associates to join a building society," he declared, "because it was, and still is, one of the best routes to home ownership."
On the journey which took him from shaving logs with an adze in Guys Hill to helping to change the face of Jamaica with the use of concrete and steel, and on into retirement a decade ago, Green says he has been guided by this simple motto: "You have to enjoy what you do and the people around you."