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Chapter 11.4


The Oldest Profession
(Land Development Today, April 3, 2004)

By Richard H. Carson

As the sophistication of these property owners increased, a new profession was born — the builder. The "builder" is one of, if not the oldest of, professions. Early humans had only two basic needs: food and shelter. So in order to survive humans had to be both hunter and builder. At first humans lived in the open, then moved up to caves, then constructed basic structures to protect them from the elements. Of course, in those days humans didn't need any permits.

The first built human settlements appeared around 5,000 to 7,000 BC in the area of the Mediterranean Sea and North Africa. The city of Jericho in Israel is said to be at least 10,000 years old and predates the pyramids. As the sophistication of these property owners increased, a new profession was born — the builder. The "builder" is one of, if not the oldest of, professions.

In Europe the first large complex structures, like Stonehenge in England, start appearing around 3,000 B.C. The first pyramids began appearing around 2700 B.C. The Sumerian ziggurat was built around 2100 B.C. But these were massive religious and government structures. The first building code was created by King Hammurabi. He ruled Babylon, or what used to be Persia and is today Iraq, around 17 centuries before the birth of Christ. He wrote the Code of Hammurabi that was one of the first written set of laws. He said that if a man builds a house badly and it falls on the owner and kills him, then the "builder" was to be slain. Now that was swift justice. I doubt any builder these days would want that kind of penalty. This is one of the first written accounts of the public policy of an "eye for an eye." Remember this is before liability insurance or the Bible.

Over time the participants in the activity of building human structures have become more specialized and the specialists created their own associations. In ancient times the builders were numerous and the head builders were powerful. The world's oldest human associations were stone worker and mason guilds. Some of these organizations later became secret societies, like the Freemasons and Illuminati, that are still the subject of interest today. So we begin the history of human settlements with a single individual who was property owner and builder.

This is followed by two parties, the property owner (a Pharaoh) and the master builder he hires. Then we have Hammurabi's code that gives us the trinity of property owner, builder and judge. Unless of course you were a shoddy builder, then you also need to add the executioner. And that is how we ended up with so much complexity today. Today the building of residential, commercial and industrial projects is a complex process that includes property owners, developers, architects, landscape architects, engineers, planners, realtors, lawyers, bankers, title companies, specialty contractors and even neighbors.

Over 10,000 year of societal change does that. But look on the bright side. We don't execute builders for shoddy construction anymore. Be honest, if you had to choose between today's complexity and a lawsuit, or yesterday's simplicity and your death, what would you choose? Yeah, me too.

All of this history helps explain why there is a movement by some state and local home building associations to change their name to "building industry association." The name resonates with people because it takes them back to their building roots. It is more inclusive and gives everyone in the development industry a chance to identify with a larger concept. As specialists, we have like to point out what makes us different professionally. But we are still part of the basic process of building human settlements, and we are brothers and sisters in a common endeavor. It is time we started understanding that we have one common history and one common goal. We want to build great places for peoples to live in.

About the author. Richard H. Carson is an urban planner, writer and member of a business industry association in the state of Washington. He can be reached at richardcarson@qwest.net.

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Common Sense
by Richard H. Carson