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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.

ES&A Bank, Canterbury (Melbourne)

RCMPC received floor plans and elevations from architects Reed Smart & Tappin in January 1907. Structural calculations for ground beams resting on piles are headed "Canterbury Bank (à la Warracknabeal)", possibly one of S J Lindsay's pleasantries. RCMPC quoted for four alternatives:

1. without piles - just 336' of ground beams.£166
2. as (1) but incl. 26 redgum or grey box piles, av. 20' long£244
3. as (1) but concrete piles£296
4. as (3) but all girders designed for worst loads £340

Alternative (2) was accepted. On 18 March 1907 Lindsay told Monash: "Mr. Smart … rang up and said he thought we hadn't made provision for chimneys … was quite satisfied when I pointed out that a pile came directly under each chimney".

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City Abattoirs

(Meat Export Building or Slaughter House and Hanging Room.)

Plan showing 2 rectangular buildings: the Hanging Room and Slaughter House alongside each other with a covered roadway between.This project consisted of two long rectangular buildings, the Slaughter House and the Hanging Room, with a covered roadway in-between. Each building was of two storeys, with timber truss roofing. The upper storey had a solid ceiling. Architectural drawings show both a steel-and-brick version and a reinforced concrete alternative. In the former, the suspended floor and the ceiling were formed by corrugated metal jack arches, filled with normal concrete and coke breeze concrete respectively.

Acting City Surveyor, E. H. Morton approached Monash for a quote in January 1907. After trial designs, costings, and modifications, JM submitted a firm price for the complete buildings of £4600. Tenders were called by architect Charles D'Ebro on 16 March, but work did not proceed. Late in January 1908, JM wrote to Morton pointing out that a year had elapsed since the original estimate. In the meantime there had been a 'heavy' rise in the price of cement. In April, RCMPC prepared estimates for reinforced concrete work only, to be submitted to general contractors. They quietly teamed up with Swanson Bros, to whom JM quoted £7351, being £5767 plus a 27.5 per cent margin. In sending the quote to Swanson on 10 April, RCMPC agreed not to tender against them and not to give prices to any other contractors. The covering letter was signed by P T Fairway who had just joined RCMPC.

The bid was unsuccessful, and on 15th, JM wrote to Swanson "Outside people were fully aware of our joint tendering, and I have had to suffer some sarcastic remarks as the result of the defeat of our joint efforts … it would appear that the successful tenderers priced out the items forming the portion of the work with which you dealt at a figure something under £6000, and they were also near £1000 below what you and I estimated was the fair value of the work which was going to be replaced by reinforced concrete". He added that the Council was still keen to have the framework of the buildings in reinforced concrete, so he was being asked to quote for a reduced quantity of work with a view to its inclusion by the successful tenderer. He expressed hopes that he and Swanson could work harmoniously on another occasion. A new quote of £5489 was then prepared for Messrs Peters & Hetherington, based on "slightly different quantities".

Please refer to caption.

Above is a very 'busy' cross-section of the Slaughterhouse building. We have not sighted the full set of drawings, but the 'box' at left is probably the cross-section of a covered ramp leading the animals from ground to first floor. An I-section rolled steel joist can be seen supporting the middle of the main roof, and this is supported by a RSJ column. These are the only steel members in the cross-section of the building. (Perhaps steel was chosen because the blood gutters are at the foot of this column.)

The first Requisition for Materials was placed on 28 April 1907. Daily reports from foreman Frederick Bloom commence on 11 May. (He was transferred to start the Preston Reservoir project in June or July.) In September, Morton wrote pointing out that reinforcement was exposed in several places under the floors and required 'pointing up'. The project led to the usual dispute as to whether, and on what items, RCMPC was required to pay a commission or administration fee to the general contractor (Peters & Hetherington), in this case 10%. The parties eventually went to court over claims relating to work on this project, the Novitiate at Flemington, and a staircase at Condell's Building.

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AMLF Woolstore, second attempt.

In July 1905 Monash had prepared a design for a woolstore for AMLF at Kensington (Melbourne) but had built only the associated Hide, Skin and Tallow Stores. In January 1907, the project was revived and a guestimate of cost was made by factoring the previous estimate.

Revision of old estimate. 
Walls and screens1,262
New building by ratio£7,857

The objective was obviously to lower the cost of construction. A document entitled "General Notes" makes the following points:

Another document is entitled "Wool. Special Stress Factors", and subtitled "In order to work with a less factor of safety". A list of queries for Mr Purchas, the architect, mentioned a roof load of 40 psf and asked whether the irregular column spacing was "unavoidable". Monash then passed his workings over to an assistant who prepared a "Design for Preliminary Estimate". The cost came out at £10,222 to which was added a margin of £2,078 to give a total of £12,300.

Purchas & Teague called tenders on 12 February. The results must have been higher than expected. On 18 April JM wrote a memorandum of a telephone conversation with Purchas: "Purchas asks "What is probable reduction, if ground floor load be reduced from 3½ cwts to 1½ cwt per square foot." I go into the file estimates of 18/01/07 and tell him "between £750 and £1000". He asks, if that is for a 300-foot building. I say "yes", and he arranges to increase that allowance by one third for a 395-foot building. We then speak of the amended building regulations."

There is no sign of working drawings or other outcome from these deliberations.

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Kither's Buildings, Adelaide.

This building, at 27 King William St, was the first reinforced concrete building in Adelaide. The facade has since been drastically altered. The architect was Herbert Louis Jackman who, according to our notes, was still trading as Garlick & Jackman at the time. The structure was not entirely of reinforced concrete. A drawing in the John Thomas Collection shows details of a steel plate girder spanning over the ground floor shop fronts, supported on I-section columns.

Facade of Kithers Building.

Kither's Building, Adelaide. University of Melbourne Archives, Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co. Collection, BWP/23778.

There are four historic images of this building in the University of Melbourne Archives Image Collection UMAIC. Search under Record ID for UMA/I/6229, 6230, 6240, 6241. Any enquiries to UMA regarding these images should quote Location Numbers BWP/23775 to 23778 respectively. In the collection of the State Library of South Australia, see images B 14360, B 4470, and B 3548.

In January 1907, SARC Managing Director Bakewell wrote to Monash that Jackman was thinking of using reinforced concrete for a new building in King William Street. (He later mentioned that Mr Kither was Jackman's father-in-law.) In February sketch plans were received and Jackman wrote to JM: "We have been instructed to go into the question of building with concrete-steel seriously …" Jackman told Monash he was keen to keep the floors clear of divisions and strong rooms, so that intending tenants could arrange for him to fit them up according to their requirements.

'Concrete-steel' was one of several names devised before the term 'reinforced concrete' became generally accepted.

By mid-March JM was able to give Jackman a formal tender. He noted that the price of £4233 was £1200 less than his original forecast. He complimented Jackman on the fact that £700 of this was due to the simplicity of the layout "which most admirably fits the type of construction". A few days later, Bakewell reported to JM that Kither had tried to beat SARC down to £4000, and they had finally settled for £4100. He considered this acceptable, as it would give SARC a "foot in the door". Reporting the project, the Register noted that the new building would be on the site of the Old Auction Mart, which Kither had bought for £17. It claimed the structure would be the first monolithic building in Australia.

Monash showed his customary reluctance to invest work in a project before design had firmed up or to show on drawings details that might allow a competitor to steal his trade 'secrets'. Early in April he told Jackman it was too soon to do the final full drawings and recommended an "open approach" as "details always change". "Our practice … has been to delay the final plans of any floor until the latest moment …", e.g. one one week before they are required. Commencement of engineering calculations and drawings initiated a copious correspondence between JM and W W Harvey, the SARC Resident Engineer.

The Adelaide City Building Surveyor, Mr Vicars, must have questioned the thinness of the proposed external walls and partitions, because Monash supplied Jackman with a four-page letter explaining the concept of the 'curtain wall'. With the columns of a steel or reinforced concrete frame able to transmit the total load of the building to the foundations, "the rectangular panels bounded by any two vertical columns and any two contiguous floor levels may be filled in with very light construction in the form of curtain walls, whose whole function is to keep out the weather, and these walls have no other stresses to carry except their own individual weight and such external wind pressures as they may be liable to". A thickness of 3 inches would suffice for this, but they are generally made 4 to 6 inches thick for fire resistance.

JM quoted as examples Ingall's Building, Cincinatti and transit warehouses on the Manchester Ship Canal (UK). The fire resistance of reinforced concrete had been demonstrated in the Baltimore and San Francisco fires. Instances of thin walls in Australia included GF&Co's Parramatta Gaol, and his own Hide Skin & Tallow Stores, Bank Place Chambers, Malt Storage Tanks (walls 2.5 inches thick), and AML&F Offices. He stated that the walls of the Remand Buildings at Parramatta were only 2.5 inches thick but "these walls have a height of 18 feet and unsupported lengths up to 28 feet"! JM also noted that about 200 super-feet of floors and other slabs had been built in Melbourne, averaging 4 inches in thickness, and in no cases more than 5 inches. Thus, he concluded, a thickness of 6 inches for the walls in Kither's Building would be more than adequate.

JM's reasoning for using structural steel in the facade is contained in his design notes. He calculates that for the "back facade beams" a span of 16'-6" will give a bending moment of 4,420,000 inch-pounds. "This is too high to trust to a Concrete beam of the width available. Hence, employ … a steel beam."

In mid-April, Building Surveyor Vicars asked urgently, through the architects, what proportion of reinforcing steel would be used, as a percentage of the cross-sectional area of concrete in beams, floors and columns. JM replied with alarm that "in view of the full specification of stresses" [in his draft specification] such a question astonished him. "I trust you will not regard it as offensive if I say that the very fact of putting this question betokens some misappreciation of the technique of the subject". It was embarrassing, because it was impossible to give a simple and sensible answer. Designing on the basis of a fixed percentage of steel was "an entirely obsolete practice", modern practice being to design to "stress intensities". The tone of the letter is uncharacteristic of JM, who must have been under some strain at the time. The Melbourne office was juggling many projects and opportunities and the Kither's contract was critical to breaking into the Adelaide market.

Jackman evidently forwarded the letter to Vicars. However on 22nd the City Council approved the plans and on 24th JM wrote to Jackman, presumably for Vicars's benefit, in a more conciliatory tone, regretting that his letter "should have created the impression of annoyance or impatience". "I also repeat now that our detail drawings will show not merely the dimensions but the detailed spacing and location of every bar in every member subject to calculable stress, and this will be furnished in the amplest time to permit a thorough review before the work to which they apply is carried out". Thanking Vicars for the courteous manner in which he had explained the reason for his original enquiry, JM provided a detailed justification of his position on the technical question.

JM was making the point that the same strength of beam can be obtained by having a large concrete cross-section with a small amount of steel, or a smaller concrete section, with a high percentage of steel. Thus it is incorrect to assume a simple correlation between steel percentage and strength. Above a certain percentage, failure will occur due to crushing of the concrete, rather than yielding of the steel, and be undesirably abrupt.

The first requisition for materials for Kither's Building was placed on 25th April 1907. On 27th and 28th, JM updated the calculations for the reinforced concrete, based on the latest versions of the architectural drawings, and on 6 May finalised the computations for the steelwork. In June there was much correspondence about cracks in walls and girders, and damp in the walls affecting the plastering. On 8 August the architects accepted a quote of £823 for an additional storey.

In late September and early October, JM prepared calculations for the balconies. He explained to Harvey that he was very keen not to have steel beams supporting the balconies as "it constitutes an admission of not being able to deal satisfactorily with any structural case that can arise in reinforced concrete, which is a proposition contradicted by world wide experience". In this case he was willing to use a higher strength concrete mix and a higher proportion of reinforcement to keep the thickness of the balcony to the same 19 inches required for a steel alternative. It would be safe to expect 1:2:3 concrete to withstand a stress of 700 psi in bending, as "our Sydney friends frequently do so".

Late in November, JM wrote to Harvey about the crisis caused by slow progress on Kither's Building, saying that the foreman's conduct of the management was "coming under serious review". "Hard headed business men are inclined to pay little regard to the detailed disturbing influences and are prone to judge wholly by results, and this after all is a very sound test".

In February 1908 word was received that Vicars thought he had been "too lenient" with Kither's Building; but was not going to be so with the upcoming building for the Register newspaper.

A draft final account was prepared for Kither's Building on 4 March 1908. The additional floor and minor variations had brought the total price to £5942. Correspondence over dampness in the walls continued for several months, with Jackman worried that the reinforcement would rust, and JM declaring that "briefly, Mr Jackman has got himself into a serious funk".

References are to be found in Jensen, E. and R. Colonial Architecture in South Australia, Adelaide, 1980; and Marsden, Stark and Summerling Heritage of the City of Adelaide 1990. There are four images in the RCMPC records at UMA. There are only three drawings in JTC: the front staircase; a rough part plan showing beam and column numbering; and a drawing of the facade steelwork.

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Government Printing Office, Melbourne.

This was Monash's first building for the Commonwealth Government, represented by Government Architect J. H. Marsden. Monash tried unsuccessfully to avoid being sub-contracted to the Builder, and was again fearful for his intellectual property. Marsden displayed bureaucratic caution in demanding an extraordinary load-test of the reinforced concrete building frame. W. E. L. Wears was active as RCMPC's representative to the architectural profession. The PWD had apparently prepared its own engineering design for the building in steel, and it was Monash's task to persuade them to accept a reinforced concrete frame instead.

Initial architectural drawings of February 1907 show a building with three storeys, each 18 feet high, with a trussed roof. On 27th JM supplied a quote for two fireproof floors, foundations and some columns. The working loads on the first and second floors were to be 4 and 3 cwt per square foot respectively (21.5 and 16.1 kPa). JM emphasised he would prefer to be contracted directly to the PWD, rather than sub-contracted to the Builder. "Owing to the future possibilities for the employment of reinforced concrete construction, we feel sure you will appreciate the opportunity of yourself and staff to have this example under your own immediate supervision".

Original sketch showing how the reinforced concrete floors were integrated with the cast iron columns.On 25 April, Wears informed JM that the PWD had "struck out" the reinforced concrete columns and "substituted steel columns with cast iron boxes" connecting them to the r.c. beams. "It is proposed to … pass the catenary and tension bars through the holes in the cast iron. I do not know how you will receive this idea." JM's response was to obtain a meeting with Marsden who insisted that if reinforced concrete columns were to be retained, they must not be more than 15 × 15 inches in cross-section. After a PWD draughtsman named Abbott had listed the loads imposed on each column, JM did some calculations and said he thought he could achieve this. (JM's idea was to use a stronger concrete mix and heavier reinforcement. The term 'draughtsman' at that time often meant a young graduate in engineering doing design work as well as draughting.)

The next day JM confirmed his proposal and noted that RCMPC would fully guarantee the work for the specified loadings. He told Marsden: "You are entirely at liberty to embody in the contract such stringent provisions as to payments and costs as you may consider desirable to that end". On 29th, JM was told that the Inspector General of the PWD had agreed RCMPC could be nominated for the reinforced concrete work. At the same time, Marsden was pressing for the second floor columns to be narrowed to 12" × 12". JM was sure he could manage this - but in a friendly gesture, Abbott offered to show them as 12 × 12 on the drawings on the understanding they could made 15 × 15 in reality "if that would be better".

One of Monash's memorandums reveals that on 30th, he "called upon Bindley" at the PWD to lobby for more work, but "could find no opening to introduce Windsor Telephone Exchange". "He, however, gave me a hint that there would be some probable work shortly. I spoke to Mr. Marsden and asked him to put in a good word for me and this he has promised to do."

(JM was eventually successful [link].)

In mid May, calculations, drawings and a specification were prepared for the "final design". Then there is a gap until late August, when Wears reported: "It seems that Duncan has been trying to upset matters, however, you may rest assured that he will not be able to do anything." Duncan was to be the general contractor for the building, and he had presumably been trying to loosen JM's grip on the reinforced concrete work.

I have not researched this issue, but Duncan may have urged that RCMPC report to him rather than directly to the PWD; that he be allowed to use a competing system of reinforcement; or perhaps that he build the RCMPC design using his own men.

On 20 September, Marsden wrote to Monash sending a draft specification and noting "it is desired that you should tender to Mr. John Duncan for the construction of the floors and columns in "Reinforced Monier Cement Concrete". I have endeavoured to incorporate the terms of your tender." JM was asked to look through the specification and return it so that a fair copy could be made. The amount of the contract was noted as £716 plus 5 per cent for the builder. Fifty per cent of this was to be retained by the PWD until the tests were complete, and would be handed over only if they proved satisfactory.

On 22nd Monash wrote an impassioned letter to Wears, saying he was in Adelaide and unable to call on Marsden, but objected to certain aspects of the contract and specification.

Following a meeting between Wears and Marsden, JM sent a revised draft of the Specification to the PWD early in October. The next month, H G Jenkinson prepared a drawing of type details for girders and slabs. A specification modified as desired by Marsden and a formal tender were submitted on 19 November. The price was now £764, consisting of basic price £716, plus £10 provision for extras, plus £38 for the "Principal Contractor". The test loads specified were "not greater than" 8 cwt on the first floor and 6 cwt on the second, at an age of not less than eight weeks. JM wrote to Gibson "After negotiations extending over nine months, and much delay, we have at last received an order for the construction of the columns and floors of the Government Printing Office … Owing to the great delay the matter has become extremely urgent."

Construction work was unusually rapid. The first requisition for materials was issued on 4 December. On 14 January 1908, JM reported that reinforced concrete work was "substantially completed" and awaiting stripping of formwork. He requested a progress payment of £380.

The test did not take place until June and as preparations commenced, JM re-checked the strength of the floor plates. For the second floor, allowing 20 per cent redistribution of bending moments over supports, he found a factor of safety of 3. In his view this was inadequate. As the test load was twice the expected working load on the second floor, the structure would be pushed to 2/3 of its theoretical capacity. He was concerned this would permanently damage it. Having checked the strength of the main girders, he wrote to Mr Morell of the PWD, suggesting the test be applied only to them, in the form of a concentrated load at mid-span. He claimed this would be worse than the general floor load. "I am suggesting these severer conditions because I wish to avoid the possibility of having the test sneered at by critics as inconclusive." He was informed that Marsden intended to continue with the test as planned.

Monash went back to his calculations and on 15th complained that he had just learned the test load [on the first floor] was 18 inches of "practically solid lead". This meant 10 cwt per square foot, or over 2.5 times its working load. Predicting this would strain the steel [in places] beyond its elastic limit, he stated that RCMPC would take no responsibility for "injury in the shape of cracks and deformations caused by such excessive loading". A load of 6 cwt, though 1.5 times working load would be a "reasonable" test. However, "the most modern and scientific method of testing is to load with the working load and carefully observe the behaviour of the structure under such conditions. It has been fully recognised that overloading during test proves nothing and only tends to injure the construction".

Monash's arguments must have had at least partial effect. On 25th he thanked Marsden for sending the detailed results. He noted that "the loading applied exceeded the working load by 50 per cent and the span was nearly 20 feet". The elastic deflection was one eighth of an inch, i.e. less than 1/1800 of the span. "According to authority, the deflection could have been quite four times this … without any danger".

Our research notes do not indicate whether the test involved the floor slab or the girder alone.

In September the matter of Duncan's 5 per cent was still being discussed.


Willis & Co's Building (portions).

This was a job for architect Teague, apparently with C. Wadey as general contractor. Calculations and estimates were prepared in February and April 1907 for sections of floor, columns, footings, walls, and "bulkheads" in reinforced concrete to a value of £614. An account was rendered early in June. Later that month came a design for a girder to support stampers. A memo dated 18 June reads: "Called on Mr. Teague who told me that the loads had been wrongly stated to me, the actual stress [sic] being that due to eight (8) or perhaps later on ten (10) stampers, each having a 60 lb ram falling 6'-0". He also stated … dimensions of girders would require altering … 24' net span vs. 26', 2'-6" wide, not 2'-0". I worked out an amended price of £28." A drawing in JTC dated 15 August shows details of a reinforced concrete staircase, by H G Jenkinson.

For JM and his colleagues, the term 'stress' was not confined to its present meaning of 'force per unit cross-sectional area' within a material; but could be used interchangeably with 'load' or 'force'.

Metropolitan Meat Market (floor).

This was a job for architects Gibbs & Finlay, with W E L Wears acting as go-between. The general contractors were Swanson Bros.

In March 1907, Wears quoted, on behalf of RCMPC for "a Monier reinforced concrete floor, about 7400 square feet (this figure was later revised) to carry a 4-ton-load wagon, a ½-ton-load wagon, and two horses 1½ tons, equal to 6 tons maximum on one bay - with 6" bluestone cubes on roadway." There would be three continuous longitudinal girders 14 feet apart, with cross girders at 4.5 foot intervals. The longitudinal girders would be supported at 9 foot intervals on iron columns, so that there would be a column under every second point of intersection with the cross-beams. Approximate dimensions would be: floor plate 5" thick; main girders projecting 12" below the floor plate and 15" wide; secondary girders projecting 9" below the floor plate and 8" wide. "Our estimate £905 with discount to contractor, or £814-10-0 nett."

Plan showing the grid-like pattern of beams in a basically rectangular building.

Beam layout for the Meat Market floor. From a drawing by S J Lindsay, signed "John Monash M.Inst.C.E. 24/6/07". Overall dimensions of floor: 108 ft × 55'-6". At the longer walls, the ends of the beams were built into pockets formed in the masonry. The shorter walls had corbels as well. The enlarged details in the lower right-hand corner of the image show dimensions of the pockets and of the corbel.

The draft specification for Swanson Bros, and Monash's detailed calculations, were prepared in April. S J Lindsay prepared more calculations for the secondary girders. Quantities were taken off, and on 13 June the first requisition for purchase of materials was sent to Gibson. On 24th HGJ's drawing was issued showing the floor plan (above) and typical reinforcement of slab and beams, and in mid-July a proforma was drawn up to assist detailing of bars for individual beams.

In August the customary dispute arose over the builder's claim for 10 per cent commission. JM wrote to Swanson Bros "we do not know how the architects ultimately specified the work". RCMPC's quote had been £905 with discount to the contractor, or £814-10-0 nett. JM did not know whether they specified 'prime cost' or 'net'. The matter had been entirely in their hands. Swansons replied: "We still consider we are entitled to 10 per cent off the account, otherwise we do not receive any consideration for paying the money. We respectfully remind you that in our opinion … you are not justified in quoting any prices to the Architects that do not carry 10 per cent for the Builder, if you expect the builder to pay the account and lay out of his money, until the Architects give Certificates for same and, also, run the risks of not being paid at all."

Monash replied that he could not give the 10 per cent twice over, and he did not know what the architect had specified. He did not want Swanson to take any risk - he just wanted a progress payment of £500. Swanson countered that RCMPC must obtain a certificate from the architects before he would hand over the money. On 8 November RCMPC issued a statement in respect of a certificate for £820-16-0 just received, that "We guarantee the floors constructed by us to carry the full structural dead load, inclusive of stone paving, and in addition the load of a wagon and teams having a gross weight of 6 tons on any one floor bay, without sign of permanent deformation in any direction".

Reference: Lewis, M. B., The Metropolitan Meat Market, Bates, Smart & McCutcheon, Melbourne, 1984.
The UMA file contains an architectural drawing (ink and pencil, tinted) showing a plan of the basement, and a half lateral cross-section of the superstructure.

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