In prehistoric times people built simple shelters to protect themselves from inclement weather, predatory animals, and other humans. As time passed and they learned more about building materials and methods, humans began to construct first huts, then castles and cathedrals, and ultimately skyscrapers and factories.
Humankind’s building skills today range from the construction of tall buildings to sprawling structures. Construction workers have also created countless single-family houses, apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, and other specialized structures. The science of designing and creating buildings is called architecture.
The construction industry is a brawny giant. Each year, projects totaling more than 100 billion dollars are undertaken in the United States alone. Building tradesmen make up the largest single group of craft workers in this country.
Mass production methods in housing and construction learned during World War II brought a new era to building construction in the postwar years. Builders began using more power tools and equipment. The use of huge cranes eliminated the backbreaking work of moving bricks, mortar, and cement from floor to floor in high-rise buildings. Methods of prefabricating building components were developed so that many types of structural components, such as pre-hung doors and manufactured stairs, could be mass produced in factories and shipped to construction sites. In addition to new techniques of construction, such new building materials as aluminum siding, tinted glass window panels, and laminated wooden beams, came into vogue during the postwar years.
Most single-family houses are of standard-frame, lumber construction. Apartments and condominiums are often constructed of brick, concrete, or masonry. Buildings designed for the manufacture, processing, storage, or sale of goods generally must be constructed of materials much heavier than those used for family dwellings. Sturdy construction is also required in large office buildings and in such institutional structures as schools and hospitals. Many problems must be solved by design engineers before construction can begin on a large building. Factors that must be considered include dead load, or the weight of the building and its attachments, and live load, or the load to which the building will be subjected in addition to its own weight. Stress and strain; torsion, or twisting; and shear, or force, which tends to cause deformation by sliding action, are other factors that must be considered. They are determined by mathematical formulas or actual tests. The effect of possible seismic, or earthquake, activity must also be evaluated.
In gymnasiums, churches, stores, and factories, the interior areas are usually kept clear of posts or supporting walls. Trusses and arches of wood, metal, or reinforced concrete are used to span the large open areas and support the roofs. Instead of trusses, many modern buildings, such as sports arenas, have domes of reinforced concrete, plastic, glass, iron, and aluminum. The domes may be formed into various geometrical patterns.
Modular construction, or modular measure, is a system in which buildings are so designed that their dimensions are multiples of a given figure. Modular measure simplifies the problem of producing standard building components and materials that will fit together in a wide variety of applications.