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Journal of Facilities Management

Emerald Article: Innovation and ancient Roman facilities management Jan Brchner

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JFM 8,4

Innovation and ancient Roman facilities management

Jan Brochner
Department of Technology Management and Economics, Chalmers University of Technology, Goteborg, Sweden
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to review facilities management among the ancient Romans with an emphasis on features that are relevant for understanding the evolution of current innovative practices. Design/methodology/approach Ancient Roman literary sources, inscriptions, other archaeological ndings and secondary literature are used to identify facilities management functions and facilities managers. The advanced management of public baths and gymnasia is discussed as well as relations between lifestyles and workplaces. Roman information technology and contractual skills are included. Findings It is meaningful to speak of facilities managers in Roman times, although mostly for buildings such as baths with complex technologies. There is a striking lack of differentiation between ofces and homes, and the meanings of work and leisure were understood differently. Primitive information technology is a possible explanation, although it did not impede the development of contracts with detailed service-level agreements. Availability and use of energy in facilities emerges as the most important change. Originality/value Recent studies of innovations in facilities management concern very short-time periods. In this paper, the long historical perspective allows identifying the importance of large technology shifts. Practitioners may benet from implications for specialised building design, in particular the link between a particular level of information technology and the need for ofces. Keywords Facilities, Operations management, Maintenance, Workplace, Culture, Innovation Paper type Literature review

Received July 2009 Accepted October 2009

Journal of Facilities Management Vol. 8 No. 4, 2010 pp. 246-255 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 1472-5967 DOI 10.1108/14725961011078963

Introduction Innovation in facilities management has been addressed in a number of recent studies (Mudrak et al., 2005; Cardellino and Finch, 2006; Goyal and Pitt, 2007; Noor and Pitt, 2009). When investigating innovation practices in four facilities management organisations in The Netherlands, Mudrak et al. (2005) found several categories: technological and other developments of suppliers, market demand and requirements of the customers and users, information exchange, joint group meetings, total quality control and corporate responsiveness and exibility in processes and procedures. Cardellino and Finch (2006) reported 11 examples of facilities management innovation from the UK, almost all of which appear to stem from new uses of information and communication technologies for better coordination. No specic examples of innovation were given by Goyal and Pitt (2007), whereas Noor and Pitt (2009) refer to the creation of team spaces and changes in space density. Most of these writers have been more interested in how to manage innovation processes in facilities management rather than in the nature of the resulting innovations. A simple framework that can be used for categorising innovations in this eld has been proposed by Nutt (2000) as the four facilities management futures,

according to the type of resources involved: nancial, human, physical and knowledge, concerning business, people, property and information, respectively. When identifying facilities management innovations over a short-time span, it is probable that many of these will be marginal improvements, just as is often the case also for other business services (Sundbo, 1997). In order to discover long-term trends in services innovation and to project these into the future, a longer historical perspective should be helpful. Hinks et al. (2007) have argued for extending the view back into the early nineteenth century in their analysis of military experiences that are relevant to innovation in facilities management. A radical approach is to compare present-day facilities management with that of the ancient Romans as forerunners. Ancient societies, such as the Roman, are both similar and recognisable and at the same time dissimilar. It is not that there are many similar phenomena which are interesting and useful; rather, it is the dissimilarities that are instructive. The Romans have been literally fundamental for facilities management, considering that the Latin word facio (I do) and its derived adjective facilis (easy to do) underlie our word facility, although with a medieval French intermediary. The purpose is to review facilities management among the ancient Romans with an emphasis on features that are relevant for understanding the evolution of current innovative practices. The analysis of Romans as services innovators that is interesting for comparative purposes is less interesting than using the set of practices that they relied on as a historical benchmark. Innovation in facilities management is not a matter wholly separated from innovation in construction technology, but out of the four criteria for construction innovation proposed by Lancaster (2005) in her study of Roman concrete vaulted construction: accumulated knowledge, evident need, economic possibility, and cultural/social/political acceptability, only the rst two appear as important for facilities management. The reason for this is primarily the comparatively low level of investment that is needed for innovative practices in facilities management, many of which can be introduced incrementally. After presenting the relevant types of historical sources, the question of whether it is meaningful to speak of facilities management functions and a profession of facilities managers is addressed. While inspired by Nutts (2000) framework of four futures, a slightly different order of presentation has been chosen: the focus is next on the public baths, followed by relations between lifestyles and workplaces. How the Romans were able to exploit their primitive information technologies is discussed before analysing their contractual skills. Finally, the concluding remarks attempt to identify long-term trends in facilities management innovation. The Roman sources Whatever remains of texts written by ancient Roman authors, papyrus letters, funerary and other inscriptions as well as archaeological excavations permit us to create an image of what we would call facilities management. The historical period in focus is the rst century BC and the following two centuries, thus roughly the Late Republic and the Early Empire. The choice of this period is explained by the richness of the contemporary sources. Geographically, the sources referred here to concern the Mediterranean World, including not least Egypt, although the extent of the empire was considerably greater. The literary sources have to be used with caution, because they are sometimes biased in favour of the unusual or extreme. However, anecdotes often reveal important

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features of society. There is also a smaller problem of textual corruption during the transmission of manuscript evidence through repeated copying over centuries. In most cases, references will be given here to printed parallel texts, but today, a wide range of ancient authors are also web accessible both in the original Latin (or Greek) and in English translations. It should be kept in mind that it is probable that there existed also a number of small, simple and perishable technical treatises, almost all of which have been lost at an early date. Professionalisation of facilities management functions It seems that there was no unied profession of facilities managers in Rome, but there are three settings where we can identify specialised roles that are engaged in coordinating facilities services: for agricultural estates, housing estates and baths. Roman writers on agriculture, Cato, Varro and Columella, describe the activities and even the personality required of an estate manager (vilicus). The term vilicus was sometimes also extended to designate the manager of non-farm residential buildings, including multifamily insulae (Frier, 1980). For insulae, there would be servile building attendants (insularii, see Frier, 1980); above them in rank, they could have managers. Such a manager was obviously Bargates, the procurator of the nasty lodging house episode described by Petronius (1969) (Sat. 96.4). A related function is that of a rent collector, exactor ad insulas, also appearing in legal texts of the period. Although not fully developed among the Romans (Jensen, 2008), there are elements of todays corporate real estate management in the role of property middlemen in the late Republic, and due to the preservation of a great number of Ciceros (1913, 1928, 1999) letters, it is possible to see how he managed his urban properties through his agents (Frier, 1978). Writing to his friend Atticus from Puteoli in 44 BC , only a month after Caesar had been assassinated, Cicero is more concerned with the economic outlook for a couple of dilapidated shops even the mice have left that he owned than with his own safety (Cicero, Letters to Atticus XIV.9/363.1). Is this a trivial matter that ts badly with the code of honour for the senatorial elite? After less than a year, Cicero himself puts this in perspective (Cicero, On Duties 1.151): money making was acceptable, provided that the money gained was ultimately invested in landed estates. More ethically dubious was the innovative business model developed by Crassus for managing disasters. Fire and structural collapse were frequent hazards for high-rise residential buildings in Rome and other cities (Gellius, 1927, 15.1 with Frier, 1980). Crassus is said to have recruited more than 500 architects and builders and specialised in acquiring buildings on re, together with neighbouring properties, beneting from the immediate anxiety of their owners. Then, he had the buildings repaired and let (Plutarch, 1913, Crassus 2.5; Frier (1980) stresses that this anecdote seems extraordinary; see also Anderson, 1997). Two centuries later, writers intent on portraying the monstrous vices (using Gibbons expression in his Decline and Fall, Chapter IV) of Commodus, emperor 180-192, happen to throw light on two aspects of public bath management. Public baths (and the corresponding gymnasia in the eastern parts of the empire) needed special competence to manage, and there were facilities managers to provide that. When a certain Appian from Alexandria is led to his execution in Rome and dees the emperor publicly, we nd that gymnasiarchs ( heads of gymnasia) in Egypt wore distinctive headbands and white shoes to display their public and professional identity. This detail

is according to the papyrus text of the acts of the pagan martyrs (Harker, 2008). It appears that Commodus, who is more widely known because of his interest in the gladiatorial profession, had taken an early dislike to those who manage baths. Already, as a 12-year-old boy, complaining of the water being too cold, the future emperor condemned the balneator in Centumcellae to be burned in his own furnace, but instead the imperial paedagogus had a sheepskin thrown in the re so that the smell fooled and satised Commodus. This we learn from the medieval manuscript tradition of the often dubious compilation that goes under the name of Historia Augusta (1921) (Commodus 1.9). If nothing else, what this anecdote reveals is that there was a lack of airtightness within thermal establishments, smoke from the furnace entering the spaces for bathing. Baths: technology and climate The late Roman Republic was a period of innovative technologies, and construction technology is important for FM: pozzolane concrete, glass blowing and opus reticulatum walls (Harris, 2007; Lancaster, 2008). This is also when the system with hot air heating oors (hypocausts) and walls in baths was developed to perfection, although it is possible that the original invention was Western Greek (Winter, 2006). Public bath buildings with their supplying aqueducts were the most complicated facilities to run in Roman society. A good overview of the architecture and technology of baths has been provided by Yegul (1992) and Fagan (1999) has published a comprehensive analysis of their social function, set in perspective again by Yegul (2010); a useful introduction to aqueducts and their management is that by Hodge (2002). Although theatres needed facilities management, baths were the only structures that were built and managed to provide a controlled and complex indoor climate. In the eastern parts of the empire, the gymnasium formed a close parallel to the bath typical of the west. The better baths and gymnasia provided not only a comfortable climate, a social network but also a setting for culture and entertainment. The importance of baths is not because of the climate being colder in Roman times. On the contrary, recent investigations of the largest Swiss glacier show that it was smaller than the current (Brazdil et al., 2005). However, ancient authors knew about climate change and noted that the arid landscape around Mycenae had not always been so (Aristotle, 1952, Meteorologica 352a9-15, 1.14; see Neumann, 1985, for a general overview of the topic). Fossil fuels were of almost no importance, and timber was the primary source of energy for a comfortable indoor climate. Heating was costly. Ring (1996) has compared costs for windows with the reduction in heating costs, given prices and technologies of the period, concluding that it made economic sense to provide public baths with windows. The archaeological evidence for windows is ambiguous. The need for timber as fuel contributed to early deforestation in the Mediterranean region. As can be shown throughout history, efforts to provide a comfortable indoor climate may have severe ecological consequences; regional effects at the landscape level in ancient times, global climate change today (Brochner, 2009). However, unlike the British context in the early eighteenth century, the search for fuel did not cause an industrial revolution in antiquity. Cheap slave labour is not a satisfactory explanation for the Roman failure to industrialise; rising demand for indoor comfort in a much colder climate in combination with the nature of the available fossil fuels (coal mines) led to the invention of heavy steam engines in Britain (Bresson, 2006).

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It is hardly misleading to speak of innovation due to indoor climate demand pull; once having the steam engines, there were technology push innovations and a vast expansion in the manufacturing sector. Lifestyles, workplaces and space planning In industrialised societies, the distinction between work and leisure and the corresponding spatial patterns for work and leisure end up by being felt natural, a set and permanent way of thinking that emerged during the twentieth century. It is therefore particularly important to recognise that ancient authors drew the dividing line between on one hand manual work and on the other hand intellectual work together with leisure. From a facilities viewpoint, while there were several distinct types of civic buildings in the Roman cities (Carter, 1995), the near absence of dedicated ofce buildings appears to be a mirror image of this alternative lifestyle; instead, there is interior differentiation of residential buildings according to use. At least, this is the principle for space design that we nd in Vitruvius (1934) ten books on architecture (6.5.1): a differentiation between common rooms and private rooms in houses. However, we should then expect the archaeologists to detect patterns of objects in various rooms according to their uses, but this has been difcult in practice (George, 1997). There existed companies (societates) of businessmen (Malmendier, 2005), but not even what a company headquarters would look like is known. Andreau (1999, p. 72f) speculates about the building south of Pompeii where the Murecine tablets were discovered, a large archive of nancial and judicial documents, whether it could have been such a building with its several triclinia, dining rooms. It is only much later, in the mid-sixth century, that we nd a text which is intended to recruit people by emphasising workplace quality. Cassiodorus (1937) wished to attract monks to his Vivarium monastery in Southern Italy, listing its workplace support features, including mechanical lamps (mechanicas lucernas) for working in the dark (Institutiones 1.30.4; ODonnell, 1979). In principle, the household was the producing and consuming economic unit in Roman society. There was a characteristic lifestyle for the citizens during the period analysed here: work in the morning, perhaps go to the marketplace for household-to-household commerce, and then spend a few afternoon hours in the public baths (see Laurence, 1994, pp. 122-32 on the temporal logic of space in Pompeii). Depending on his role in society, a citizen may be somebody who others visit in the morning or somebody who goes visiting other peoples homes/ofces seeking legal advice, support in business dealings, political inuence, etc. Nevertheless, Roman design of spaces to be used exclusively for physical production could be sophisticated. The large bakeries found in Ostia such as one in the Via dei Mulini from the third century AD has an efcient oor plan for the successive processes, in other words a rudimentary production line; during the same period in Tunisia, the Chemtou marble workshops are also laid out according to a production line principle (Wilson, 2008). Primitive information technologies All societies, including ant colonies, can be claimed to be information societies, although Beniger (1986) found the rst instance of the term only in 1981. It is easy to describe the information and communication technologies available to the Romans as


primitive. The question is how much this low level of development inhibited their work practices and management of facilities. When archaeologists excavate town houses, no clear boundary appears between public and private sections, as mentioned. This might be explained at least partly as a consequence of the state of information technology in Roman times (Clarysse and Vandorpe, 2008). Since Romans could easily bring with them their writing utensils, often only small wax tablets with a stylus, their information technology did not restrain their mobility. A clear although unusual case of ubiquitous writing is that of Pliny (1940, 1969) the elder, whose work pattern has been described by his nephew, Pliny the younger, in one of his letters (3.5). Pliny the elder would bring his secretary along with him, dictating in his chariot when travelling or while he was carried through dirty streets in his sedan chair. Public baths had as we have seen an intricate technology for the production and distribution of hot water and hot air, and their exterior supply system for water, the urban network of aqueducts (Hodge, 2002) was no less complicated to manage. Frontinus (1925), commissioners in charge of the aqueduct system in Rome, wrote a treatise which has been preserved. In his Aqueducts of Rome (Ch. 117), he boasts of the innovations that he had introduced in planning and record-keeping for aqueduct maintenance activities. Supervisors who would divert resources supposed to go into aqueduct repair work were thwarted by his innovative day-to-day schedules and records of monitoring. Those authors who wrote about ancient warfare have preserved good examples of management practices. Frontinus wrote not only about his aqueducts but also about strategy. Strategy meant military strategy and military tactics. Relocating a large military camp is an art that the Romans had developed to perfection. There were standardised principles for camp layout and coloured ags guiding the troops when they entered their new encampment, according to Polybius (1954) in his Histories (6.41). The same historian shows an obvious interest in networks and information technology, as when he describes an optical telegraph that relies on moving torches (Holzmann and Pehrson, 1995). Despite or perhaps even because of the primitive state of information technology, it was possible to run the machinery of central government far away from Rome. Hadrian was a constant traveller for decades, moving the imperial administration with him from one end of the empire to another and back again during the rst half of the second century. The bureaucracy was small and thus central government had little need for specialised and permanent ofce space. However, in a number of cities where Hadrian went, he reformed the management of temples and public buildings in general, appointing city supervisors (curatores) of temples and of buildings (Boatwright, 2000, p. 73f). As admitted by Manuel Castells (2006), the geographically extensive network society is not simply a consequence of recent advances in digital technologies. There was a high level of uniformity in technology, administration and routines throughout the Roman World. Contracts and service-level agreements At the beginning of the period we consider here, central government had few employees. Competitive bidding for public contracts was the rule (Badian, 1972; rsted, 1985). Service contracts for tax collection led to the emergence of vast corporations of

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publicans, who could tender for an area as large as present-day Turkey, although importance of publicans was much reduced during the Early Empire. Being a public contractor could lead to great wealth, although Juvenal (2004) in the satire (3.38) where he attacks life in Rome reveals that people thought it disreputable to engage in activities such as contracts for cleaning multi-seater latrines ( foricae: Hobson, 2009). One of the oldest examples of public procurement in Roman is given by Pliny the elder when he mentions how the censors would place contracts for the feeding of the sacred geese on the Roman Capitolium (Natural History 10.51), in memory of the legend of Manlius the ex-consul being awakened by geese when the Gauls attacked Rome in 390 BC (Horsfall, 1981; Malmendier, 2005). Facilities management contracts with service-level agreements are preserved in very few cases. From Metallum Vipascense, an imperial mining community in what is now Portugal we have a baths management contract that requires the contractor to wash, dry and coat with fresh grease every 30 days the bronze implements which he uses (Fagan, 1999). According to the agreement, for each time the baths are not open properly, there is a maximum penalty of 200 sestertiae. From Egypt, there is a contract for the post of bath cloakroom attendant. Although the Romans had well-developed legal rules and procedures for public contracts, our literary sources contain stories of how the system could fail. Ciceros enemy, Verres, is pilloried because of his ingenuous misuse of public procurement for the maintenance of the Temple of Castor & Pollux in the Forum Romanum, bankrupting the original contractor (Cicero, Verrine Orations II.1.49, Anderson, 1997, p. 101; Du Plessis, 2004). After close reading of the contract together with its incomplete specications, Verres had the temple pillars tested for absolute perpendicularity. The pillars somehow failed the test, but what is valuable is how far Cicero goes into detail when describing the procedures followed for appointing a second contractor. Concluding remarks In 1762, during his Grand Tour, Gibbon looked out over the Roman Forum and thought about the lack of building maintenance that led to the ruins. Many years later, he would claim that this view gave him the impetus to begin writing his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Gibbon, 1776-1789/1993-1994, Ch. 71). Gibbon did not explain the ruins as caused primarily by a Roman lack of understanding of facilities management. The sources reviewed here indicate that it is meaningful to speak of facilities managers in Roman times, not only for buildings such as baths with complex technologies. Compared to present-day conditions, there was a striking lack of differentiation between ofces and homes, and the meanings of work and leisure were understood differently. Primitive information technology is a possible explanation, although it did not impede the development of contracts with detailed service-level agreements. It is possible that the enthusiasm of the early 1980s for the paperless ofce of the future has led us to exaggerate the importance of advanced information and communication technologies for facilities management. In the short historical perspective of only a quarter of a century, it is already possible to see the wireless technologies as introducing separability between facilities and the tools used for supporting intellectual work much like the portable wax tablets of the Romans. This insight may lead to questioning the wisdom of having highly specialised building designs.

Instead, the availability and use of energy in facilities emerges as the most important change over two millennia. A series of innovations began in the 1870s for the generation of electricity and its distribution and use in buildings for lighting, vertical transport, heating, ventilation, cooling and a number of other purposes. This appears as the one great difference between Roman times and now. The Roman dependence on timber for fuel was unsustainable; it is hardly necessary to elaborate on the global consequences of our current generation and use patterns for energy and the urgent need for facilities management innovations here.
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