Building Big: Exploring the Challenges of Transporting Large Architectural Elements


Constructing skyscrapers, museums, stadiums and bridges benefits the community by providing new infrastructure. However, these projects can be cumbersome and have complicated logistics. 

The building process requires transporting large architectural elements across cities, with a number of challenges along the way. 

Here is a look behind the curtain to see what goes into the transportation side of things. 

1. Traffic

When hauling large architectural pieces, not everything will go to plan. Traffic can come to a standstill because of a crash or normal congestion. For example, New York drivers lose 108 hours annually and 24 minutes daily because of rush hour traffic. These problems require coordination and technological solutions. 

Avoiding traffic jams is difficult because they are unpredictable. It can be made easier coordinating the schedule with the local government and using telematics systems to monitor traffic delays and reroute paths. These devices are handy for traffic optimization and alerting when something is wrong with the vehicle.

2. Road Limitations

Building Big: Exploring the Challenges of Transporting Large Architectural Elements

Driving on highways is straightforward, but it gets complicated driving through infrastructure that doesn't typically support the weight of the vehicle. 

For instance, the route may require driving over a bridge or through a tunnel. Some towns may have old roads or infrastructure that is less friendly to long-haul trucks. Driving through these limitations requires careful planning. 

Bridges often have a weight limit, so communication with local authorities is essential. City engineers may seek temporary reinforcement through shoring systems, steel plate installation or fiber-reinforced composites if necessary. 

3. Weather

The weather is also beyond anyone's control. Storms can compromise road safety by making the ground too wet and slippery for transportation. Precipitation can also add weight to architectural elements and increase liability. 

Rain and snow are common hindrances because of traction control. Even strong wind can compromise the architectural pieces and risk flipping the trailer. 

4. Fragility

Building Big: Exploring the Challenges of Transporting Large Architectural Elements

Weather can be a liability when hauling fragile architectural pieces, whether precipitation or knocking them off the truck. Precast objects are a solid example because they are susceptible to cold and hot weather

Challenges could arise when handling design elements with sharp edges and exposed beams, because cracks and other damage could occur. 

5. Pre-Trip Preparation

Before departing, the team formulates a plan for transporting the architectural elements. The hauling truck and the pieces require a rigorous inspection to ensure they stay on the rig and don’t harm the vehicle.

For example, the professionals must ensure they’ve secured all segments onto the vehicle and positioned them correctly. If not, the project risks disaster with the architectural elements falling off. 

Architects also have to be aware of the vehicle’s weight and adhere to state and federal guidelines. This metric is essential to avoid any complications with the law. While the requirements vary by state, exceeding 80,000 pounds requires a heavy-haul trailer to do the job safely. 

6. Securing in Place

Building Big: Exploring the Challenges of Transporting Large Architectural Elements

Securing the architectural components in place is among the most essential parts of preparation. Meticulous planning and execution are necessary to safeguard the objects because the roads could be unforgiving. A bumpy stretch could lead to your building elements falling off the truck.

Securing the architectural components starts with the vehicle’s suspension. This system must have excellent shocks and struts to absorb contact with the road. Professionals secure the load with heavy-duty chains, straps and tie-downs. When hauling multiple elements, the crew may need to insert padding to mitigate vibrations and scratches. 

7. Escort Vehicle Coordination

Weight makes the haul more dangerous for the driver and others on the road, so extra safety precautions are necessary. One step architects will take is hiring an escort vehicle to lead the way. This car warns fellow drivers of the oversized load and tells them how to pass. 

Coordinating with the escort vehicle is essential because they’re an extra set of eyes on the highway. Drivers benefit from their immediate response if the hauling vehicle gets into an accident. They also give the transporters a heads-up of delays and unplanned obstacles.

Some instances may require the escort vehicle to call an audible during transit. For example, the trip could encounter a bridge too low or a sudden accident ahead. This instance means the pilot car must find alternate hauling truck routes.

8. Site Assessment

Building Big: Exploring the Challenges of Transporting Large Architectural Elements

While the drive is critical, the professionals hauling the load must also prepare for the destination. Site assessments are necessary to see what obstacles could make transportation more burdensome. 

The evaluation includes scouting entrances and exits, clearance heights and narrow roads that could impede progress. Site assessment is also crucial for safety, as it reveals slopes and ground instabilities that could affect your loading and unloading. 

9. Post-Trip Inspection

Once the architectural elements reach their destination, the work isn’t complete for the crew. A post-trip inspection is necessary to ensure the pieces are intact and the vehicle is safe for a return trip. 

The assessment starts with a visual inspection to see if the architectural components incurred any damage along the route. Cracks and dents indicate surface damage, but worse problems could be underneath. If deterioration has occurred, the crew will note the damage and file a claim or repair it. 

Damage is integral to the inspection, but finer details are necessary to ensure everything fits protocol. For example, the officials may check inventory to count all the requested items. The loading or the trip could have caused the crew to lose an architectural piece. 

10. Costs

Building Big: Exploring the Challenges of Transporting Large Architectural Elements

Hauling large architectural elements is a costly process. The vehicle hire is one of the large expenses, along with insurance, permit requests, specialized equipment for unloading and labor. 

Labor costs could be at a premium for this job because the process requires professionals in the logistics and construction industries, with both facing labor shortages. The International Road Transport Union (IRTU) says over 4,700 trucking companies worldwide face driver shortages, with the U.S. at 64,000 openings. Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) says construction has a shortage of 500,000 workers, and the future projects a widened gap. 

Navigating the Challenges of Architecture and Transportation

Hauling large architectural pieces requires meticulous attention and coordination among numerous parties. Without significant attention to detail, something could go wrong and cause accidents. It is not a glamorous part of the building process, but a very important one.

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