The search for the best contractor, from a qualitative and/or economical perspective, became a quest for
several clients and designers in the course of the nineteenth century. And although it is often stated that professional architects and engineers did not always dominate the building process, there has been little investigation of this assumption. As the Dutch architectural historian Auke van der Woud notes: the study of the history of the nineteenth-century construction industry demonstrated the increasing aspirations of architects and engineers to obtain recognition and power, their growing education and professional organization, their growing remuneration, and their enhanced social position and specialization... Equally, these developments must have had important consequences for related
professional groups. It cannot but be that contractors underwent a similar professionalization process ...
but about these contractors virtually nothing is known. A similar evolution is evident within Belgian research related to the entrepreneurial history of suppliers, contractors and craftsmen. Further, most of the relevant publications are initiatives of the Building Federation of Construction (Confederatie Bouw, Conféderation de Construction) and can be labelled as an 'institutional homage' Yet since the last decennium of the twentieth century, the diverse spectrum of actors in the building industry has reemerged as a particular point of interest, especially through changes in social and cultural perspectives.
Interesting research within the Belgian sphere has begun to develop. Also international studies are rather limited, but most relevant for this study and highlight an important methodology for studying previously non-researched actors in the building industry [4] These studies demonstrated that within different geographical, social, and industrial contexts, the nineteenth-century professionalization of contractors and their subsequent legal status were not just the result of independent initiatives per se but more the outcome of a dialectical process.
This paper examines how part of this specific group of builders, those who were active in public works
including new constructions and infrastructure works as well as conservation projects, can be
defined, in both quantitative and qualitative terms, and within the period of study and within the Belgian context. What potential public work contractors were available? How did these contractors relate to other professions within the building industry? And how did these (public) building contractors participate in the redefinition and (re)positioning of the roles of architect, engineer, contractor, and craftsman? Starting with the case of realized Antwerp public works, we will define position and follow the evolution of nineteenth century Antwerp building contractors in its Belgian and - as far as possible - broader international context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalConstruction History
Volume26
Issue number2011
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012

    Research areas

  • Contractors, building organization, technical education, construction history, 19th century, Belgium

ID: 2167222