Unique Differences Among International Construction Practices


Construction practices vary internationally based upon building codes, culture, government dynamics, management practices and natural resources. The differences affect the built environment and its effect on residents.

Building Codes

Building codes form the legal constraints within which construction takes place. The code sets requirements in relationship to environmental protection, public health and safety. In many areas they also set development constraints within the bounds of cost efficiency and investment value. US Environmental Protection Agency statistics reveal that people spend 90 percent of their lives inside buildings. This increases the importance of viable code that provides a framework for safe, healthy buildings. Building codes extend from those relating to basic construction to fire to seismic requirements in areas prone to earthquakes.

Model codes provide a minimum set of requirements with respect to building design and construction. Some extend to building operations. Depending on the country, these may be national, state or local codes. Enforcement varies by available budgets and human resources. For example, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), failure to appropriately fund building inspections intensifies damage caused by natural hazards. It referred to independent damage studies of the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew and the Northridge Earthquake which revealed that lax code enforcement resulted in increased damage totals.

  • In the US: A national forum develops a model code. State and local governments may adopt it as is or add or delete portions. Most levels of government adopt the model code as is, at a minimum. Codes cover building design with respect to protection from earthquakes, fire, floods and windstorms, as well as other extreme weather or geologic events, and essential structural integrity. The set minimum requirements for electrical wiring and systems, plumbing and mechanical safety. In the US, ancillary national laws set requirements for accessibility and energy efficiency.

  • Internationally: Since 1994, the International Code Council (ICC) has authored model codes for worldwide adoption. Three regional organizations combined to form the ICC:

    • the Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCA),

    • the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO),

    • the Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. (SBCCI).

Their combined experience provides more than 100 years of code authoring. The ICC updates its model code every three years, ensuring it stays current with modernized construction options and research and development. It authors both residential codes and those for publicly accessible or commercial buildings.

Materials Differences

Legal differences only represent the beginning of worldwide construction differences. Building materials differ, too, dependent upon natural resources and trade agreements. While multinational collaboration has become more common, distinct, localized projects remain most common. Differences in materials used influences the equipment used.

North America

On the North American continent, concrete, steel and wood prevail as often used materials. Concrete foundations combine with wood or brick for residential structures and small commercial buildings. Many cities on this continent, especially in heavily populated countries and states lean toward steel and concrete high rise and skyscraper construction to accommodate commercial ventures and residents. In New York and Illinois, crane rental abounds. The equipment provides transport and positioning of materials that must travel skyward.


Across Europe, where supply and demand cleared its forests before the age of replanting requirements and bans on cutting old growth trees, concrete and masonry dominate the built environment. The greener choice of masonry prevails in Austria, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands and Spain. Modern Europe favors recycled materials. The European Union promotes environmental health by focusing on energy efficient buildings and using sustainable materials.


Materials vary more widely in Asia. In India, masonry buildings prevail including brick and mud dwellings. Walls consist of baked clay or stone masonry. Cement and steel comprise the other structures. Pakistan, its neighbor, uses the same raw materials but combines them differently. Its non-engineered construction projects use reinforced concrete, confined masonry and non-confined masonry. Indonesia uses three types of masonry: confined masonry, concrete block masonry and infill masonry with reinforced concrete frame. Unsurprisingly, the code, equipment and material practices also influence how quickly firms erect structures.

Project Lengths

The length of time required to complete projects depends on the previously discussed influences, as well as management practices. Identifying what holds back construction speed issues, such as those experienced in India where non-engineered buildings take longer to build compared to its peers, can help alleviate housing shortages. One research study compared Europe’s United Kingdom, France, Germany with Australia. Using a survey questionnaire, respondents provided performance data and construction practice preferences in reference to a “hypothetical high rise in situ concrete building.”

The study revealed that construction and management practices in France result in the quickest construction speeds. Australia evidenced the second shortest project length. Its construction practices bear close resemblance to those of the UK and the study admitted that further study is required to determine why with such similar practices, a performance disparity exists.

A separate survey study examined practices among 56 US and 25 international construction project managers. It identified the project management practices and tools used internationally in successful construction project management. This uncovered significant differences between project management techniques and practices used in the US and other countries. It also uncovered gaps related to variables in differences affecting successful construction project management.

More interestingly, whether or not construction organizations succeed at project management, they perceive themselves as doing it well as a survey study of 238 UK organizations showed. The construction sector perceived their project management performance as higher than other business sectors perceived their own. The construction sector reported higher maturity levels in program management and organizational support related to project management that other business sectors.

Many factors contribute to the unique differences among international construction practices including culture, available materials, management practices and popular building designs. While each continent relies heavily on natural resources to build, early depletion of one resource forced architectural change, such as occurred in Europe. Heavily populated areas tend to build up, rather than out, requiring use of specific materials and industrial equipment. Rural populations continue to rely on non-engineered housing using single or dual level structures formed from natural materials.

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