The militarization of urban construction sites

Paul Raven @ 25-03-2011

OK, so I’m going to do my poor-man’s-BLDGBLOG schtuck here. Thinking back over the period of my life in which I’ve been a city-dweller (1994 to the present), construction sites have become increasingly fortified and walled off from the city itself. This is not exactly surprising: construction sites are full of stealable stuff with high resale value, and urban buildings are far more tempting to squatters, guerrilla artists and other fringe-culture oddballs (like the late-nineties club-kids who used to climb scaffold-clad buildings for kicks in the early hours of a Sunday morning while the disco-biscuits wore off*).

What is surprising, however, is how solid and permanent they’re starting to look. Scaffold and tarpaulin is for amateurs; check out this emplacement that’s currently blocking Lena Street in Central Manchester.

Construction site fortifications, Lena Street, Manchester UK (click for embiggenation)

It looks more like a fortified guardpost you might find in Baghdad or Fallujah or somewhere like that; an armoured beachhead in hostile territory. Which is, I expect, exactly how its creators/owners think of it… but that mode of thinking, that desire to slice out and secure little sections of the city, kind of concretizes a corporate attitude to the increasingly interstitial flux of a large urban environment. It’s a bulwark against chaos and entropy… and the increasing hardness and permanence of these structures suggests that urban entropy is getting harder and harder to defend against. (I mean, there’s gotta be a clear cost-benefit to building something like this; otherwise why raise your overheads?)

I can’t get the image of this thing out of my head, ever since I first saw it a few weeks back; it has so many things to say about the state of this nation – and the world at large – in these troubled times, but the deeper meanings are still unformed and unclear to me. So I might just sit down with a collection of Situationist essays for an hour or two and see what they manage to stir up… or wait for some clever architectural philosopher to give me starting nudge.

[ * As a sensible and law-abiding citizen, I naturally know only of this dangerous and thoroughly illegal pastime from rumour and legend. SRSLY. ]

Be Sociable, Share!

4 Responses to “The militarization of urban construction sites”

  1. Jo Thomas says:

    A lot of the fortification is also to keep people out due to H&S related legislation. The owner of the premises is responsible for any harm that occurs there, regardless of whether the person who incurred said harm had a right to be there or not. You would not believe the amounts people who should be more bothered about their breaking and entering court cases have received.

  2. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    Paul, I have to admit that when I first saw this, I thought you were ranting about modern buildings and gated communities, not construction sites — probably because a lot of modern buildings look rather fortress-like and stark and for some reason they cut down all the trees when they build them. Plus apparently gated communities are a selling point, which I guess will save me money because I will never live in one.

    Jo, the idea of liability for injuries suffered even by trespassers is actually rooted in common law going back centuries, not health and safety law. (I don’t know if you’re in the US or UK, but the US law on this subject is built on English common law, so I’m pretty sure the law is reasonably similar in both places.) There’s the principle of attractive nuisance — that’s something that is just too tempting, like the scaffolds Paul so strenuously denies climbing — meaning that any reasonable person could expect trespassers unless they made an effort to keep them out. If you put a swimming pool in your back yard, for example, you better build a very sturdy fence because you don’t want the neighbor kids to drown in it.

    But while I’m sure there are a few examples of people paying unjust amounts to a burglar, and probably more damages paid for injuries to irresponsible but not criminal young people, I doubt that there are so many as to amount to a major concern. I suspect theft from construction sites is a major reason for the gates, though the insurers may also cite the attractive nuisance principle in requiring them.

  3. Jo Thomas says:

    It’s the more modern HS law (in the UK) that talks of things like “duty of care”, however, and makes someone being seriously injured or dying on one’s property (following misadventure with rooves, scaffolds, holes in the ground) an offense for which one can be locked up, if the HSE pursue the matter. The sueing is just the icing on the cake.

    So, yeah, I’m in the UK and working for a waste management company. We attempt to put fences around just about everything but usually find that the fencing has been nicked or cut through within a week of being put up….

  4. Jo Thomas says:

    And I should have included: yes, theft is more common, but it’s the accidents we really fear.