Downsizing to size - Frank Salt
I remember very clearly an English contractor, client and friend of mine, telling me in the 1970s, just how antiquated the Maltese building industry was. What he said was true, but let us go back in time and remember some points.
In the not too distant past, each stone used to build properties was cut by hand using an axe. This did not create too much dust and it was skilful and hard work. The resulting dust was mixed with cement and used by the builder to a make compound called tajn, that fixed the stones together.
Bricks were not used a lot in those days and finished buildings looked much more Maltese in character.
To lay a concrete roof, the builder used 11 men, a winch to carry the mixed concrete onto the upper level and a small concrete mixer. Sand and spalls were delivered on site by small lorries, the majority of which were painted green and red.
The winch was used to take up the steel mesh reinforcing. The entire process normally took half a day. After the work the area was cleared up by the workers.
Today we use a huge concrete mixer truck. A massive crane. A few men to do the work. Mess everywhere. Broken pavements and no one held responsible.
When we used to dig a trench this was done by men with hand drills and shovels. Time consuming but the job was done.
Today we use massive machines, blocking roads, making use of very little manpower and leaving a mess everywhere.
When stones were delivered on site by small trucks, the builder used to supervise carefully to avoid damaging the cargo. The stones were carefully winched up to the floor where they were needed. Today bricks are brought to the site on very large trucks and carried up to the floors being constructed by huge cranes, which can block the roads for days, weeks and even months.
My friend was right when he said our building methods were antiquated, but they have now been replaced, and we have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.
When we changed from man-power to machine-power, we did not keep our respect for the building sites and the surrounding environment.
Now there are high cranes everywhere along with huge trucks and massive mobile cranes, large cement mixers, colossal road diggers, nearly all badly parked, and causing traffic disruption and broken pavements in nearly all our roads.
When transferring from manual to machines, somewhere along the line we forgot how to respect our surroundings.
Not only that, none of the many rules and regulations regarding building construction are adhered to, with the results as we see them today.
Today we use massive machines, blocking roads, making use of very little manpower and leaving a mess everywhere
I do not have to write about this situation, you only have to look around and see the mess and carelessness, and this in a small country that is trying very hard to attract and keep an essential tourist market. It doesn’t make sense at all.
There are exceptions, and some building sites are careful and neat, but these are very few and far in between.
Do we need all these large building and excavating machines? If we do, must they be so large? Can’t we have smaller trucks on our narrow roads? If we have to have these ‘monsters’, can the owners at least be compelled to obey the laws and respect other people’s needs for peace and cleanliness.
I am saying this against my own interests, but do we need to drive such large cars? Look around and see how many four-wheel drive cars there are on the road at the moment. Why?
Large cars, large trucks, large buses – they all add to congestion, which is getting worse every year. Small cars are much more sensible and practical. Isn’t it better to drive a very well-finished smaller car if you want to drive something special?
Every day I drive a Mini and it is extremely practical.
Why is it, that in Malta we seem to be obsessed with size? We are small but we want everything big. Is it because size is a sign of affluence and prestige?
Let us go back to the 1960s again.
In those days practically everyone used to actually hide their affluence. How things have changed.
The result is as you see it, and we’ve got this way ourselves with nobody’s help. Now we are in this congested, messy and polluted State, do we have to live with it?
There are things that we can do in the future to help matters. We can reduce the size of building machinery and trucks. We can enforce rules and regulations. We can all drive smaller cars. We can acquire smaller buses that actually fit our road network. And we can all respect each other and the country that we call home.
To end with a little tip. There is no need to spend a lot of money taking your children to Disney World.
Just spend the afternoon driving along the roads in Sliema. Your children in the back seats will have the time of their lives bouncing up and down as you drive over the bumps and potholes.