The Human Factor in Building and Building Economy

2nd Meeting of the 6th Research Network at DAI Istanbul, 5th & 6th March 2021

Throughout human history, a building or a built environment has always been the stage for social interaction. The builders’ thoughts and decisions affect the building, and, vice versa, the building, its aesthetics and function affect the thoughts and decisions of people interacting with it. The all underlying human factor is evident in all stages of a building’s life cycle, e.g. the planning and construction processes as well as the use and after use. The focus of this second session was explicitly not only laid on the phases of project development and construction, but also on those of after-use and revitalisation, since construction activities are also recorded in these last two phases of a building. At the same time, overarching themes that are relevant in all phases of the construction process, such as tradition, economic factors, or catastrophic events, were explored, and approaches and methods discussed that enable researchers to critically examine the human factor in construction (fig. 1).

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Fig. 1: Outline of session 2, schematic illustration. Sections coloured in green represent phases in a life cycle of a 21st century property (DAI Istanbul, Nicole Neuenfeld).

The second meeting of the Research Network kicked off with the talk of our guest speaker Ulrich Schütz (Wiesbaden) on the “The Parliament Building of Baden-Württemberg – Showcasing the Changes in Society in the Last Seven Decades”. A parliament building always functions as both a landmark as well as a historical site representing the state. In the course of the lengthy building process of the modern parliament building of Baden-Württemberg, shifts in power of political players were manifested in architectural transformations over time regarding layout, organisation, construction and interior details. With these first insights into human impact on modern construction, the tone was set for a fruitful second meeting.

In the first and multifaceted session on “Theorising the Human Factor” observations of various archaeological records from different periods and landscapes were tested against theoretical approaches on the Human Factor from several disciplines. The overarching topics included gender studies, social hierarchies on construction sites, and the lack of archaeological evidence.

Jeanette Lindblom (Helsinki) held a presentation about “Gendered Building, Gendered Space – Some Considerations from an Early Byzantine Perspective”. By studying historical texts and visual mediums such as paintings and mosaics from the early Byzantine Period, she could illuminate the building program of a female member of the Byzantine royal family. In the second part of her paper, she demonstrated how spaces of a building were utilised by members of different genders, for example in baths, hippodromes or in the streets.

In an enlightening talk by Dominik Maschek (Oxford) on “Hierarchies and Networks: The Temporal and Social Dynamics of Roman Construction Sites”, he exhibited how the human factor in building processes can be revealed through employing network analyses and modelling. The visualisation of each team member involved in a construction process illustrated the complexity of social hierarchies, as well as different degrees of status and responsibility in the management and work on the construction site. Maschek pointed out, that one of the key roles lies with the ‘redemptor’.

In the second part of the session “Theorising the Human Factor”, it was discussed to what extent the human factor in the construction process of buildings can be reconstructed on the basis of the archaeological evidence. First, Kyra Gospodar (Cairo) teamed up with our guest speaker Lea Rees (Berlin/Cambridge) to give an insight into “The Archaeology of what is no longer there”. Using the example of the pyramid site of Dashur, they demonstrated that, despite the paucity of material remains that can indicate subaltern groups in the field of logistics, thinking along these lines is important for a comprehensive reconstruction of the building process. Paul Mielke (Berlin) used the example of the Hittites to show that even for societies with written sources, humans or their “agency” in general are difficult to grasp, yet according to him, it is all the more challenging for prehistory.

Already noticeable in the first session, the enthusiasm for discussion did not diminish even in the evening during the final discussion on theories. Numerous contributions revolved around the central question whether and to what degree it is possible to make the human factor in the building process comparable for spatially and/or temporally differing societies on the basis of theories. In particular, advantages and disadvantages of modelling were discussed, as well as their potential to act as a bridge between different epistemological approaches.

The session on Saturday morning focused on the architecture of the Oottoman period, starting with Katja Piesker (Berlin) and her presentation on the “German Construction and Adaptation of the German Embassy in Constantinople between 1870 and 1920“, advocating for an extensive use of virtual tools to tap into Istanbul’s rich historical heritage. While Feyza Yağcı Ergün and Meltem Çavdar (both Istanbul) introduced the design and the construction history of the chancellor’s House in Tarabya, Mohamed Elfath (Cottbus) moved the topographical focus further south, elaborating on the „Dépendance of Hadrami and Jeddawi Trades in the Ottoman Red Sea Ports during the 19th Century“ and the relations between local traditional skills and Imperial Ottoman construction processes as well as design. The presentations demonstrated a need for a common framework on the architecture and building processes of the 19th century in different regions of the Ottoman Empire. During the discussion, other members of the Research Network were able to expand the topographical focus to all of Europe and Africa, discussing similar ideas on building processes in the 19th century. The discussion and the papers show very clearly how international building ideas and skills influenced the local building practise in all different parts of the empire. Different cultural circumstances and conditions created challenging and unique solutions in design and construction process. Examples of this were the high amount of material, technics and design ideas they imported for the trading houses in the red sea area, the specific European design of the cancellor‘s house and the transport and logistics of building material for the German embassy in Constantinople.

Fig. 2: Moritz Kinzel illustrates his research on building on steep slopes with his insightful sketches (DAI Istanbul, Ricarda Braun).

The final session of the second day consisted of three very different presentations, but they provided a good hub for the multifaceted event. While Moritz Kinzel (Istanbul) spoke through a graphically rich and lively presentation on building processes on steep slopes in the Neolithic and was able to assess the advantages and disadvantages (fig. 2), our guest speaker Vera Egbers (Cottbus) convincingly focused on the problem of missing sources on the human factor in a case study on Urartu. She showed that due to, on the one hand, rarely preserved source material on the poor and marginalized population groups and, on the other hand, often a lack of interest in these very demographics in the research history, knowledge has been lost that now needs to be reappraised. In the following paper, Julia Martin (Berlin) demonstrated how to calculate the amount of human labour required during building projects with bricks in Roman antiquity by means of detailed and multi-element quantifications. She was able to draw on well-preserved buildings in Ephesus and the current state of knowledge on the composition and properties of bricks to paint a vivid picture.

Ursula Quatember (Wien) and our guest speaker Tommaso Ismaelli (Florence) took the plunge in the last session: they held a so-called Fishbowl discussion, which has proven to be a fruitful discussion format, even in virtual space. After a short introduction by the conversation starters on the five topics “use and management of metal”, “mason marks”, “technical procedures”, “decoration”, and “efficiency and time- and labor-saving features”, all participants were able to present their material in 2 minutes and formulate and discuss questions on the topics. The result of this experiment was a lively and stimulating exchange in a diachronic and cross-cultural perspective.

The topic of the “Human Factor” turned out to be particularly rewarding, as many topics of the planned upcoming sessions were already touched upon. In addressing and preliminarily evaluating potentials for theoretical approaches and methods, groups with overlapping interests were able to emerge. Despite the physical distance, real cooperation and synergy effects can be formed through the recurring, so far still virtual, meetings.

The next session, which will hopefully take place in person, is scheduled for November 2021 and will focus on resources. Questions on quantification regarding the process from extraction to construction sites, provenance of building material, the role resources are playing in local economies and buildings as resources of construction material will be examined and discussed from different perspectives.

We would like to thank all contributors of the second meeting of the 6th Research Network for their enlightening talks and discussions. We are looking forward to meet each other again at the next meeting.

Ricarda Braun, Nicole Neuenfeld, Corinna Rohn, Annika Skolik

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