The construction industry is in the background of every city view. While it is responsible for the roads, buildings and infrastructure that make our modern lives possible, it also creates obstacles and inconveniences with its roadblocks, reduced speed limits, noise and detours. This makes it an easy industry to take for granted. But what would happen if construction workers, as a collective, abandoned their machines and refused to go on building?
No longer swarming with activity, construction sites would sit, empty and silent. Tower cranes, hunched and unmoving, like giant mechanical vultures perched on the unfinished buildings. Machines and trucks in somber silence. Roads destined to an incomplete life. An ever-growing army of potholes, never to be repaired. How would the world react?
Construction operations are abandoned all the time. The world is full of these eerie discarded dreams (and even more full of people obsessed with exploring them). They offer us a microcosm of what our world would look like if we no longer had a construction industry.
Anyone who’s been to Bangkok will be familiar with the ominous abandoned buildings that tower over the train as you weave your way from the airport to the city. You can see the ambition in their construction but, without funds to pay the workers, their luxurious designs grow increasingly bleak as nature slowly reclaims them.
There are many things that don’t belong in a city. Abandoned, 23-metre-deep holes definitely fit into this category. Yet, that is exactly what Brisbane’s CBD has been home to since 2008. The $25 million empty hole was the first step in the creation of “Vision”. The project was intended to be Brisbane’s tallest commercial and residential tower but ended its life as a sadly ironic portrait of its own name.
The global financial crisis happened, no-one was keen on spending $3.9 million on fancy apartments, and Brisbane was left with a $25 million gaping hole in the ground. The seven level hole sat empty and abandoned for two years before finally being sold. Approval was given to the new project in 2014 and construction of Spire apartments is now underway.
Globally speaking, most abandoned construction sites aren’t as lucky as Vision. Off the coast of Nagasaki is an island with many names that has been abandoned since 1974. When it still had life, Hashima island’s only nickname was Gunkanjima (Battleship island). It’s not hard to see why.
Its current state of lonely dilapidation has led to its most recent nickname: ghost island. After 43 years without construction workers to maintain the facility, it already looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Concrete and brick structures are crumbling, window glass is long gone, doors and walls have fallen away and, in parts, nature has started to push its way through, with trees and vines slowly reclaiming the island.
What if all construction was abandoned?
To really understand the fallout of a global construction shutdown, we need to move from microcosms to a macrocosm. In 2008, National Geographic released a startling documentary on what the world would look like without humans. While our scenario only involves the closure of one industry, the documentary still provides excellent insight as sections of it are relevant purely to construction abandonment.
According to the film—Aftermath: Population Zero—after 25 years without construction workers, most city squares and sidewalks will have been overtaken by vegetation. Roads would quickly fall into disrepair with no-one to tend to them after floods and other extreme events.
“After 300 years, metal constructions, such as the Eiffel Tower or steel bridges, will start to break, since for all those years, there hasn’t been anyone around to maintain them and protect them from corrosion. The steel rods in concrete will bloat up to three times their initial thickness and the last tall buildings will go down.”
Basically, without construction workers, the world would start to look more and more like this: