In a New York Times OpEd, They Don’t Make ’Em Like They Used To – Inferior Products and Labor Drive Modern Construction, Henry Petroski rants about materials and workers:
Workmanship has declined in parallel. There continue to be expert craftsmen — carpenters, roofers, painters — who work with precision and pride, but they are increasingly being pushed out by cheaper labor with inferior skills (which is, of course, why the labor is cheaper). …
As an architect, I see good and bad work all the time. I have swum in old pools with playful, elegant ceramic tile curbs that I know I could never hope to have duplicated today. I have taken measurements in old buildings with tight brick joints and expertly-mitred woodwork the sort of which I never see when I do punch lists today. I have been to project meetings where an electrical subcontractor objected to the difficulty of the work – running utility outlets in a furniture store – by claiming to be installers, not designers.
As pointed out in the Times comments section, many great old buildings survive and many shoddy old buildings don’t. But that argument only works if there are great new buildings with excellent craftsmanship. Even the most costly of today’s buildings should probably be called assemblages or installs because to a great extent, builders do a lot more assembling and installing today than cutting, molding, fitting and building.
This is not the fault of homeowners, but of the industries whose practices favor the use of inferior products and labor that drive modern construction: the developers, lenders, builders and Realtors who, to make quick money, have created a stock of domestic and commercial infrastructure that is a waste of resources and will not last.
As pointed out in the Times comment section, cheapskate homeowners are just as complicit as anyone else. But as also pointed out, homeowners have less and less money to spend on quality work. Petroski goes on:
I can’t help but think that this experience, multiplied by those of millions of homeowners, affects how we as a country view our public infrastructure. We have seen short-term fixes and shoddy workmanship at home, and we see our bridges and roads the same way.
I’m running across that hyphenated word, short-term, in more and more articles. We have short-term energy policy, politics, and attention spans, but long-term climate, water, healthcare and employment problems that we are hoping will just go away. Unfortunately it may be our infrastructure that just goes away.