New materials and technologies
Among the most significant changes during the post-war decades was the use of new construction materials and technologies. The rise of concrete as a building material was central to this. Concrete was not new, but it was only in the post-war decades that it emerged as a ubiquitous feature of the built environment in Britain. It was used widely during these decades in all branches of construction, from power stations and motorways, to factories and hospitals, and housing estates all over the country. Industrialised building was also a characteristic of the period and took many different forms, ranging from the pre-fabrication of building components in custom-built factories, which were later assembled on site, to the particular type of in-situ systems building processes that were in evidence in new towns such as Stevenage. The major technological changes in the construction industry included the development of newer and far more powerful plant machinery. Tower cranes and other types of lifting machinery, mechanical excavators, shovels and diggers, all became common features on construction sites.
In this clip, Barry Crisp speaks about the work he did building shutters on the M1 motorway.
These new technologies and machinery created new possibilities and allowed for innovative approaches to the task of re-building Britain during the post-war decades. They also impacted on the workers and altered the nature of the division of labour. New occupations associated with concreting, such as concrete finishing, steel-fixing and formwork carpentry began to emerge. Crane erectors, crane operators, and a wide variety of machine drivers and plant operators also became key workers in the industry. The introduction of new materials, for example metal partitioning, cut across established occupations and resulted in demarcation disputes. Overall, the changes in technologies and materials would have a deep impact in many different areas of the construction industry, from training to industrial relations and trade union structures.
The Goliath crane on Sizewell A power station.