Building Sights

8 Bold Challenges Today, indifferent languages thewordwork—travail, lavoro, obra—has twoconnotations.On theone hand, it refers to a person’s job, their employment or their engagement, their competence, or the strain of an occupation. On the other, and especially in the plural, works, grands travaux, lavori, obras, stand for the visible works; these are civil and engineering constructions, infrastructures, bridges, roads, viaducts, dams. This dual connotation somehow indicates what men and women do; actually, in many Indo-European languages this stems from the idea of labor par excellence (French and Spanishhave kept the root of theword), the labor involved in giving birth toa child. Theother great container of meaning concerns works andmajor works, the result of making that remains as something solid and resistant, a heritage of bricks, sand, cement, steel, and materials that are imposed upon the natural geographies. These are the marks that human activity leaves on the world, they are a different type of geography, traces, furrows, cables, wires, tunnels, mountains and artificial lakes, hubs and HGVs, shafts, drills, immense containers. In the images in this book you canmove seamlessly from one meaning to another and see it declined in its various manifestations, building sites, men and women wearing a helmet and coveralls, faces, traces in the ground, geometries, human beings working alongside the immense structures of the works undergoing construction. Because it’s important to never forget that nomajor works have been built that are not the result of teamwork—of the laborers, the technicians, the skilled workers—and of the individual work of the architect and the inventor. What’s most impressive about these photographs is the relationship between our own human dimension, the one that has been a part of us for thousands of years, and those giants undergoing construction. Those tiny figures, those ants standing in front of what is gargantuan by comparison. And yet those works are the product of those tiny actors. The same actors who, according to the most recent discoveries of paleontology, in just one millennium did away with a large part of the mastodons that were living in their environment. There is a vocation to achieve majesty in human activity, a temptation to do things that are huge: and from this is born irrigation and cultivation and navigation, but also cathedrals, towers, and temples. The difference today is the temporal scale. Whole neighborhoods, towers hundreds of floors tall, highways, bridges, dams, and canals can be built in timescales that were unthinkable until fifty years ago. There are machines, there is artificial intelligence, there are vehicles and cranes, but let us not forget that once again these are all the products of the actions of those tiny individuals who look like us. This can frighten us, this can make us fear that Homo Faber will forget that it has to do with a planet with finite characters, with limited resources, but in other ways, it can make us hope that the “major works” are also the ones that are needed to be able to “restore” the natural landscapes, to fix the damage of the past, to tackle the great dangers that the planet is facing. Lastly, let us remember that the huge building sites, the engineering and architectural works, are always cultural ones. They are never neutral. Rather, they contain the meaning that a culture bestows on inhabiting, crossing, connecting, supplying water, and irrigating. And they are a way for cultures tomeasure up to each other. It is what we used to call a clash of civilizations and that today as never beforemust avoid being just that, a clash, and instead be amutual story. FRANCO LA CECLA Anthropologist Kuwait, South Al Mutlaa Residential Area, 2018