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Pillars of hope

Pillars of hope, steel starter bars or starter rods stick out of a house so that in the future it's easier to add an extra storey

"Pillars of Hope" is a tongue-in-cheek name for steel starter bars, also known as starter rods or rebar extensions, that protrude from the roofs of houses after construction. Leaving starter bars sticking out is a pragmatic approach, saving time and money when adding the next floor, as the structure is already partially prepared for the expansion. The "hope" in the name reflects the anticipation and optimism of adding to their homes in the future when the family grows or their financial situation improves.

Growing up in the UK, I never encountered the practice of leaving exposed starter bars on houses. However, while travelling through Central America and Asia, I was surprised to see these exposed rods in many towns and cities. At first, I couldn't understand why so many buildings seemed unfinished, making the skyline somewhat messy. Only when someone explained their purpose to me did it make complete sense.

Steel bars in concrete combine the tensile strength of steel with the compressive strength of concrete, creating a remarkably effective and widely used building method. The starter bars embedded in and protruding from the existing structure provide a strong and stable connection between a new addition and the existing building. The bars transfer loads and anchor the two together.

Pillars of Hope are a conspicuous example of futureproofing. Other examples in buildings are electrics or plumbing, where you might leave capped-off pipes or electrical connection points in anticipation of future work. Laptops and desktop computers with empty expansion slots also use this approach, as does a first edition of software that includes an update manager.

In software and agile development, I like the sentiment from the book Rework: "A kick-ass half is better than a half-assed whole." Have no parts of your product not yet working or "under construction" that are visible to users. Don't leave any visible "starter bars" sticking out of your product. And try not to solve problems that you don't yet have. While it might seem worth adding something now to make a future feature easier to build, it's a tricky balance. So often, you choose to do something else in the future instead and are left with some software pillars of hope sprinkled throughout your code—technical debt you may have to pay off later.

While my first reaction to steel rods sticking out of houses seemingly willy-nilly was that it was chaotic and messy, when I think about them as Pillars of Hope I now find it kind of beautiful—looking out over a skyline and seeing the aspirations and future development of families, homes and a city sketched out on the rooftops.

Edit: Several people told me that leaving starter bars sticking out of a roof makes the building 'unfinished' and not liable to tax on the work. While this is repeated in many places, I'm not 100% sure of the truth. If you have experience with it, please get in touch!

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