We are a species of builders. Sure, other animals construct impressive colonies, nests and dens, but no other species tailors their surrounding environments to suit their specific needs quite like we do. Wherever humans have put down roots, they have raised roofs, walls and monuments, to mark their places in space and time.

The builder alone creates something that is real, tangible, and permanent. That's why builders have historically occupied a special place in our society. It is through them, after all, that we achieve some kind of permanence.

One of the very few figures that we know from the earliest Egyptian history was not a pharaoh, a prince or even a military leader. He was a builder. History remembers Imhotep because he left behind the physical monuments that define his age. He invented the pyramid. Think about it: the names of most of Egypt's rulers have faded from our memory, but the pyramids remain.

Every city, country and civilization has its defining building. In Ottawa, it's the Parliament Buildings; in Toronto, it's the CN Tower; in Paris, it's the Eiffel Tower. In every city and town, there are bell towers, city halls, churches or schools that are monuments to their builders. These landmarks become part of their towns or city's culture. They become navigational tools - "two blocks from the arena" - because these structures define their own particular corners of space.

It's not surprising then that building and construction reflects the health of the economy. When the economy is in good shape, we build. When times are bad, we don't build. We build for the future, and when the future looks bright, we build some more. Indeed, the Canadian construction industry grew rapidly throughout the late 1980s as the country began to pull itself out of recession.

Then things turned sour for a time. The Canadian dollar began to drop, political insecurity began to rise, and between 1991 and 1993, the construction industry shrank by 18 percent, followed by another upswing in the late 1990's, a time of great optimism about the future in Canada.

It's significant to note, however, that even with the downturn in the construction business during the early 1990s, the overall number of people employed in construction occupations still grew by more than 26 percent between 1984 and 1997. Despite the periodic corrections in the economy, we still need builders, and as our population continues to grow, our needs become more demanding.

There was a time, to be sure, when a genius like Imhotep could do it all, with the possible exception of the physical labour required to move limestone blocks and lay mortar. Today, the building industry has to fit within urban planning restrictions, zoning by-laws and environmental regulations. The business of building our homes, places of work and monuments is far more complex than it was.

Anyone who has ever tried to build a birdhouse from scratch can appreciate the extraordinary combination of hard work and skill that goes into any building project. A building, with its basic structure, its ventilation and electrical systems, its location and even its aesthetic design, is an enormously complex undertaking, and construction is a team activity, bringing together architects, engineers, manual labourers and technicians and technologists.

There are technicians and technologists at every point along the building process, from the municipal workers who oversee zoning issues, to the surveyors and the experts who conduct the environmental impact assessment. The building needs ventilation, wiring and constant checks for structural integrity. Construction equipment - far more complex than in the days of the pyramids - needs to be maintained and operated.

However, by dealing with all of those tiny details and completing all of those massive tasks, builders do something no other occupation can accomplish. They change the face of our world, leaving monuments to that unique genius of the human species.