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Notes on Building Projects
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Caution. The information on this page concerning buildings comes mainly from a speedy 'first pass' through the RCMPC records at UMA and from dipping into the Monash Papers at NLA looking for information on other themes. It is presented to indicate the nature and scope of John Monash's work in building construction. Details should be used with caution. For an overview of early development of reinforced concrete in Australia, see e.g. Lewis, M. 1988.

Entrance Porch for "Chastleton".

Neo-classical[?] portico with four columns supporting an entablature. Above this is the balustrade of the balcony.

University of Melbourne Archives GPNB/1195
Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co. Collection

Another historic image of this porch held by UMA has Location Number GPNB/1194. It was taken closer up, and on the diagonal, giving a better impression of detail.

In July 1905, architect George De Lacy Evans left notes including a sketch plan and cross-section with RCMPC. They prepared estimates, sketches, and rough calculations between 17 May and 3 August. The roof of the porch was of Monier plates. According to Miles Lewis's Melbourne Mansions website the house, in Orrong Rd Toorak, was owned at the time by Arthur E. Payne and the outer square piers are shown on the drawings as brick while the round columns are Monier concrete with render.

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Substructures at AML&F, South Kensington (Melbourne)
Hide, Skin and Tallow Stores and Woolstore project.

In July 1905 architects Purchas & Teague asked Monash for a price on a "grain warehouse" to carry a floor load of 448 psf (21.5 kPa). They gave him column spacings for a typical 120 × 125 ft portion, but not the building's location or the soil conditions. In reply, he quoted £13 per square (10 ft × 10 ft) on the basis of 3 acres of floor, and noted that the specified loading represented a solid layer of wheat up to 9 ft deep. Reinforcement would be "designed and disposed according to the most approved continental and American practice". Monash pointed out that a reinforced concrete building, probably cheaper than the steel and timber alternative, would be proof against fire, vermin, rust, rot, etc. There would also be a saving in the height of the building of 3 ft, meaning a proportional saving in cladding materials. JM suggested the architects' load-bearing external walls be replaced by a reinforced concrete frame infilled with either brick "screens" or light r.c. walls.

Original cross-section drawing.

Hide, Skin and Tallow Store Group.
Extract from a drawing in the J Thomas Collection.

The enquiry must have been Purchas & Teague's way of broaching the subject of the projected AML&F Stores at South Kensington. An early P&T drawing in the John Thomas Collection shows four storage volumes completely framed in steelwork. The main building is a 3-storey Woolstore comprised of three 120 × 125 ft units: a total plan area of 120 × 375 ft. In a separate group are a single-storey "Hide Store" and a two-storey building marked "Skin Store". They are under a common roof; but separated by an internal roadway. The lower floor of the Skin Store became, in later drawings, the "Tallow Store". P&T's cross-section through this group is reproduced above. The schematic diagram below indicates the final scheme.

Simplified cross-ssection showing layout described in the text.

black indicates r.c. substructure; blue indicates steel superstructure.

Within a few days of his rough quote, JM had prepared revised calculations and sketch cross-sections. The r.c. walls could not be included until P&T's "requirements as to light openings" were known. The scheme was open to discussion and modification. JM added: "You mentioned the prospect of my Company having to tender competitively. Leaving aside … the question of Patent Rights … you would obviously not expect us to make complete disclosure of our detailed designs of reinforcement …" JM did, however, reveal enough to show that he knew what he was doing, asking P&T to keep the details secret. The outcome was a P&T drawing of September 1905 showing the "Skin Hide and Tallow Store" with concrete substructure and steel superstructure as indicated above.

In October RCMPC prepared an estimate for the cost of a competing all-steel structure, then put in their tender for the reinforced concrete work for the Wool, Hide, Skin [and Tallow] Stores at £20,463.

Their outline specification listed heavy floor loads: 448 psf for the ground and first floors of the Woolstore; 200 psf for its top floor; and 896 psf for the Hide and Skin Stores.

JM lent J. J. Falconer, the Victorian Manager of AML&F, a copy of the German serial Beton & Eisen, presumably with details of a similar building in Europe. However, on 7 November 1905, JM told Gummow in Sydney that the Woolstore was now "off". The architect and Falconer had been enthusiastic, and the price £2000 below the brick and steel alternative; but "they took it into their heads to cable their London House for advice - and the laconic reply was build brick". Falconer was now very sorry he had wired London. On a positive note, Purchas & Teague was still "a strong supporter" and RCMPC had been promised one of the buildings.

JM then asked Gummow to comment on and check his design. He noted that because of the repetition of bays (112 in the Skin Store) it was worth paying close attention to economy of the cross-section. The maximum load was normally 400 psf, but in seasons of good wheat harvest, the floor would be stacked up to 15 feet high with bags of wheat. That could not happen before January 1907 and the building should be finished in June 1906 [thus there would be plenty of time for the concrete to gain strength].

On 7 November 1905 RCMPC put in a revised tender, for the Hide Skin and Tallow Stores only, at £4030. P&T accepted on 9th under the RVIA "General Conditions of Contract". Monash then knuckled down to serious detailed design. In mid-August he had hired a young engineer, S. J. Lindsay, explaining he needed him to work in reinforced concrete: "a very modern, very interesting development of constructive engineering, which has a great future". JM now also engaged W. W. Harvey, who had just completed his four years of engineering studies, to help with calculations and drawing.

The floor of the Hide Store was to be supported off the ground by a series of parallel "arcades", described as "arch walls" or "sleeper walls". JM designed them as haunched beams. These were only 5 inches thick and closely spaced at 4'-0¾" centres. The floor plate, which spanned in one direction between the arch walls was only 3¾" thick.

Sketch of an arch wall.

The Tallow Store had a more conventional system of beams and columns (see below) on a 10 foot by 10 foot grid. Its floor was cast directly on rock. The Skin Store floor was supported on haunched girders running between column heads in the east-west direction and haunched ribs running north-south. A reinforced concrete retaining wall stiffened by vertical ribs held back the ground on the north side of the Tallow Store and on parts of its east and west sides.

Cross-section showing the ribbed floor of the Skin Store supported on columns from the floor of the Tallow Store.

Structural system of the Tallow Store and Skin Store floor.
(Detail adapted from RCMPC drawing.)

Interior of Tallow Store just after construction.

Inside the Tallow Store, looking east or west. The main girders run away from the camera. The ribs run across the top of the photo. University of Melbourne Archives, Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co. Collection, GPNB/1190.

In the corners of the stores, at each end of the internal roadway, was a pair of elevators. The tops of each pair were connected over the roadway by "bridges", one of which features in the photograph below.

View from outside of the Tallow Store.

Tallow Store seen from the west end of the internal roadway before erection of the steel superstructure that would form the Skin Store above. The Hide Store is just out of the picture, to the right. One of the bridges is prominent, its scale distorted by wide-angle lens. The elevator is not yet in position in the corner of the building. University of Melbourne Archives, Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co. Collection, GPNB/1189.

More historic images of this building are held by University of Melbourne Archives UMA with Location Numbers GPNB/1185 to 1188. GPNB/1185 is similar to 1190 (above) but less well exposed. GPNB/1186 is from the same angle as 1189, but closer. GPNB/1187 and 1188 show an early stage, with the columns free-standing, and casting of the deck proceeding in the background.

The detailed design of the structure gave rise to a great deal of correspondence between Monash and Gummow, who probably had Baltzer at his side. A paragraph from one of JM's letters is characteristic of his tact and diplomacy.

"I must thank you for your exhaustive treatment of the problem. The methods applied and the elements laid down will be of great assistance. I have applied myself for some hours to the study of your exhaustive discussion, and, as you [no doubt?] would desire, have endeavoured to apply intelligent criticism to them. This has led me to form a view, as to a method of obtaining a great economy in design, without in any way departing from the general principle you lay down of fully providing for negative bending moments. I will endeavour to briefly state this view, and give my reasons for same, and while desiring not to put you to any further trouble than necessary, shall be obliged if you will briefly convey your concurrence or otherwise in the views I put. It will be easier for me to express myself in argumentative form, though, I do so with diffidence, and with a due appreciation that your own proposals are doubtless carefully matured. I commence with two points apparently outside the scope of the problem. The first relates to shearing stresses. Owing to heavy loading these are very considerable indeed …"

The remainder of JM's letter is of interest only to engineers. It concerns the optimimum balance between floor thickness and number of ribs per building bay, and the positioning and anchoring of reinforcement. JM refers back to discussions with GF&Co regarding Bank Place Chambers and quotes the Wayss Handbook and chapter and verse of Emperger's Beton und Eisen in support of his arguments. He concludes: "Upon the question of stirrup design [shear reinforcement], I have been reading up this matter at great length, and hope shortly to be in a position to submit some further views on same".

After a conference with Lindsay and Harvey on 28 November 1905, the design was firmed up and a specification prepared to accompany Harvey's drawings. On 21 December, JM drew up a characteristic document under the headings:

Construction work seems to have started on 28 December 1905, though conflict with the work of the general contractor meant that RCMPC did not really get going until 23 January 1906. The Victorian Institute of Engineers visited the site on 29 May. This was mentioned in The Age and the Argus next day, and written up in the VIE Proceedings for 6 June 1906 (pp. 41-3). Here Monash reported the floor loading as 800 psf and the total cost of the r.c. work as £4000. In September 1906 a claim was submitted for £434 in extras, indicating that construction was finished. In the same month, Harvey reported that cracks were appearing in the floors and that those earlier reported in the [sleeper?] walls had grown. He put this down to subsidence caused by floodwaters.

Note for researchers. The photographs in RCMPC's 1907 Brochure are entitled "Hide, Skin, Tallow, and Grain Stores", though the only structure illustrated is the Tallow Store, which is to form the basement of the future Skin Store. The inclusion of "Grain" is presumably a reference to the intention to store grain during seasons of high harvest. The building group was known as the "Hide and Skin Stores" prior to definition of the Tallow Store, so one drawing showing only the substructure that enclosed the Tallow Store is headed "Skin Store". Another showing only the Hide Store substructure carries the general title "Hide and Skin Stores".

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AML&F Offices, William St, Melbourne.

Plan of Second Floor. Interior, probably at Ground Floor level.

1. Plan of 2nd Floor. The front of the building, with oriels, is at the top of the plan. (From a drawing in the J Thomas Collection.)
2. View of interior. Tradesmen put the finishing touches to the interior. A carpenter's bench is at bottom left. The gap in the ceiling defines the light well. This view is probably of the Ground Floor, looking towards the front of the building. (University of Melbourne Archives, Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Co. Collection, GPNB/1198.)

This is another significant milestone in the development of JM's work in building construction. Although building regulations still required that the external walls be in masonry, all other parts of the structure and internal walls and partitions were in reinforced concrete. An interesting detail is the use of columns with an octagonal cross-section.

Again, it was important for JM to have Gummow and Baltzer in Sydney, acting as sounding boards for his ideas, providing occasional advice and criticism. JM's trainee engineers, S. J. Lindsay and W. W. Harvey, worked under his direction assisting with calculations and preparing drawings.

Architects Purchas & Teague met with JM probably on 22 February 1906. JM gave Purchas a rough price for the floors alone of about £3000, assuming 25,000 square feet of floor. Judging by the partial set of r.c. drawings in the John Thomas Collection, the facade on the ground floor included a set of arches, with a beam running along the top of them to support a masonry wall above. The design of this beam in reinforced concrete was JM's first consideration when structural design commenced in early March. By April, the front of the building was to be five storeys high. The fifth storey did not extend fully to the rear. Tenders were called in The Age on 28 April and 5 May.

Drawing of reinforcement near column.

AMLF Offices, William St, Melbourne. To the left of the column is shown reinforcement for girders of Type B - to the right, for girders Type A. The convention here is to treat the concrete as transparent, permitting a view of the reinforcing cage. Extract from Harvey's drawing of "Type Details for Floor-supporting Girders". (J Thomas Collection.)

Complex shaping of junction of beams and column.

Architectural treatment of the transition between an octagonal column and the chamfered floor beams. (Extracted from the drawing above.)

At the end of May RCMPC submitted a quote for construction of the entire building, with reinforced concrete substituted for conventional materials for the columns, footings, joinsts, girders and internal walls and partitions. The front elevation below the level of the first floor was to be in r.c. faced with Malmesbury and Pyrmont stone. On 25 May JM wrote a graphic account of his meeting and negotiations with Purchas and Falconer (Victorian Manager of AMLF). It seems Duncan's quote to for the whole job was was lower than RCMPC's. JM played on the reputation of RCMPC and the fact that he had the backing of David Mitchell, and offered a reduction in price of £500. In a meeting with Purchas next day, and agreement must have been reached that Duncan should act as general contractor, with RCMPC doing the r.c. work.

The fact that some significant documents relating to prices are not dated makes it difficult to understand the true sequence of events. A complete Schedule of Quantities accompanies a statement "Agreed to tender at £24,485". This was based on a net cost of £21,450, and allowed £500 for quantity surveying and £645 for "engineering &c". It left an estimated £2190 clear. One document estimates that the saving achieved by substituting r.c. for conventional materials will be £6303. A Schedule of Works suggests that Duncan's bid for the whole building was about £28,000.

Signature: John Monash, Engineer. 10/9/06.

JM seems to have been feeling his way towards a standard signature for building drawings at this time. The most common on this building was the one above: "John Monash Engineer" (with date). Others were a simple "John Monash" (with date), or "For the Reinf. Concrete Co. [pp.] John Monash" and date.

The issuing of JM's first Requisition on 21 June - for supply of reinforcing bars - indicates the start of serious r.c. construction. In September, Duncan claimed it was RCMPC's job to fill the haunches of the front arches, on top of stonework, with concrete. JM "politely repudiated this" claiming that RCMPC was only concerned with work that replaced the steel girders originally intended. September also saw significant alterations by the Architect, to the layout of the second floor and the rear of the roof; and complaints from Duncan that the slowness of RCMPC was interfering with his work. JM countered, claiming interference from Duncan's men. Duncan replied that he was not impressed by JM's arguments, nor his "legal phraseology" and "vague statements"; but that things had improved since a specified date and time.

A. Bendschneider is mentioned as foreman on a drawing dated September 1906.

The final requisition for reinforcing steel was issued in November 1906, and by February 1907 correspondence was concerned with settling accounts, complaints that electricians were cutting chases into r.c. beams and exposing reinforcement, and analysis of costs. An "Outline of Final Account" carries a total of £6491, but a detailed "Statement of Reinforced Concrete Work" reaches only £6161.

Another historic image of the interior of the AMLF Offices is held by University of Melbourne Archives UMA with Location Number GPNB/1201. It is similar to GPNB/1198 (above), but looks towards rectangular windows and shows more of the skylight (light well).

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