A Brief Guide into the History of Scaffolding

February 11, 2016


We live in an age where multiple levels are the norm for new buildings rather than the exception. Apartment complexes require a full minute to let the elevator (lift) reach the top floor, and even a straightforward structure is architecturally gifted with additional height thanks to a third or fourth floor. You'd think that the ability to work at height would've been very different in the past, but that's just not the case. Yes, it's true that most structures only used a single level, but there were still examples of elevated architecture everywhere, even in those golden olden times.

Wooden Staging

Wooden scaffolding (also known as staging) is discernible as a work aid within many ancient cultures. Five-thousand-year-old wooden frames helped China construct an incredible empire, and stunted versions formed a primitive though functional structure that would allow Egypt to build tall pyramids and exotic temples. Knotted ropes tied vertical and horizontal beams in place, and wooden platforms crowned the top of these shaky structures. Unfortunately, they could only rise to allow work on a few levels as the wood had a habit of collapsing under its own weight. Few examples remain of this practice because wood and rope were reused once the ancient structures were complete, but bamboo and wooden staging structures can be found in old texts and on ancient drawings.

Industrial Standardization

If you take a trip across the seas to a third-world nation, you'll still see examples of bamboo frames and wooden trestles, but the modern world demands more structure, both figuratively and literally. Scaffolding has long since dropped natural materials in favour of lightweight but structurally sound metal tubes and specialized fastener systems. The industrial age, as one example, realized the need for a robust working platform, one that allowed workers and construction material to freely move around the highest levels of buildings and chimney stacks so as to conduct work at height, but they lacked cohesive organization, and were, on many occasions, quite deadly. It wasn't until the early twentieth-century that safety finally partnered with productivity to standardize the construct and bring its erection materials under the domain of the occupational health and safety commission.

It's fortunate that metallurgical science also made great strides in the early half of the last century because the safe erection of a modern scaffolding tower could never have been achieved without the introduction of steel and lightweight aluminium, or the incorporation of fabrication know-how that could hollow out these struts without compromising mechanical rigidity.

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