Construction: Definition & Types

Instructor: Dina El Chammas Gass

Dina has taught college Environmental Studies classes and has a master's degree in Environmental and Water Resource Engineering.

In this lesson you will understand what construction entails, the different phases of a construction project and the different types of construction projects.

What is Construction?

Construction comes from the word 'construct,' which means 'to build.' Building a sand castle, a fort out of pillows, or a house of cards are all examples of constructing something. In engineering terms, construction is usually associated with large structures like houses, railways, and power plants.

In terms of engineering, construction is the activity of putting together different elements, using a detailed design and plan, to create a structure for a certain location. When you construct large structures, you need to have a clear plan of how you are going to do that. You also need to know the specific location. Architects and engineers design and build the structure with that location in mind.

Types of Construction

Almost all construction projects can be broadly categorized into one of three types of projects:

  • buildings and houses
  • public works
  • industrial-type structures

Within each of these types of construction, there are lots of sub-categories. For instance, buildings include both residential homes and commercial skyscrapers. Building projects may involve renovations on existing buildings or building from scratch. Public works involve roads, railways, water and waste water distribution and purification systems, damns, and bridges. Finally, industrial projects include refineries, pipelines, power utilities, manufacturing plants, and telecommunication infrastructure.

Image of Railway Construction

Phases of Construction Projects

A construction project usually starts with a conceptual phase. In this phase, the idea of what you want to build comes together. It is followed by a design phase. The design phase involves a varied group of individuals, each with specific expertise, who put together specifications and blueprints for the project. The design team would also decide on the materials needed, project timeline, and material costs.

The construction phase comes next and involves equipment, construction materials, and contractors. With larger sites, heavy machinery would be used. Common equipment on construction sites include hand-held tools (like shovels, hammers, and saws) and power tools (like drills, welding torches, and nail guns). Heavy machinery may include cranes, earth-moving equipment like bulldozers and excavators, cement mixers, as well as trucks and haulers to transport materials.

The materials needed are also a crucial aspect of construction and will depend on the type of project you're working on. Materials can range from sand, gravel, cement, wood, and steel to asphalt, pipes, concrete blocks, and more. The last piece of the puzzle is contractors. Contractors are go-to specialists who have the labor, equipment, materials, and expertise needed for a certain job. Examples might be a roofing contractor or a contractor who is specialized in heating and air conditioning systems.

After the construction of a project, it moves on to the commissioning phase followed by the operation and maintenance phase (or O&M phase). In the commissioning phase, mechanical and electrical equipment is tested before going into full operation. The O&M phase is the phase where you make sure your original concept has a good, steady life cycle. This phase ensures that the project is operated properly for its intended use and that it is maintained on a regular basis.

The final phase associated with construction is called the decommissioning phase. This is when the project is put out of operation and may involve demolition work.

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