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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.

Page Summary.

On this page of Building Notes we see JM moving from a 'Monier patent' approach to a generalised 'reinforced concrete' approach (albeit under the shelter of the Monier patent). Arches and domes figure in JM's early attempts to find work in the architectural field. The first project built, Davies Dairy at Creswick, has concrete walls and a Monier arch roof. In January 1903, Baltzer responded to JM's appeal for information by introducing him to French and German texts. JM began to feel his way into the area with small jobs for residential buildings, and designs for "fireproof" floors supported on masonry walls and steel beams (NMLA Ballarat). This page ends with the design and construction of a ballroom roof supported by reinforced concrete beams.

Proposed Church Domes

On 10 December 1897, M&A informed Carter Gummow & Co that architects Reed Smart & Tappin, "when called on, expressed a desire for information as to the application of the [Monier] patent to domes and vaulted structures for churches". On 8 February 1898, they urgently sent to CG&Co tracings of RS&T drawings for St George's Roman Catholic Church at Carlton. RS&T wanted a price before the 14th inst. CG&Co replied by telegram: "Large dome including ribs £550, two small domes £50 each". I have not found any evidence that the proposal went further.

Davies Dairy, Creswick.

Exterior of a one-room rectangular concrete building with semi-clindrical barrel roof.spacer Plan and cross-section.

The sketch plan and cross-section are based on those made by Monash when calculating the quantity of concrete involved. (Source: University of Melbourne Archives.) The internal dimensions are: width 8 feet, length 10 feet (2.44 × 3.05 m). This building is on private property. Thanks to Creswick & District Historical Society for identifying it, and to the owner for permitting photography.

William Davies arrived in Creswick as Police Sergeant. He resigned soon after, bought the first parcel of Crown Land and became a JP and Mayor of the town. M&A became involved in Creswick in January 1900 when the bridge on the Castlemaine Road needed to be redecked. JTNA suggested to Shire Engineer George Maughan that the wooden deck be replaced by Monier plates resting on the existing metal girders. M&A referred to the bridge as "Maughan's Bridge" or "Davies Bridge". Nearby was "Davies Hotel". An article in the Creswick Advertiser of 8 May 1900 states that the dairy was built for Cr Davies "in his yard at the rear of the Bridge hotel" and that it would be "an acquisition to the already commodious store rooms at the Bridge". M&A prepared estimates in March 1900 for three alternatives with differing wall thicknesses. One version was to be covered by a flat reinforced Monier slab, but it was decided to adopt a mass-concrete barrel roof. The outward thrust was calculated by M&A's draughtsman J S Gregory, who proposed three tie rods of 5/8 inch (15.9mm) diameter to prevent the tops of the walls moving out. If these were installed they have since been removed, perhaps when the dairy was converted to hang meat from a row of hooks along the crown of the barrel. The 'gables' have cracked as a result. Davies must have supervised the work himself because he sent an itemised account for the basic cost of £32-15-0, allowing a nominal 10 per cent commission to bring the total to £36. The job lasted from 23 April to 11 May. Davies was unhappy when rain seeped through the roof. He was assured that the concrete would seal itself, but was told he could apply a coat of tar, and perhaps paint it white, if he felt this was necessary.

Botanical Gardens Dome proposal.

On 28 Mar 1901, M&A wrote to E. Guilfoyle, Director of the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne that Mr Catani had informed them Guilfoyle was "engaged in the consideration of a pleasure house ... which is to be covered by a dome, and he has advised us to call on you, as he thought that Monier work would be the most suitable and cheapest for this work." They offered to show Guilfoyle photographs of Monier Domes erected "in the Continent" [of Europe], describing them as "lighter and more graceful than ordinary domes". Guilfoyle replied that he had already designed a method for the construction of the roof.

Proposal for Show Grounds grandstand.

On 31 May 1901, JTNA wrote to David Mitchell suggesting a combined grandstand and cattle shed be built at the Melbourne Showgrounds from Monier components. The lower part would be an earth slope, banked up against a brick retaining wall. The upper part would consist of Monier girders carried on raking Monier struts and supporting the usual stepped seating (presumably also of Monier). The cattle shed roof would consist of jack arches supported on steel joists as in traditional mill construction, with the jack arches made of Monier construction rather than brickwork. On 3 June, M&A sent a proposal for a "corridor and Monier arches" under the lower end of the grandstand at a cost of £2000. There is no evidence of any outcome.

Dome proposal, Hawthorn.

In May 1902 very rough sketches were prepared for a dome in the suburb of Hawthorn on a base 35 feet (10.7m) square.

Baltzer's visit to Melbourne.

On 14 January 1903, JM wrote to Baltzer for advice on the design of Monier pipes subjected to internal water pressure. On 15th he wrote to GF&Co: "We feel conscious of troubling you very often upon matters of a purely statistical and historical character, and the necessity arises through our not being in touch with modern continental literature on the subject. As we are acquainted with both French and German, we would be glad to procure treatises or technical works on these matters." He asked if Baltzer could recommend titles and publishers. "We do all we can in this direction by watching the technical journals". On 19th, GF&Co wired that, wishing to preserve the reputation of the Monier technique, they were concerned about reports that pipes made by M&A had cracked under test, and asked if Baltzer could come to Melbourne. He arrived on 22nd and remained until at least 27th, spending evenings with JM and Gibson and visiting the factory. Baltzer had brought with him copies of P. Christophe's text Le Béton Armé; Berger et Guillerme: La construction en Ciment Armé; and probably some or all editions of von Emperger's serial Beton und Eisen.

Baltzer allowed JM to keep these for a few days, and on 27th GF&Co ordered the first two from a supplier in Germany, on behalf of M&A. The order included the 1903 edition of Beton und Eisen and one copy of all parts issued prior to 1903, specifying "English edition as far as possible". On 29th JM returned Christophe and the first volume of Berger and Guillerme, but asked if he could keep the second volume one day extra. It contained detailed drawings of many typical reinforced concrete structures built in Europe. JM also returned "the German publication", presumably Beton und Eisen on this date.

Proposed balconies.

In the Monash Papers at NLA is a quotation dated 10 Feb 1903, addressed to architect C. E. Wright, "Cintra", Hawthorn, for a floor and balcony. There is no sign of an outcome.

In June 1903, M&A prepared drawings and an estimate for first and second-floor balconies for the Booth residence in Rathdowne St. The architect was De Lacy Evans. An initial estimate included £1-10-0 for a girder to support the front of the balcony and £8-5-0 for Monier plates to form the surface. An undated drawing shows Monier columns supporting the girders. Detailed drawings were prepared, but our notes contain no mention of construction.

In a separate file entitled "G. Wright" is a quotation of £21-10-0 for a girder, floors and balcony. This is dated 2 July 1903. The file contains structural computations dated 1 August, which suggests that the quotation may have been accepted, as JM was careful not to perform unnecessary work prior to receiving a firm order. However, our notes make no mention of construction.

Malthouse floors project.

This project for architect De Lacy Evans is significant because it seems to be JM's first serious essay in the design of reinforced concrete floors. Our research notes do not indicate which Malthouse this was. First computations and estimates are dated 30 July 1903. The building was to be 103 feet by 60 feet, divided by columns into 9 bays longitudinally and 4 bays transversely. JM told De Lacy Evans the headroom would be 7 ft and the height from floor to soffit 8 ft. "I recommend the adoption of Monier columns, bonding directly into the floors above and below of Monier joists, girders and floors in T form construction, carried out in monolithic construction". The approximate dimensions would be:

The full height of each floor, including rendering would be 1'-3".

Monash quoted the following prices:

for all Monier work, without render:£1250
for two floors alone, without columns:£1120
for the ground floor columns, the 1st floor, the 1st floor columns, the 2nd floor, and the 2nd floor columns to support the roof, plus surface render:£1500

JM's next stage of computations include an isometric view from below of one column and the surrounding floor. On 8 Aug JM provided a quote for an extra (third) floor and took up the architect's suggestion of strip footings for the columns, as the foundations were "not too reliable". This reduced the pressure to less than 1 ton per square foot which JM considered an "excellent expedient". The extra price would be £165.

In a letter to Gummow dated 7 Sep 1903 JM still had hopes of an order for the Malthouse floors, but we have found no evidence of construction.

Proposed Slaughterhouse Floors
for architect C. A. D'Ebro.

In September 1903, JM prepared calculations, quantities and estimates for the floor of a slaughterhouse with 24 bays, each 25 ft by 7'-6". He sent a formal letter and sketch to D'Ebro, but included a private letter saying he was somewhat diffident because "young Timmins" [son of the head of Dorman Long in Melbourne] was involved with "this job" [presumably offering a competing tender in steel.] "While quite friendly with his people, I would not be willing to precipitate a contest."

Balcony at "Leura", South Yarra.

In January 1904, JM prepared designs and an estimate for a balcony at "Leura", the residence of the Hon T. H. Payne MLC in Toorak Rd, South Yarra. The architect was Anketell Henderson. Alex Lynch reported to JM that the balcony floor was laid on 11 February.

Inskip & Butler show interest.

In June and July 1904, M&A received enquiries concerning factory floors from Inskip & Butler, whom they described to GF&Co as "leading architects".

Fireproof floors at NMLA Offices Ballarat.

Four-storey corner building with Venetian gothic styling. This building at 201-205 Sturt Street (cnr Lydiard Street) Ballarat was designed by architects J. J. & E. G. Clark for the National Mutual Life Association. On 8 April 1904, JM wrote to GF&Co "After much effort and many disappointments, we are at last in hopes of being able to secure an order for reinforced concrete floors on a somewhat extensive scale. There has been a very great deal of discussion on almost every conceivable point, and now only one point remains upon which to satisfy the Architect as to the best practice". This was how to treat the surface of the floors. JM asked GF&Co what was the practice of NSW government departments, saying the architect favoured attaching ordinary softwood flooring. Was an airspace required?

JM submitted a tender on 26 May, but discussions and structural design continued as the architect altered the location of partitions. At one stage JM considered a smooth slab with no ribs, but worked out that it would be 8 inches thick. Our notes, based on file documents, not inspection of the actual floors, suggest the adopted scheme was a 4 inch thick plate with integral ribs, and rolled steel joists under internal partitions. The floors were supported by masonry external walls.

On 1 February 1905, JM wrote to J. J. Clark that the roof at Raveloe (see below) had been completed with "spans no less than 30 feet carried out in rib girder construction" and offered to take Clark out to see it. Site reports from JM's foreman W. T[?] Everett run from 5th May 1906 to 21 May 1906. The general contractor for the building was Peter Rodger. There were complaints from Rodger that the slowness of RCMPC was holding up progress. From mid-1906, the architects made several complaints. These concerned the softness of concrete, cracks in the floor (later agreed to be superficial), inaccuracy of the screed, and having to take up and re-lay linoleum. Supplies of timber, sand and gravel were obtained from L & G Rowsell of Ballarat. Top.

RVIA Paper.

On 28 June 1904, Monash presented a paper on Reinforced Concrete in Building Construction to the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects. On 18 October he wrote to Gummow that he had not got much business from it, but had hopes of a couple of jobs.

A note at the start of the paper in the RVIA Journal (Vol.2, pp.72-90) states that it was delivered on 26 June. This must be an error as 26th was a Sunday. The RVIA "Syllabus" for 1904 listed Tues 28 June for the talk. A letter from RVIA to JM (now in NLA) concerning invitations for "tonight's" talk is dated 28th.

Proposed floors for Central Railway Station (Flinders St).

The Railways Department designed conventional floors for this project consisting of jack arches on steel joists. In July 1904, Monash made an unsuccessful proposal to replace them with ribbed reinforced concrete floors. He dealt with Messrs Pubrick, J. H. Fraser and Fawcett. The parcels office was to be designed for 140 psf and all other offices for 84 psf. A design was also needed for the "ceiling" of the dome which would be an octagon 47 feet across the flats. JM showed that adopting r.c. floors would permit a reduction in the height of the building of 6'-5" (thus saving expensive external walling) and would reduce the weight of the floors by 25 per cent. In a seven-page letter arguing the merits of his proposal JM referred to GF&Co's floors at the Parramatta Gaol and the fire-resistant properties of reinforced concrete as shown by a recent fire in Baltimore.

A memorandum dated 20 July lists Fraser's objections to JM's design during a three-quarter hour meeting. Fraser was unhappy that there was less than one per cent reinforcement. There was a long debate on shearing stresses, Fraser maintaining that he could not accept the theories of Christophe and Wayss, but preferred to let the concrete take the whole of the shearing stress with a limit of 50 psi. He did not like the details of the "cantilever" portion of the floor and wanted diagonals welded to the "horizontal members". He also criticised the use of a cast iron block to join bars, preferring the diagonal bars to merely overlap the lower "boom" bars of the main girders.

Proposal for Inskip & Butler.

In July 1904 M&A prepared estimates for architects Inskip & Butler for floors, lintels, balconies and connecting bridges in new residential chambers in Collins St. A locality plan shows the building lying between Collins and Flinders St, 40 feet from the corner with Russell St.

Reinforced Concrete Roof, "Raveloe", South Yarra.

Interior view showing long closely-spaced r.c. joists supporting flat roof.

University of Mebourne Archives BWP/23825
Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Co. Collection

This was a roof for a ballroom at the home of H. Emmerton Esq., in Domain Rd, South Yarra. The architect was W. A. M. Blackett. Computations and estimates continued throughout July 1904 and Blackett accepted a quote of £125 for the slab and £10 for the "domes" (see photo). On 29 December, foreman Alex Lynch reported that the formwork had been stripped the previous day without any sign of deflection. A description sent to Cazaly's Contract Reporter attributed the work entirely to Blackett and made no mention of RCMPC. Dimensions shown in calculations were: width 28'-6", length 46'-9", plate 4", ribs 16" × 10". Unfortunately, by the end of January 1905, significant deflections had developed in the slabs in the vicinity of the "domes", causing problems with drainage. Attempts were made to correct these by building up the surface with asphalt. The result was disagreement between JM, Blackett and Mr Woolf of Neuchatel Asphalte over who was responsible for the original failure to provide suitable slope, and the cost and effectiveness of attempts to correct matters.

Poor drainage was a common problem with early flat concrete roofs due to deflection which increased with time due to creep. Adding layers of mortar or asphalt to restore slope to the surface added weight and caused further deflection, so was partially if not completely self-defeating.

More historic images of this project are held at the University of Melbourne Archives with control numbers BWP/23818 to /23824 and /23826. Some may be viewed online via the University of Melbourne Library website. (The BWP numbers have been superseded, but are still valid for searches.)

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