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