Risks and Opportunities. Building Contractors in Antwerp and Brussels, 1500-1900

Heidi Deneweth, Inge Bertels, Anne Winter

Research Historical Research into Urban Transformation Processes (HOST)

Construction is highly susceptible to economic trends and sector-inherent risks: whereas periods of growth offer golden opportunities for building contractors, periods of stagnation and recession cause high bankruptcy rates suggesting insufficient or inadequate risk management.

This project will investigate how building contractors and small and medium enterprises in the construction industry dealt with opportunities and risks, and how they managed the largest cost factors: labour and material supply. Risk management and its effects will be investigated in a long-term perspective (1500-1900) analysing the interaction of economic, urban, technological and institutional change with entrepreneurial strategies. Comparative research on Antwerp and Brussels in a larger international framework will reveal the specificity of construction, business cultures and practices in time and space. This approach requires the integration of historiography, existing databases and new research, based on a multitude of sources, in one analytical framework.

This analysis will transcend the sector of construction by contributing to several actual debates: the interaction between institutions, entrepreneurial initiative and economic growth; the use of flexible labour and different wage systems as a risk-coping strategy of entrepreneurs; its impact on the income, living standards and agency of workers; determinants in the use of building materials and their impact on sustainable housing.