Craftsmanship in the machine: sustainability through new roles in building craft at the technologized building site

  • Håkon Fyhn Department of Interdiciplinary Studies, NTNU
  • Roger Andre Søraa Department of Interdiciplinary Studies, NTNU
Keywords: Craftspeople, Building sites, Work automation, Workmanship uncertainty, Crafting sustainability, Community of practice, Planning, Lean construction, Workmanship of risk


The building industry is becoming increasingly characterized by automated production, and in line with this, the nature of craftsmanship is transforming. In this article, we look for a sustainable path for this transformation through a case study that follows a team of carpenters building a set of tower blocks at a high-tech building site using “lean” construction techniques and robotic production technology. The builders are organized according to complex schedules of lean construction, making work at the building site resemble that of a large machine. The builders hold multiple roles within this machine: more than simply “living mechanisms” inside the machine, they also take on more parental roles as “machinists,” employing their crafting skills in planning, problem solving, improvising, coordinating and fettling in order to make the building machine run smoothly and to minimize environmental uncertainty. The craftsmanship in action is characterized by what we call workmanship of uncertainty – the ability to produce certain results in uncertain conditions. We identify this as the collective skill of a community of practice. The sustainability of craftsmanship in the machine is analyzed according to three kinds of sustainability: cultural, social and ecological. We suggest that all three forms depend on the building company’s ability to provide working conditions that allow the builders to form stable communities of practice in order to perform, share and develop craftmanship. Finally, we show that working in and with technological production systems does not require fewer skills (of craftsmanship) than traditional building, but a nuanced application of these skills.

Author Biographies

Håkon Fyhn, Department of Interdiciplinary Studies, NTNU
Håkon Fyhn is senior researcher at NTNU Social Research, previously post doc at Dep. Of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture, NTNU, with the project “Crafting Climate” focusing on craftspeople in the building industry. The interest in craft follows an approach to social science in his career circling the question “what does it mean to be present?”.
Roger Andre Søraa, Department of Interdiciplinary Studies, NTNU
Roger Andre Søraa is a PhD candidate at the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, where he also received his Master’s degree.


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