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Notes on Building Projects
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Note. 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.

Verco's Building, Adelaide (Stage 1)

Facade of Verco's Building. The ground floor is picked out in darker stone. As usual, the vertical sides of the facade are emphasised. Full-height lines of projecting masonry frame the outer windows, and end above the cornice in a sort of aedicule. In the centre panel, the top storey has a corbelled balcony and small arched windows. There is little ornament, but the cornice at the top is exagerrated. The photograph by Geoff Taplin, c2004, shows the North Terrace facade of the completed project. Historic photographs from the State Library of South Australia are referenced in the text below. Thanks to Richard Venus for drawing my attention to them, and for explaining the sequencing of the Verco project. A.H.

This building was for Dr William Alfred Verco, physician and developer. The architect, Eric H McMichael, was married to Verco's daughter Constance. It was McMichael's first commission, and it set him on the path to a successful career. [Marsden et al.1990, p.112.] The site was at the corner of North Terrace and Stephens Place, one block east of King William St. There was a two-storey building on the corner, containing doctors' professional rooms. Verco decided to develop his project in two stages; the first situated behind the existing building. The old building would then be demolished, and Stage 2 erected to front North Terrace.

State Library of South Australia image B 9490 shows the old building. Behind it may be seen the temporary face of Stage 1 of the Verco Building, awaiting the addition of Stage 2.

On 22 July 1911, H G Jenkinson advised Monash: "A day or two ago I went round to the site in North Terrace with Mr McMichael, Architect, and chatted about sundry matters. Mr McMichael stated that his plans will be ready for us very shortly". On 2 August he reported that he had seen the plans. The building 'now' had seven storeys and a basement. On 12th he reported he had seen the plans again, and there had been "lots of changes to suit future tenants". It would be another fortnight before they were ready for tendering, but "There is no talk of any other construction but reinforced concrete in connection with the matter".

Jenkinson must have given McMichael an early estimate of £7000 for the reinforced concrete work; but after the architect decided to exclude the outside finish and "sundry items", this came down to £6000. On 25 August, HGJ sent Monash six pages of handwritten notes and figuring along with the drawings. He estimated the cost of reinforced concrete construction at £4341, allowed £440 for admininstration etc, and £1100 clear margin, to give a total of £5881. He explained "One reason for the comparatively high rates employed in some instances is the lofty nature of the structure".

The drawings must have been sent back to Adelaide, as none relevant to the Verco Building are to be found in the J Thomas Collection.

Monash responded with an analysis and partial re-design of the structure and came up with a basic cost of £3861. He added 2.5% (£97) for contingencies, 7.5% (£291) for "engineering and administration", and £1000 as clear margin, to give a total of £5249 for the quote. After dictating the covering letter, he found a slip in his arithmetic. After correcting this, the total was £5029. The covering letter, dated 28 August, is typical of Monash's patient and courteous tutoring of his assistants, and provides an example of interaction between engineering and architecture and of business tactics. It is therefore reproduced in full below. At least two letters each way crossed in the post, but essential facts and positions were sorted out by wire.

Monash to Jenkinson, 28 August 1911.

"I was at the outset struck by the very high price having regard to the cubic bulk, and therefore decided to go into the matter rather more closely than usual.

Herewith three sheets of computations and a tracing sketch …

My first point of attack of your computations is in regard to your arrangement of columns. You show 23 columns, of which seven are interior columns. I think you have overlooked the fact that it would be very inconvenient to carry down seven interior columns through Ground Floor and Basement, where no walls occur. I consider you can, in view of the very short spans, easily deal with the case with three interior columns; all of them in the line of the Ground floor division wall. My sketch herewith shows my scheme. Owing to the short E. and W. spans a secondary system would hardly be economic, though of course there is no objection to it from our point of view if the Architect has none, and if it works out more cheaply.

However, I have worked it out on the supposition that we have no secondaries. This scheme would require a 4½" floorplate throughout; but only seven comparatively light primary girders and two very light secondary girders (dotted). One point involved in this is to try and induce the Architect to put the walls under girders HG, and GF in a straight line. This would mean a lengthening of Room No.1 and a shortening of room No.7 by a few inches. It is not at all necessary for girder GF to come over centre of wall; it can be wholly to one side and in contact with partition wall. In this way the alteration in position of wall GF would be very little. If however, the Architect objects, we would get a shear in girder GK near G, which can be met by a corbel at G.

My floor system works out a little dearer than your estimate; but I think you will agree that, apart from mere estimates the scheme I propose would actually work out more cheaply in practice.

As to wall girders and wall columns, these would be very insignificant, on the average. Only in the lower storeys would it be necessary to consider a projection inwards. The walls, running vertically unbroken, would be very effective columns for a width of 2 ft or 3 ft of wall section. There is no reason that I can see why the whole of the wall load on all facades, except the east, cannot be assumed to be carried direct by the basement walls, which would act as girders to deliver these loads to the localized footings.

I have recomputed the whole of the quantities, and find yours are full and overlapping in many directions. On the other hand, my rates are I think quite on a level with yours throughout.

You will note that I bring out a result which is £630 less than yours for the quote. [This figure became £850 after correction of arithmetic.] Even at my figure it is very high, and the real truth is that, except for the enormous saving of space, there is no commercial advantage in using concrete for a tall narrow building like this.

Now, I have nothing whatever to guide me on the expectation of the Architect or his client in the matter of cost. My instinct is to quote as low as we can for this block, so as to commit them to going ahead, and later being compelled to complete the building on the same lines, but on better terms for us. Of course, if you have good reason for believing the Architect will go to nearer £6000, I have no objection at all to increasing our margin. But you must take the responsibility of forming your judgment on this locally.

Please go carefully over my computations, in a critical spirit. They are quite unchecked. If you discover errors and omissions in excess of the contingency I have allowed, do not hesitate to write up my price.

In quoting the Architect, be at pains to state clearly what we do, and what we don't do, for the total named, and let me have a copy of your letter of quote."

Before JM's letter reached him, Jenkinson had given McMichael the figure of £5800, minus £600 if the top storey were to be omitted. The architect had adopted the cheaper option, at £5200. Verco's entire project involved about three times as much concrete, suggesting a total figure of £15,600. On the advice of fellow architect Jackman, McMichael then doubled this figure to allow for the trade and architectural work, obtaining a grand total of £31,200. However, Verco had expected to spend only £30,000. McMichael had agreed that doubling the basic cost probably led to an over-estimate, but suggested using something other than concrete for the partitions. Jenkinson claimed to have put him off this by pointing out the superiority of r.c. partitions.

When JM's long letter arrived, Jenkinson's response was: "Your sound observations show very clearly that my original estimate was very full, but I do not want you to think that the matters you mention had been in any way overlooked here. It was as well, I thought, to have all such economies up my sleeve in dealing with McMichael". McMichael would have accepted the £5800 figure - Verco was the problem. "It appeared to me that my estimate could easily be reduced by £500, still leaving a very fair job, as well as practically clinching a large volume of future work for us in connection with the rest of the building. Your wire caused me immediately to approach McMichael - making rather a song about cutting things fine to obtain the work and so forth - with the happy result that today he informed me that the work was ours. You may be sure that in the final design every chance will be taken of effecting economies. This is always done."

Jenkinson later wired JM that McMichael had given the go-ahead at £5300, less £600 if the top storey were omitted. JM replied that using £5300 as the quote and McMichael's reasoning gave £28,200 for the total cost of the project, i.e. less than Verco's limit of £30,000. "Unless you are able to discover some serious error or under estimates in my figures it would look as if we can easily clear £1100 or £1200 upon a quote price of £5200 or thereabouts."

On 30 August, Jenkinson sent a formal quote and specification to McMichael who, in accepting it, put it the other way round: £4700 for six floors, with a possible extra floor for £600.

On 9 September, HGJ reported that a good start had been made with excavation. The first requisition for reinforcement was issued on 25th. On 30th, he reported that heavy rain had delayed excavation, but a start had been made on underpinning. The ground was treacherous. On 7th, he announced that a bank had broken away perilously close to an existing building, and the excavators had been forced to stop work temporarily. The building was now strutted and work had restarted. A positive outcome was that Verco had decided to dispense with a temporary intervening wall and agreed to come right up against "his" existing building.

On 21 October, HGJ reported that excavation was almost finished, and work had started on the reinforced concrete retaining walls and columns. The ground was "the most treacherous we have ever struck here". By 4 November, all external basement walls had been placed and there were only 3 basement columns to go. Work had started on the timbering for the ground floor. There must then have been a hiatus owing to labour troubles, because on 27 January 1912, HGJ reported: "Work is in full swing at this job once more. The centering for Ground Floor has been put in order after the long period of idleness and we are concreting one panel today". By 5 February, the ground floor had been concreted and the walls and columns started. By 19th, the ground floor columns and outside walls were all concreted and a start had been made on concreting the first floor.

Reports continued in this vein until 15 July, when only the parapet and rooftop machinery room remained to be concreted, and about two-thirds of the partitions on the fifth floor. By 29th HGJ reported that half the partition work on 5th floor was still not done and the parapet was not yet finished. "Owing to the large amount of ornamentation and cornice work, this portion of the job has progressed rather more slowly than anticipated." However, on 3 September 1912, he was able to write: "We have finished here except that plasterer Lapthorne has two flights of stairs to render".

On 25 March 1913, HGJ sent a final cost analysis of the building to JM. Verco was talking of building a small portion of the remainder of the project, about half the size of the first building, towards the end of October (1913). SARC's work on this would be worth just over £2000. Monash was concerned that the percentage of steel used in the building averaged 1%. He asked if this was due to an error in the records, or was in the nature of work. HGJ replied that it was due to the fact that there had been so many r.c. partitions. They represented half the volume of concrete on the project. He mentioned that Verco was now talking of finishing the entire project at the end of the year.

A State Library of South Australia image of Stephens Place B 1811 shows the completed Stage 1 building with the old house beyond it.

Engineering topics (Verco Building)

Specification details:

In September 1911, HGJ wrote to JM that McMichael had asked about a damp proof course. HGJ was considering using a waterproof compound such as "Medusa" in the basement concrete, but was loath to do so and wanted JM's opinion. Monash said he assumed it was a question of a vertical damp proof course. A horizontal one would be out of the question, as it would interfere with load transmission. He continued that Medusa was "merely an alum adulterant" and had serious effects upon the physical properties of the resulting concrete. The basement walls would be be 9 inches thick and HGJ should tell McMichael that "we have tanks working under 50 feet head of water with base thickness walls of 5" or 6" and they have become perfectly watertight … In cases where the Architect has been nervous or excited over the question of water-tightness of the basement walls, we have taken out the excavation some 3 or 4 inches larger - put in broken stone and agricultural drains, sump, and discharge to sewer." This had been Melbourne practice and had also been applied in Adelaide.

The George Hotel (addition), Victoria Street, Melbourne

1. Facade nearing completion. The ground floor appears as two shop fronts of unequal width. The first floor has a simple aedicule in the centre flanked by two large windows. Strong bands and a simple cornice mark the roof line. Above this is a parapet with an undulating coping. The central aedicule theme is carried up to rise above the line of the parapet. 2. Cross-section showing added frontage one room wide.

1. Facade nearing completion. University of Melbourne Archives. Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co. Collection, GPNB/1203.
2. Cross-section showing added frontage one room wide. (Based on a drawing in UMA).

The photograph above has been cropped. The original shows the complete facade of W T Simpson's shop to the right, and part of Gale's shop to the left. Another image in UMA, with Location No. GPNB/1202, shows a more frontal view of the George with parts of the adjoining shops.

This intriguing project involved an eight-foot wide slice added to the front of the George Hotel in Victoria St, North Melbourne, including the facade, which was modelled in reinforced concrete. From the only drawing in JTC it is impossible to tell whether the slice was a replacement for previously existing structure, or an extension to the building.The upper storey may have served as a balcony to existing rooms, or may have extended the rooms forward. The sketch at right gives an idea of the facade, with what looks like shop fronts at pavement level.

The second sketch (to a larger scale) shows a cross-section through the new work, looking from the right-hand end of the first sketch. The oriel windows can be seen projecting from the facade.There had been previous contact between RCMPC and architects Gibbs & Finlay in July 1906 regarding additions to the George Hotel, involving walls and floors. It appears that RCMPC did not win that contract. A message recorded by their clerk, John McNaught, says their quote was "a little bit" above the others and that "Mr Gibbs says Contractors complain about delay caused by Monier Work, and are not prepared to stand by a time contract with this system included". On 4 September 1911, RCMPC submitted a quote of £164 for erecting the 'slice' of building shown in the cross-section. The facade is entirely in r.c., even to the mullions of the oriel windows. The width of the facade was about 28 feet. The owner at the time was Edgar Solomon. The architect was C E Wright and the Builder a Mr McIndo. The ground floor side walls of the new section were existing brick. A new intermediate wall was built in r.c. giving the appearance of two 'shop fronts'. At first floor level, the side walls were of r.c. The first floor and its 'ceiling' were both 3 inch slabs. Their rear edges were supported on beams. The upper beam was propped by a r.c. column standing on the rear end of the intermediate ground floor wall.

The first requisition for materials was issued on 9 November. Detailed calculations and the drawing now in JTC carry the same date. The draughtsman was J A Laing. Fairway signed as Engineer on Monash's behalf. The final statement was issued on 12 January 1912.

Amalgamated Pictures Theatre, Flinders Street

Our research notes list the architects for this project as Nahum Barnett and Klingender & Alsop. The records describe a Henry Byatt as "carrying out the work for the proprietors (taking the usual place of a Contractor)". The main structure was of steel. RCMPC tendered for reinforced concrete floors, partitions, and lintels, and the casing of rolled steel joists. Structural computations, quantities and estimates for the reinforced concrete were prepared by P T Fairway in September 1911. The quotation was accepted on 20 December, and the first requisition for materials was issued on 29th. RCMPC's work seems to have been completed by mid-1912. The final account was for £1699. There are no engineering drawings preserved in the RCMPC file, or in JTC.

Morris Residence, Adelaide

This was a large residence at Unley Park for Mr Morris of Walter & Morris, Timber Merchants. The architects were Davies & Claridge. SARC constructed the footings and a balcony supported on reinforced concrete columns running half way around the house. Jenkinson notified Monash in September 1911 that he had submited a tender for £793. On 12 April 1912, he announced the work was complete. It had been very slow "because of the leisurely pace of the main contractor".

Malvern Tramway Trust Building

The plan is like a blunted triangle. The building has masonry external and internal walls. An orthogonal grid of beams is fitted within this shape.This is described as New Offices for the Malvern & Prahran Tramway Trust, Malvern. RCMPC's work included a reinforced concrete ground floor, shown in the plan (at right). The area at the bottom of the plan also had a r.c. first floor, with a r.c. ceiling above it. Other work included stairs, partitions, and lintels. The concrete slabs were built into masonry walls. The architect was L J Flanagan, and the Builder T Cockram Jun. Cockram accepted RCMPC's quote on 20 October 1911. Their first requisition for materials was issued on 21 November, and their final statement on 14 February 1912. There is one drawing in JTC, from which the ground floor plan (at right) is taken.

Brennan's Amphitheatre

This building was renamed the National Theatre shortly after it opened, then renamed The Palace c1916, then the Apollo in 1923, then the St James c1929 and finally the Metro c1940. Some blueprints are at the Public Record Office Victoria. (Information supplied by Peter Johnson.)

There are two drawings in JTC entitled "Brennan's Theatre" that appear to relate to ancillary parts of the building. The first is dated 9 October 1911, and shows plans of a ground floor (above a basement) and a first floor, in what looks like the end of a long rectangular building. At their edges, the floors are built into thick masonry walls. A noteworthy feature is two 'wall girders' which are the full height of the ground storey and serve both the ground and first floor slabs. As was now common in RCMPC drawings for buildings, the major dimensions were omitted. The second drawing, dated 11 January 1912, shows what must be a revised layout for the first floor. It shows a concrete ceiling over some of the first floor rooms, and details of stairs. Details of some typical girders are provided in both drawings. They are drawn by J A Laing and initalled by P T Fairway on behalf of Monash. I found no correspondence in the RCMPC records relating to this project.

Dressing Room, "Cranleigh"

The house is steeply gabled. The concrete box that forms the new room projects in both directions from a corner, at first floor level. It has a crenellated parapet.This was a small job, but illustrates the confidence with which RCMPC inserted reinforced concrete elements into existing buildings and exploited the ability of the new material to cantilever. Drawings in JTC show the room tucked into a re-entrant corner of the existing house at first floor level. (It is tinted yellow in the sketch at right, which is taken from a copy of the architects' drawing.) Doors connected the new room to the existing bath and bed rooms. It has a reinforced concrete floor, 9' by 11'-6" internally, supported by, and projecting beyond, the brick wall of the room below. The projecting walls of the dressing room are of r.c. and it has a flat r.c. roof. The floor and roof slabs are to be let into the taller walls of the main structure and the cavities of the double-leaf brick walls are to be "very carefully" filled with concrete. This and the flat concrete roof must have led to problems with water penetration. The work was done for Mrs E L Jack. The architects were Butler & Bradshaw. A quote for £130 was issued on 3 October 1911, and the final account on 12 December. Calculations were by P T Fairway, who signed the engineering drawing for Monash. The engineering draughtsman was F H Foster.

Francis & Co Pharmacy, Bourke St.

This building is at 280-282 Bourke St, Melbourne. It is classified by the National Trust Victoria (file B4832). The date "1849" on the facade presumably records the foundation of the firm. The proprietors were Henry Francis & Co, pharmacists. Lewis and Jacobs (1976) note that the architect, Nahum Barnet, had a reputation for making the most of an awkward site (this one is 20 feet wide) and that he "used the vertical characteristics of medieval architecture to dramatic effect". They name the general contractor as C O Luff & Co. The NT website describes the facade as "overblown Venetian Gothic"; but who cares, when it is moulded in genuine reinforced concrete?

1. Facade: line drawing and photo. The architect's line drawing is reminiscent of a gothic church. 2. In the photo the detail of the gothic styling is less evident. Oriel windows at the first and second floors have four mullions and rectangular lights. The top floor window is more church-like, with three panels and an arched top. The pointed gable is decorated with finials.

1. Barnet's drawing for the facade includes the elevation reproduced here; also vertical and horizontal cross sections. On the copy now in the J. Thomas Collection, Monash indicated reinforcement for flat surfaces, pillars, mullions, pointed arches, etc. Most obvious in the reproduction at left are curved bars for the arched entrance, and a schematic indication of the grid, shown in the panel to the right of the arch.
2. Photograph 2005.

The only internal column shown on the JTC drawings provides support for a stairway. The walls are of r.c. with engaged columns and 'half-footings' projecting inwards only. There are Basement, Ground, Mezzanine, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd storeys. The rear part is not as tall as the front, having a flat r.c. roof at 2nd floor level. The roof of the front section is pitched, except where a concrete-walled room projects above the staircase.

It seems the building was originally planned with masonry walls. In November 1911, RCMPC quoted £1489 for the concrete work, but in July 1912 this was increased to £2187 for a building entirely in reinforced concrete. Negotiations followed, with a number of intermediate quotations and some revision of the ground floor. The earliest engineering drawing preserved in JTC was signed by P T Fairway on 11 September 1912, and shows details of footings, walls, engaged columns, floors, and beams. The second is dated 20 October, and shows the amended ground floor, a column to support a stair, and sections through the basement with pavement lights, walls and floor. Both were drawn by T H Upton and signed on behalf of Monash by Fairway, who had prepared the computations. A final account for £2575 was rendered on 24 April 1913.

Lewis and Jacobs note that alterations were made in 1934, which they think could have been made "to rectify problems encountered in construction due to the basement not being waterproofed, which could have resulted in cracking of the capitals of ground floor columns in 1916". (They refer to Building, 12 Dec 1916, p.57.)

RCMPC's conviction that basements did not need waterproofing came from experience with water tanks in which leakage eventually ceased due to efflorescence. See JM's comments in relation to Verco's Building and my notes on leakage in tanks. A.H.

Patterson Laing and Bruce, additions to warehouses

This project involved additional floors for two warehouses in Flinders Lane, Melbourne. The first was internally 154 feet long and 30 feet wide for most of its length, the front bays being slightly wider. RCMPC installed fourth and fifth floors, a flat roof and a water tank. The floor and roof beams spanned the width of the building without internal columns. The new structure was based on existing brick walls reaching to fourth floor level, so only the fifth floor needed external walls in reinforced concrete. As usual the columns were engaged with the 6-inch wall.

Longitudinal cross-section of the added floors, with water tank projecting above.

The computations and estimate for Building 1 were prepared by P T Fairway in November 1911. Our research notes indicate that a quote of £3294 was sent to builders Taylor & Spargo but do not state whether they won the general contract. Detailed computations were completed by the beginning of February 1912, and the first requisition for materials was issued on 2nd. More calculations were produced by Fairway up to July, marked "for the site architect". On 20 May, RCMPC advised that their work on the building was basically complete. Their final account for this building was issued on 30 July 1912.

Drawings show the second warehouse to have been "about" 101 × 109 feet. Again the additions involved 4th and 5th floors and roof, founded on existing brick construction. Engineering drawings date from June and July 1912. It is likely that the detailed computations were done by J A Laing, as were some of those for the first building. A quote of £6722 made to J A Taylor is dated 25 June and the first requisition followed the next day. Work on this building was marred when one of RCMPC's workers, F Dalton, was injured by a faulty winch. On 27 August, Monash advised Alex Lynch that the union was ready to fight over the matter, claiming that RCMPC had not repaired the winch despite repeated notification. On 3 September, JM informed the Company Secretary, E A Newbigin, that Dalton was still in hospital and "maimed for life". He had donated £5 towards a fund raised by Lynch. On 12 November 1912, RCMPC recorded that its work on the second building would be basically complete within a week. The final account was issued on 13 January 1913.

D & W Murray Warehouse (tender)

Late in November 1911, Bates Peebles & Smart approached Monash about an additional storey for the D & W Murray Warehouse at 257-265 Flinders Lane. Initial calculations were prepared by Fairway and quotes were sent to a number of builders in January 1912. Although the project has its own file in the RCMPC records there is no evidence that the tender was successful.

Metropolitan Gas Company Offices, West Melbourne

For much of 1911, RCMPC was involved in heavy industrial work for the Metropolitan Gas Company at its West Melbourne plant. The ground was poor, and foundation rafts and large spread footings were required. Monash paid close attention to the design of foundations, retaining walls, and coke hoppers. Most of the relevant drawings in JTC are signed by him personally as Engineer. This must be one reason why he left architectural projects increasingly to P T Fairway in 1911.

The project included a plain two-storey office building for the gas company, presumably on the same site, about 70 × 44 feet in plan, with three rows of columns in the longitudinal direction. The company's Engineer, P C Holmes Hunt, sent Monash the architectural drawings in November 1911. Fairway prepared the computations for foundations, 15 columns, ground and first floors plus walls, and the lower parts of the chimneys. His estimate of cost was £948, to which was added a 30% margin to give a quotation of £1233, rounded up to £1243! On 7 December, Hunt declared the site ready. RCMPC's formal tender was submitted the next day. Presumably having received a verbal acceptance, Fairway then completed his detailed calculations and formal acceptance was notified on 12th. On 16th the foreman, A E Jones, reported that he had started bending reinforcing bars.

An early drawing shows the perimeter of the building and the central row of columns supported on extremely wide strip footings (the widest being 8'-9") with a strong upstand beam 2 feet deep, the aim being to spread the load as widely as possible. However, this portion of the drawing is crossed "Amended. See Papers. 18.12.11" and it appears that individual spread footings were used instead.

On 21 February 1912, Hunt sent a personal letter to Monash, saying he was worried about slow progress, though he was "fully aware of the difficulty there is nowadays regarding labour". On 23 March, he reminded JM that the project was 5 weeks over the deadline, though he admitted that some delay had been due to slow delivery of instructions from the architect. The "final" account for £1312 was submitted on 17 May 1912. A further final account for £1307 was submitted on 30 July, and yet another, for £1321, on 5 August.

Soward's Floors (project)

This unsuccessful project provides a glimpse into an architect/engineer relationship between George Soward of English & Soward and A A Hargrave of SARC. My impression is that Hargrave was the younger man. In November 1911, he wrote to Monash: "We have been asked by Mr Soward, Architect, to quote for 1st and 2nd floors wholly in reinforced concrete in a building 74'-2" × 84'-6" interior dimensions. The floors are to be supported on cast iron or steel columns provided by the Architect. The direction and number of mains and secondaries has been fixed by Mr Soward, who does not wish to have too many girders on account of the shadows thrown on the ceiling which interfere with the light." Soward wanted alternative quotes for floor loads of 2 cwt or 3 cwt per square foot. AAH continued: "The site of the building is within the City proper, but Mr Soward is not inclined to mention the exact locality". Soward might also ask for a quote for a reinforced concrete slab supported on steel beams.

Hargrave's figures gave the cost for 2 cwt per square foot live load as £1493, to which he added "administration, standing charges, etc" of £150 and a margin of £450, giving a figure for quotation of £2093. For 3 cwt live load the figures were 1770 + 180 + 500, giving a total of £2450.

Monash replied that the figuring seemed correct, but the costs per "square" were surprisingly high at £16 and £19 respectively. He blamed this on the Architect's stipulations. The high prescribed floor loads meant it was unlikely he knew what he was doing. It would be more sensible to take 1.5 cwt, which would allow a £200 reduction in cost. The arrangement of secondary beams prescribed by Soward was very uneconomic. A three-bay subdivision giving a plate with secondaries at 5'-8" centres ("5 feet net") would allow reductions in slab thickness from 5 to 3.5 inches and from 6 to 4 inches, knocking £250 and £375 off projected costs. JM continued: "The reason given by the Architect for reducing the number of secondaries is wrong". Fewer secondaries would mean deeper secondaries and therefore greater interference with light. "So far as I can judge, your proper procedure is to go first to the Architect, and submit the points mentioned in my paras 4, 5, and 6 to him, giving him a rough idea of the savings that could be effected by adopting my suggestions. Say that the opinions emanate from me. See how he takes it." If Soward could be persuaded to adopt all or any of these propositions, Hargrave should keep present estimates to himself, redesign the structure and submit the quotes to the architect. "Report your action fully."

Hargrave had mentioned his concern over a possible increase in labourers' wages, but Monash thought the risk had to be taken, as making the costs even higher would "simply kill all prospects of business".

Replying to Monash, Hargrave wrote: "I had already pointed out to Mr Soward that his loading was exceptionally heavy, and that our factor of safety was liberal, but he was adamant on this point. I had also pointed out that a three-bay subdivision would be far cheaper, but Mr Soward seems to object to any form of dictation even when things are put to him in the most courteous manner. I rang Mr Soward up … and he at once prevented me from following the procedure suggested by you by asking me straight out for my quotes, which I was compelled to give him. However, I managed to inform him that under certain considerations of design, we could probably satisfy him and save his client between £400 and £500 on the job. Following this, I personally delivered to Mr Soward this morning a confirmation of our verbal quotes, at the same time pointing out your suggestions. Mr Soward would not discuss the matter any further, but verified my statement that his specified loads were added loads and did not include self-loads. He stated that we would hear from him shortly."

By "self-load" AAH meant the weight of the floor itself, also referred to as 'self-weight'.

SARC later carried out work for Soward at the residence of Mr Angas, one of their directors, and at Professional Chambers at 188 North Terrace, Adelaide, for the "South Australian Company" (now "Gawler Chambers").

Monash and the South Australian Building Regulations, 1911

On 14 November 1911, both A A Hargrave and F Nicholls, Secretary of SARC, wrote to Monash with concerns over the South Australian Building Act 1911. This had passed its third reading in the House of Assembly, and was now in the hands of the Legislative Council. Nicholls noted that "very little attention has been paid to Reinforced Concrete construction, and some of the clauses, particularly in regard to thickness of walls are disadvantageous to our work. Mr Bakewell [Managing Director] has seen the Hon B A Moulden who has charge of the Bill in the Upper House, and he has promised that the consideration of the Bill will be postponed until tomorrow week (Wednesday 22nd), but if absolutely necessary, he thinks he can further postpone it. Mr Moulden, who is a personal friend of Mr Bakewell's anticipates no difficulty in introducing suitable amendments in connection with concrete construction. The Bill is an amendment of the Old Act, but in its present form has not been approved by the Institute of Architects, as there was no time for a meeting to be called. The Bill was only introduced for the first time on November 8th, and until yesterday escaped our notice. Mr Rutt, Secretary of the S. A. Institute of Architects, says that it is not likely that their Society will offer opposition to any reasonable amendments we may wish to introduce."

Nicholls enclosed a copy of the Act, and asked if Monash could go through it and return it by Monday's mail [20th]. If so, it would avoid the need for further postponement.

Monash replied on 16th: "This matter has taken me very much by surprise and I scarcely know how to deal with it in the short time available. It really requires an exhaustive study of the present Bill and a comparison of same with existing enactments. It is hard to foresee to what extent an unsympathetic Building Surveyor might be able to use the Clauses in the Schedule to our disadvantage. However, I shall do my very utmost to post you by Monday a series of comments upon the Bill as it stands, but I may have to send you my mere manuscript notes, as there will scarcely be time to have a proper report typed. It will take several hours' close study to grasp the real effect of the provisions as they may affect us, and it may require a good deal of explanation to make the points involved clear to a layman." [It appears that JM's manuscript notes were sent to SARC where they were typed up and a copy sent back to JM.]

Monash's comments typify his attention to detail, his forensic skills, and his readiness to be blunt when necessary. They are intended for publication.

"The subjoined criticisms of the Bill now before the Legislative Council are framed chiefly from the point of view of the rational and safe employment of Reinforced Concrete in Modern Building Construction. However a perusal of the measure shows that it is full of inconsistencies and blemishes, both in subject-matter and in drafting. The attempt to preserve the language of former enactments, side by side with the introduction of new forms of construction to which such language is inapplicable, lead to manifest absurdities.

"The Council would be well advised to refer the Bill to a Select Committee to take evidence of competent persons upon such points - otherwise the Bill will involve much difficulty and hardship. As an illustration of errors in drafting, take clause 12 which prescribes a margin of safety of "one third". The draughtsman probably meant a "factor of safety of three to one", but even this is absurdly low, as prudent practice demands a factor of at least 4 in the best materials [and] up to 6 or 8 in perishable materials. According to the Clause as drafted, if a pier had to carry 120 tons, the Building Surveyor would have to pass it if it were shown to have a total calculated strength of 160 tons; but it is absolutely essential that the calculated strength of such a pier should be at least 480 tons.

"Clause 13 (c). This clause would operate to entirely prohibit the modern frame construction, in which not merely shop fronts, but all frontage walls are available for wide window openings giving the benefits of light and air.

"Clause 32. If such a building is divided horizontally by approved fire proof floors, this would be an even more effective subdivision than by party walls. Consequently in cases where a building is so subdivided, each division (or storey) should be permitted to reach 400,000 cubic feet. This case is not entirely covered by Clause 33.

"There is a great deal of matter in Part 3 of the Act which is of a highly technical character, likely to require modification from time to time with the advance of science. It would be much better if much of such matter were made the subject of a separate bye-law or schedule, and so capable of modification from time to time as required.

"In Schedule 1 clause 4 & 5 the proportions for concrete specified are much stronger than required by any other Building Regulations in the world. A proportion of 1 part of cement to six parts of other ingredients is amply strong for the very highest class of reinforced concrete floor work; whereas for foundations 1 part of cement to 8 parts of other ingredients is sufficient. The effect of the clauses as drafted is merely to unnecessarily enhance the cost of building; and is not in accordance with modern practice elsewhere.

"Clause 7 is inapplicable to Reinforced Concrete structures and these should be specially exempted. In such structures a damp proof course is unnecessary and would in most cases be very harmful.

Clause 9, after the word "concrete", the words "unless reinforced" should be inserted; otherwise we would have the absurdity of reinforced concrete walls being made up to 20 inches thick, which need be only 6 inches thick. The second sentence commencing "all solid concrete walls …" should be deleted, so as to take reinforced concrete wholly out of the operation of this clause. Whoever drafted this clause with the idea of legislating for the use of reinforced concrete walls is entirely ignorant of the facts of the case, or of the Adelaide precedents of 6-inch external walls, or of the universal practice in this regard all over the world.

"Clause 10 would in such case amply meet the case of Reinforced Concrete Walls leaving it to the Council to give permits in accordance with the best accepted practice for the time being.

"The principal objection to the Act and Schedule lies in the fact that while they are precise and particular as regards many minor, subordinate and unimportant details of ordinary construction, they are entirely silent as to the vital and indispensable details of modern building methods, such as steel-frame and reinforced concrete. These are clearly permitted under the Act, yet the experience of other countries is that they require careful and exhaustive legislative regulation and supervision to ensure the public interest and safety. To this end most detailed and elaborate codes of ordinances have been found necessary in all great cities and Adelaide will prove no exception. During the last two years Melbourne City Council has drawn up a complete set of rules for these systems of construction, and Parliament would be well advised, before giving a broad-cast sanction for the use of these methods, to obtain a model set of Regulations, such as those of the City of Melbourne, and embody these in the Act, as a schedule."


Hargrave asked Monash for a copy of the draft Melbourne Building Regulations. In the meantime, he saw Moulden at the House and was told that, though the Bill might go onto Committee at any time, there was considerable opposition to it, and it might not pass its second reading that year (1911). "Mr Moulden says that he is in charge of all the Bills for the opposition. He is much over-worked and, therefore, cannot load himself up with a mass of technical information. He wishes, however, to have all information ready to absorb as soon as the Bill reaches the Committee stage, when he says it is sure to be thrown out in its present form." Monash replied that the draft Melbourne Regulations were a confidential document and he did not have a copy of the final amended version. "I have no doubt however that if Mr Moulden were to write to the Town Clerk of Melbourne he would be furnished with a copy officially for the use of Parliament. Meanwhile I am doing what I can to obtain a copy through unofficial sources by direct application to the Building Surveyor. I do not feel at all certain of being able to get a copy …" However, Morton complied, telling Monash that he had also sent a copy to J R Richardson, City Engineer of Adelaide, some months previously. [Richardson had been Monash & Anderson's sparring partner on the Bendigo Bridges project.]

On receiving notice that the document was confidential, Hargrave wrote: "I had already forwarded the copy to Mr Moulden who wished to go into the matter last night, and since then I have spoken to Mr Frank Moulden, who is a member of the City Council, and is writing to procure another copy from the Town Clerk of Melbourne for Mr B A Moulden's use. Mr Richardson, City Engineer, told me that he did have a copy from Melbourne, but had forwarded it on to the Town Clerk, and did not remember the Clauses relating to fire-proof [i.e. reinforced concrete] construction."

On 28 November 1911, Nicholls informed Monash that the Bill would probably be shelved until the next session, owing to the congested agenda of the Upper House. Monash intervened in South Australia again, in December 1913, pointing to deficiencies in the Building Act 1913 - presumably the same enterprise long delayed [link].

D & J Fowler's Building, Adelaide

This building was described in correspondence as "Fowler's Floors No.2" - a "city warehouse" in King William St near the Adelaide Club. An existing warehouse had been gutted by fire, and the project was to install reinforced concrete columns and floors within the old stone walls.

Brief reports in the RCMPC files reflect the continued weakening of SARC's position as a key supplier of reinforced concrete. In December 1911, their Resident Engineer, H G Jenkinson feared that Fowler's architect, F H Counsell, would "design reinforced concrete floors [himself] and call for open tenders". He told Monash that Counsell seemed "pernickety" and "a trifle touchy", so it would be best if Monash, who was personally acquainted with him, wrote "with a view to putting that idea out of his mind". HGJ added that Counsell was "a trifle jealous" of the success of fellow architect H Jackman. "If he could only grasp the fact that Jackman has succeeded just because he leaves - in a modern rational manner - specialist's work to specialists, it would be a great deal in our favour". SARC's Manager, E H Bakewell, proposed that SARC should refuse to tender for construction alone, if Counsell insisted on doing the technical design himself.

Monash's intervention must have had some effect. In February 1912, Jenkinson informed JM that Counsell was calling open tenders, but had specified that contractors must design their own reinforcement. This would doubtless deter builders other than SARC from tendering. Counsell had specified floor thicknesses with the aim of ensuring "a very safe cover" and "great fire resistance". JM replied that Jenkinson's estimate of cost was a very fair one. "Regarding thickness of cover, our Building Surveyor here is similarly pernickety on this subject, but what we do is to show the required amount of cover on our drawings, but nevertheless see that on the work the steel is pushed well down to the soffits of plates and girders, so that we really get the strength benefit of the additional concrete". As Counsell probably had little knowledge about the theory of reinforced concrete, Jenkinson should be able to use this extra depth to save steel.

HGJ prepared calculations, and on 21 February 1912, announced that a deal had been clinched at £6300. On 3 September, he noted that SARC's work had been completely finished and the job cleared out.

Comments on JM's attitude to cover

When reinforced concrete was being developed in the second half of the 19th Century, there was fierce debate about the possibility of corrosion of reinforcement. It was eventually established that if the concrete was of good quality and the 'cover' was adequate, the alkaline nature of cement would inhibit corrosion sufficiently for practical purposes. ('Cover' is the distance to which the steel is buried beneath the surface of the concrete.) Early evidence was confusing because of variability in the quality of concrete and in the amount of cover provided in pioneer structures, quality being affected by water/cement ratio, degree of compaction, aggregate properties, etc.

The fear of corrosion was still alive when Monash was promoting the use of reinforced concrete in Victoria around 1900 and he was perhaps obliged to put across the simple proposition that cement protected steel. He seems to have remained convinced that a few millimetres of cover was adequate and dismissed the growing perception that more was needed. [A belief that an engineer who specified more was being fussy and faint-hearted could still be found when I was a student in London in the 1950s.] Municipal Building Surveyors, and evidently some architects, did accept the new ideas on cover, hence the dissension between them and Monash. [An instance of this occurred in the design of Walker's Building.]

JM was hoping that architect Counsell would not understand the difference between the total depth of a beam and its 'effective depth'. Where loading tends to make a beam or floor slab sag, the effective depth is the distance from the top surface to the centroid of the main reinforcing bars, which are located near the bottom. (In general it is the distance from the compression face to the centroid of the tensile reinforcement.) An increase in effective depth means an increase in the lever arm available to counteract the bending effect of the loads. This was the logic behind JM's instruction to "push the steel well down". His motivation for minimising depth and cover was of course to enable r.c. to compete in cost with other forms of construction.

Sadly, JM's attitude has contributed to the exposure of reinforcement in many of his structures by facilitating its corrosion. The rust produced occupies a larger volume than the metal from which it formed, so the layer of concrete providing the cover is forced off: a process known as 'spalling'. [example bridge] [example building]

Another factor was poor compaction of concrete. Standard practice in the early days was to use a very dry mix and 'tamp' it into place with hand tools. It was difficult to force the mix between the bar and the formwork, particularly if the latter had been 'pushed well down'! The resulting porous concrete was easily penetrated by moisture which facilitated corrosion. A third factor (unforeseen by the pioneers?) has been a long-term process known as carbonisation which reduces the alkalinity of the concrete.

It is possible to restore cover by spraying a new coat of mortar from a pneumatic gun, but in the case of the Morell Bridge it was considered necessary to provide cathodic protection as well, at considerable cost, because of carbonisation. Arch bridges, being massive, are easier to repair with sprayed mortar than beam-and-slab bridges and building components.

Hicks Atkinson Building, Fleming Place, Melbourne

Documents for this project remained in RCMPC's Quotation Files and appear to have become tangled with those for a project labelled "Henderson's Warehouse". (It may be our research notes that are tangled, but there do appear to be two separate projects.) On 22 December 1911, computations were prepared for a reinforced concrete floor about 33 × 47 feet in area for Hicks Atkinson & Sons' Building, in Fleming Place. A quote was delivered the next day. A memo dated 23 January 1912, notes that Mr Yencken, of Langford the builders, had called to say he had seen Mr Sedgfield of architects Sydney Smith & Ogg about building approvals from Morton, the City Building Surveyor. The engineering drawing, signed by P T Fairway, is dated 25th and the first requisition for materials was issued on 26th. The final account was submitted on 24 February.

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