50 years of International Construction part 7 - the 1990s

By Helen Wright03 October 2012

This seventh instalment of iC's 50th Birthday celebrations looks at developments during the 1990's - another decade of great change for the construction industry. Contractors, materials producers and equipment manufacturers alike began to consolidate, with acquisitions that saw the major players in each sector increasingly buy into new regions and markets.

At the same time, the development of the world-wide web continued apace during the decade since the start of it in 1991, and the introduction of web browsers towards the end of the 1990's made the Internet easier to navigate and much more accessible. The emergence of this new technology saw iC launch its first website in 1999.

Meanwhile, the pages of iC continued to keep a record of the industry's most significant developments during the decade. The ever-present drive for increased efficiency, along with financial incentives like landfill taxes, prompted contractors and equipment manufacturers to look at better ways of using natural resources.
Recycled construction materials were being used more and more often in projects - a prime example was the increased use of recycled asphalt for road building.


Computerisation also played a major role in the industry, with on-board electronic controls starting to become widespread in mobile and stationary equipment. For example, the first automatic batch control systems were introduced to asphalt plants towards the end of the decade, allowing them to produce mixes of a consistently high quality.

High-rise construction was also booming - by 1999 the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur were the tallest buildings in world, at 88 storeys and 483 ft (147 m). They were overtaken six years later by the Taipei 101 World Financial Center in Xinyi district, Taipei, Taiwan.

iC noted in its March 1999 high rise feature that it had taken time for computers to catch up with the latest ideas. The monumental calculations required to work out the impact of earthquakes and other forces on a high rise building meant extensive computer power was necessary - capabilities which were just starting to become available at the turn of the century.

The speed and accuracy of other technology was also improving, and the surveying sector provided another prime example. The efficiency and power of total stations was developing constantly, but still had its limitations when compared to today's advanced new products - battery life was just four hours for continuous angle and distance measurement on some instruments, for instance, while GPS coverage was patchy.

At the turn of the century, the December 1999 issue noted that the industry was experiencing a period of rapid change. Construction spending in the US was on the up, and emerging markets in the Asia Pacific region and South America were also gathering momentum.

In addition, eastern European markets were also showing promise towards the end of the 1990s - a decade after the fall of Communism. The region is vital for the distribution of goods between East and West, and iC flagged up road building as a major potential boom industry in the twenty first century - a prediction that is bearing fruit.

GPS devices

Merger and acquisition activity between contractors and construction equipment manufacturers alike was also rife - December 1999 saw the approval of the merger between manufacturers Case and New Holland, for instance, while Astec was also expanding with the acquisition American Augers.

Altogether there was a feeling of great anticipation for what lay in store for the international construction industry in the year 2000 and beyond, and iC was there to record the changes as they happened.

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