Values in the Construction Industry
I have heard countless times how “rude and ill-mannered” unskilled labour (labourers or artisans, as they are often called) can be in their dealings with professionals in the built environment. They cheat, scheme, offer which eventually bounces back on the architect. “No one knows the names of those who did the actual building”, they say, “but no one ever forgets the architect”. For this reason, many architects are often very strict and unfriendly whilst relating with these individuals. This is however not a suitable way out of the sticky situations caused by the lack of understanding relationships between architects and site workers. It instead causes the former to be viewed as pompous and arrogant.
An embittered building contractor once complained to my hearing about how he felt the site engineer (supervising architect) looked upon his underlings with total disregard and contempt. “He thinks he knows it all”, he scuffed with anger in his voice, “he just throws his weight around and treats everyone else as if they don’t matter because they never went to school. I have been in this business long before he was born. I have a 29 year old son- probably the same age as him. How dare he speak to me that way?” The site engineer had expressed his displeasure at the contractor’s work, admittedly in a demeaning manner. Such exchanges introduce an atmosphere of strife to exist between workers and delays the decision making process etc.
If we, who are known to be the head of the design/ construction team, do not see the reason why certain ethics/ values need to be preserved or upheld, no one else will. Exactly why do we need to maintain healthy relationships not only with site workers but with fellow professionals? Here are a few reasons:
- Team work: We hear the words ‘design team’ and ‘construction team’ but never pay attention to the obvious. Building and design MUST involve a collaborative and concerted effort by different individuals- skilled and unskilled. For this to work out, we just have to get along. Like it or not, if you cannot seem to see eye-to-eye with those you work with or those who work under you, you will find that you begin to undergo far more stress than is necessary (resulting from hampered communication and disagreements).
- Learn from each other: Many site workers, especially the much older ones, know building techniques and methods hardly used these days. Some can tell which materials are fake or substandard merely by looking at them. Maintaining cordial relationships with them will help you as an architect to learn from them and vice versa. They also become more willing to admit their mistakes and try to undo them, where possible/ necessary.
- Create better working environments, void of conflict: if this has no other advantage, at least it saves time spent in settling squabbles (especially if it is between the site workers themselves).
How then should we relate with site workers and other professionals, such that we do not foster familiarity and consequently loss-of-place?
- Treat others with respect and honour: Yes, even those who do not seem to deserve it. Even when you have to confront a misdeed, try to do it in such a way that everyone walks away smiling.
- Motivate them: You would be surprised, the effect a small favour like a buying a bag of pure water or asking how their families are, could have on people’s enthusiasm and commitment to their work. Small gestures like these, as well as verbal appreciation/ encouragement, act as a source of motivation to workers and increases productivity. A site worker once told me how he and his co-workers had stayed up all night to help clean up a house they had renovated just because the architect had been very nice to them. “Her warmness motivated us to work long and hard on that job. We didn’t get any sleep until 5am in the morning!”