Welcome to the SXSW of Concrete, The Atlantic. 2017.
A long-form journalism piece exploring the space between Donald Trump’s campaign promises to ‘build the wall’ and the politics and culture of the construction industry,
At the merchandise area, I rifle through instructional books on sustainable bridge structures and pavement performance. Racks of XXL t-shirts are on display, covered with phrases like “Concrete Is My Addiction.” Attendees can take in seminars (“When Bad Things Happen To Good Concrete”) or drive a Western Star severe duty truck around an obstacle course, backing it up over a ramp made of crushed gravel. You can talk pipes or paving at the thousands of vendors’ stalls, or have your photo taken alongside their machines.
In the convention center’s Central Hall, the 200-foot robotic arms of a gang of sugar-pink and lime-green concrete pumps are entwined in the rafters, like diplodocuses snuggling together. Squeezing them all into a photograph proves impossible, so I head to the booth for EarthCam, a company that specializes in image capture at a construction scale. EarthCam shoots time-lapse footage of building sites, filleting years of slow work into short balletic films where cranes and scaffolding delicately swoop around each other. Their videos of a clinic in Abu Dhabi took so long that they inadvertently captured the construction of the rest of the city behind it.
EarthCam’s staff are apologetic: Senior managers aren’t around to chat because they’re over in Washington, D.C., to set up for the inauguration. We don’t know it yet, but on Saturday, EarthCam’s cameras will capture the aerial footage that contradicts Trump’s claims about the inauguration’s robust attendance.