Announcements - IFP Partnership, Slack Channel, Works in Progress
Several announcements this week!
First, I’ve partnered with the recently-formed Institute for Progress as a Senior Fellow. They’ll be sponsoring the newsletter in 2022, and I’ll also be assisting on potential policy proposals as the opportunity arises.
The Institute for Progress is a think tank founded by Alec Stapp and Caleb Watney, and has the goal of advocating for policy-level implementations of ideas that could accelerate scientific, technological, or industrial progress. You can read their founding document here.
The main change for the newsletter will be the cool new logo they’ve commissioned for me - I retain full editorial control and copyright, and will continue to write posts with the broad goal of chipping away at the problem of inefficient construction and expensive buildings (especially housing).
But this will enable me to devote more time to Construction Physics and related activities, which brings me to the second announcement.
Paid Subscriptions + Slack Channel
As part of my efforts to devote more time to the newsletter and related work, I’ll be turning on paid subscriptions. However, none of the content will be put behind a paywall - it will continue to be freely available. If you think this work is valuable and want to support the newsletter, I encourage you to subscribe, but if you just like reading the occasional article, those will always remain free - I regard Construction Physics as a (somewhat esoteric) research project, and that research should be made freely available. Subscriptions will be priced at $10/month or $100/year.
Paid subscribers will, however, get access to a Construction Physics slack channel that I’m setting up.
One neat opportunity I’ve gotten from the newsletter is the chance to talk with a huge number of people willing to share their expertise. The construction industry is vast, and most of us only get to see a very small sliver of it, and what makes the rest of it tick is something of a black box .
My goal with the slack channel is to create a place where folks interested in figuring out better ways of building can meet, share their expertise, get feedback, discuss their work, and ask questions - a “Construction Physics brain trust”, if you will. So if you’re interested in discussing better ways of building (whatever that means to you) with other like minded folks, I encourage you to join! If the subscription cost would be burdensome to you, but you still feel like you have a lot to contribute, email me at email@example.com. The code of conduct for the channel can be found here.
And of course, if you just want to support this work but aren’t interested in the slack channel, that’s ok too.
(I’m sending out the slack invitations manually, so it may take a bit to get it. If you think I may have forgotten, please email me. )
Essay - the economics of tall buildings
I also have an essay in the most recent edition of Works in Progress - it’s about the economic, social, and technical factors that shape how tall our buildings are built:
Civilization has been putting up buildings for long enough that we find buildings hitting their economic and legal limits even in ancient history. Roman builders were capable of constructing buildings over 150 feet (48 meters) in height, or about 13 modern storeys – the Colosseum is 159 feet (48.4 meters) tall, and the Pantheon is 141 feet (43 meters) tall. Economic height lagged behind this – textual evidence suggests that Roman residential buildings (insulae) maxed out at around 7 or 8 storeys, with 5 or 6 storeys being more common. Legal limits were sometimes even lower: to reduce the risk of collapse (which was apparently not uncommon) various emperors issued edicts limiting the maximum building height. Augustus limited the height of buildings to 70 Roman feet (slightly greater than an imperial foot), which was then further restricted by Trajan to 60 feet.
I’m really pleased with how this turned out. Thanks to Matt Kantner, Will Watson, Brad Shapiro and Kevin Aswegan for feedback and helpful conversations (all errors are of course my own.)
Lastly, for those who missed it I now have a twitter account. Researching posts for Construction Physics means digging up a lot of interesting tidbits that don’t always make it into articles, and twitter has become a perfect home for them.
 - I think one of the reasons this newsletter is popular is that it tries to put together a higher level view of how construction works, that isn’t necessarily obvious even to those who work in the field.