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Discovering the Fine Art of Construction

It's funny the things you remember from when you were a young one. You were young once, weren't you? I was, or so I'm told, though it's occasionally hard to recall. I have this one memory of going to a construction site. I must have been just a little boy at the time. My Dad worked for Georgia Highway Department and for highway contractors as we were growing up, so it stands to reason that I'd ...

March 16, 2009

It's funny the things you remember from when you were a young one. You were young once, weren't you? I was, or so I'm told, though it's occasionally hard to recall.

I have this one memory of going to a construction site. I must have been just a little boy at the time. My Dad worked for Georgia Highway Department and for highway contractors as we were growing up, so it stands to reason that I'd have had plenty of chances to tag along and see things being built.

For a young boy, those tag-along opportunities were never to be missed. If you've raised boys you know what I mean.

Most of the details of such adventures have long since faded away. But from that particular trip one thing stands out. It's an image of cranes and steel beams and concrete — all arranged like some fantastic sculpture, like some unbelievable work of art. I remember thinking that it was the neatest thing I had ever seen.

I had discovered construction as art, but I didn't know it at the time. All I knew was that the vision of that bridge-in-process (for it was certainly a bridge) had caught my imagination in a big way.

The Construction Worker as Artist

Now, years later, I've realized that I'm not the only one who thinks of construction that way. You'd be surprised how many times, when I'll talk with someone on a job site, the conversation eventually touches on that very thing. Usually it goes something like this:

"Hey, that is some neat-looking rebar," I'll observe. In fact, I said just that a while back while talking to a foreman on a project I was visiting. You've already read about the project in an earlier issue of Dixie Contractor, but here for the first time ever you're reading about its contribution to the world of fine art.

"Yeah, it is, if I say so myself," the foreman said. And he was right. The rebar, awaiting a concrete pour, was tied in a complex combination of angles, arcs and curves. The lines were irresistible, and I filled up a significant chunk of my camera's memory space taking pictures of it. I think this amused the rebar crew, which was working on another tie nearby, but I'm pretty sure they understood too. In fact, as I was leaving, one of the guys tying steel said, "Hey, man, could you send me one of those pictures? I'm really proud of that one!"

The Finished Work

Finished projects are often art too. I enjoy the lines and visual dynamics (that's photographer talk for "cool looks") of completed projects, although I must admit that I'm especially partial to arching lines of flyover bridges at complex interstate highway intersections.

One of those almost got me in trouble one time. Years ago, when Spaghetti Junction (the I-85-to-I-285 intersection on Atlanta's north side) was nearing completion, I was working on an issue of Dixie Contractor focusing on bridge construction. In fact, I was driving home from the magazine's offices, thinking about what I was going to put on the cover of that issue, when I passed though Spaghetti Junction. I looked up for some reason, and there it was — exactly the image I'd been seeing in my mind!

But I had to get it right then, just that minute, while the light was right and the angles were good. So I did what any good journalist would have done: I pulled off the highway, made a decidedly unauthorized turn, and wound my way off the highway and into the work zone and shot off a roll of film (yes, it was the previous millennium) just like that.

As I was getting back in to the car, I noticed that an official looking car was making a similar maneuver and heading in my general direction. But I had a good head start and by the time he got there I was long gone. I guess the statute of limitations has expired, so it's probably safe to share that story now. But if I'm wrong just keep your mouth shut and don't tell anyone.

More Art In Construction's Future?

By the time you read this, we may well have a stimulus package. One of its impacts will certainly be more opportunities for you to build (and for me to photograph) still more construction as art.

You'll like that. So will I. We've just got to make sure that they don't blow it.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

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