Design Prose

Ethics in Labor Work of Construction Industry

Posted in Architecture, Ethics, Human Rights by designprose on March 25, 2010

Labor work in construction industry falls under unskilled physical tasks and is often done by people who do not have formal education, college/degree acquired skills, and belong to lower strata of economy and privileges. This remains true to even developed nations like United States and Germany. Developing countries like Bangladesh and India have umpteen poverty-stricken folks who willingly accept meager daily wages and absolutely uninhabitable living conditions on the sites due to lack of other mode of income generation. Whereas in United States, like other labor intensive jobs, brings workers from Mexico and South America while Germany does so from eastern Europe. Much research and intervention has happened to evolve the practice of architecture from the perspective architects and builders, in terms of fair practice, trends and technology. Although, negligible work has been seen in the area of labor workers, even though it remains an inextricable aspect, for a project to come to fruition. No amount of higher education, savvy design labs, CAD/BIM technology, smartest project management tools and skills is bringing self-sufficiency sans labor workers who execute the project. They often remain an integral but abused parameter of architectural practice.

Calling physical labor work, unskilled, has been detrimental to the reality and has saved an added cost which should have been incurred to the project. It’s been hidden. Dirt, heat, sun, filth and insanitation form for a inhospitable working conditions and remain unhealthy and unhygienic for survival and longevity of workers. Working on higher heights or with corrosive materials lead to hazardous conditions and hotbed for illnesses, infections and injuries. Yet, mostly all the workers work there without any medical support. Once, they are injured or infected, they are out of the game. Unusable. Sadly enough, there is such a massive supply of poverty-stricken folks who are dying to meet their basic need of food that it hardly matter and thus need to understand them and their needs does not arise. Easily replaceable and dispensible.

If one has to observe the trend of construction workers, we will notice that more often than not, they are migrants. They have either migrated within the country or have crossed borders where economy is surging and showing prospects through developmental projects. Uprooted from the place they belong, they move in great numbers in a promise of  daily wages which will give access to food and to keep themselves alive and hopeful. The living conditions and wages rarely provide anything that will take them beyond fulfilling basic needs. Yet, they do not mind doing such jobs because the local place where they belonged and it’s economy may not be even providing that. Means of livelihood, access to meet basic needs of food, shelter, education, healthcare remain unavailable and hence choice of migration is made, even though if it comes with an ingrained sense of exploitation and drudgery. Migrant labor workers lack provision of dignified shelter and either live on sites in self created temporary shack and shanty arrangements of tarpaulin or labor camp, box sort of an arrangement away from the site to keep the human ugliness of out of site from the beautiful building that is emerging. New building will serve as a shining symbol of economic growth, fancy development and sign of prosperity. Cost of human abuse through labor work is hidden well in the building cost  or if at all it surges in the front, we have trained our eyes  to look away from it.

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Determining Functionality of Buildings Through Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE)

Posted in Built Environment, Research and Analysis by designprose on March 9, 2010

Built environment and buildings are human habitat solutions in response to our sociological, political and physiological needs. Pattern in buildings are often representative of undercurrents of our social, political and climatological trends. How well architects and designers have responded to all the aspects to ascertain a successful solution is a subjective topic. Factors to come down to a solution are dynamic and hence a project completion cannot be labeled success or a failure in a simplistic stroke. To evaluate a building, hence we engage a process, Post occupancy evaluation (POE). By its very definition, it is a method to evaluate a building (or built environment) after it has been occupied or been in use for a certain amount of time. The time frame usually ranges from 6 months to a year. Qualitative and methodical analysis applied to a building to understand what has worked and what has failed and thus come to prescriptive solutions to improve or fix those is POE. Such a process engages active users in the process and can often provide valuable insights to problems and adaptive use of spaces, beyond the anticipated, intuitive and organized solution offered by architects and designers.

Why Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE)

Active users form a valuable insight into how buildings or space affect their daily activities, needs, aspirations, various feelings, freedom, security,  emotional well-being, temperature and materials, smell and odors, quality of indoor air and so on. The method of POE enables the researchers to gather bias-free data and evaluate to make certain changes to better suit the purpose to maximize strengths and reduce weaknesses. These studies can also work as hallmark for future similar projects during their inception. It will also provide a framework to understand if the building designs needs any social, political, market or codes reforms or adjustments.

How to do Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE)

Depending on reasons and its severity, the process needs to be tailored to come up with a comprehensive research plan to tackle the active and passive issues. Enlist all the problems that the managers and owners of the buildings have voices. Next is to come up with a methodology either by questionnaire or interview as means to research the issue amongst the “user group”. User group should be medium sized and of people who actively use the buildings, it could be students in case of educational building or shoppers in a retail space. In my opinion, it is essential to have few open-ended questions included. Such questions often lead to non-biased and frank opinion on something that the researcher might have missed. Once, rigorous data collection is done it can then be organized and tabulated in charts and graphs. This data will reflect rich ground to formulate it into manageable trends and expectations, strengths, weaknesses and more. Basing on this comprehension, designers can come up rectifications towards cost saving, fine tuning, improvements, short term suggestions, long term goals. Such solutions should be thrown open to set of users again and gather the feelers towards these to streamline them and make it truly participatory.

Reportage and future usage of POE study

Well documented study should be easy to understand, bias-free, and clearly presented to empower and enable all its users including researchers, building owners, code reviewers, similar genre building builders and designers. Such should be the formulation of the report that its transparent, logic and non-political such that any user is able to discern and apply its findings with little or no hassle. Evaluations should be used to provide a competitive edge towards a solution and to gain from it non-crudely.

More readings can be obtained through books by Wolfgang Preiser. His books on building performance evaluation and post occupancy evaluation are listed here on Amazon.