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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.

Melbourne Grammar School New Building (portions).

This job involved reinforced concrete stairs, portions of floor, and partitions for the Church of England Grammar School in Melbourne. Architects were Godfrey and Spowers and the general contractor was William McKnockiter. Initial contact was established by W E L Wears in March 1907 and estimates prepared. Design took place in April. A problem arose during construction in June, when McKnockiter insisted that part of the roof rest on a partition wall 2.5 inches thick which had been intended to take no load at all. A memo from S J Lindsay reveals that JM feared this would overstress the floor carrying the partition. He therefore had the thickness of the upper portion of wall increased to form a flange 6 inches thick, so converting the partition into a very thin T-girder 3'-6" deep and thus stiff enough to carry the roof load without transferring it to the floor. An account for £257-17-0d was presented on 29 July 1907. In July the following year, Godfrey & Spowers must have reported that one of the beams had sagged. RCMPC responded that this was not the case. The partition must have been lifted by upward movement of the outer walls or roof. However, they promised to fill the gap at the bottom of the wall to keep G&S happy.

British Australasian Tobacco Co. Building.

RCMPC had an involvement with BATC, through its Factory Superintendent, W Cameron, extending over many years. Reinforced concrete additions were made to the company's buildings at the north end of the city grid, between Swanston St and Stewart St, and existing steel and timber floors were strengthened. This first construction project involved an extra 'fireproof' fourth floor and roof, fireproof staircase, and elevated 6500 gallon water tank to supply the sprinkler system.

Cross-section through the building. The staircase zig-zags up the left hand side and the new fourth floor runs along the top. Its reinforced concrete floor forms the ceiling of the third floor. The sprinkler tank is shallow and rectangular and sits on legs, well above roof level.

Extract from the architect's drawing showing the new staircase, fourth floor, roof, and sprinkler tank. Most of the existing building is omitted, but a line (emphasised here in red) indicates the level of the previous parapet. Based on a drawing in the J Thomas Collection.

Monash's first quote to architect F J Davies, in March 1907, was £795 for one 'fireproof floor', or £1512 for two; with finishes an additional £61 per floor. Design load was 200 psf, representing two casks of tobacco sitting one on top of the other. The floor plate was to be 4.5 inches thick, with factor of safety of 5. The main beams were to be 14 inches wide and the secondaries 11" wide, all projecting 10" below the plate, with a FoS of 4. The columns would be 12 inches square for the lower floor and 10" square for the upper, again with FoS of 4. It is noteworthy that JM still felt it necessary to argue strongly in favour of reinforced concrete as opposed to traditional construction. A rough plan [perhaps drawn by W E L Wears] shows the factory extending from Swanston St. to Stewart St in three blocks. That on Swanston St is approximately 54 × 33 feet in plan; the one on Stewart St is 62 × 34 feet; and there is a block 65 × 25 feet between them. However a later drawing shows a plan basically of L-shape with arms 114 × 42 and 96 × 32 (overlapping) and an extra block 24 × 17 in the internal angle. A note by JM dated 23 August 1907 reads: "Informed Mr. Davis … £900 to £1000".

There was a hiatus in September and October, during which RCMPC advised on the strengthening of floors in the existing parts building, by reducing the effective span of rolled steel joists. In the following months, the work was reduced somewhat in scope and detailed calculations and estimates were made. On 30 January 1908, RCMPC submitted a formal tender of £3155, being £2864 for the main work, £131 for the 'screen walls', and £160 for the tank. Included were a brief specification and the RVIA General Conditions of Contract. Both H G Jenkinson and S J Lindsay were involved in the detailed design. The first requisition for materials was sent to Gibson on 10 March. Minor architectural changes and further calculations continued into April.

For engineers: A note regarding the r.c. "curtain walls" reads "Wall reinforced both ways, therefore calculate for WL/16 [but] floor plate WL/10". The wind pressure was assumed to be 40 psf.

A note to Gibson in May concerning payments refers to "the usual Architects' commission of 1 per cent on the total amount of the contract for copies of plans etc." On 13th, E H Morton, the City Surveyor, wrote to Davies: "Please supply details and calculations of the reinforced concrete storey at above factory. These should have been supplied before proceeding with work, in terms of Referee's Award". The same month, Jenkinson calculated the strength of a "defective column" attached to a wall, and Monash told Davies that the load would be transferred to the wall by inserting "bars and fresh concrete", rather than cutting out the whole column. On 4 September, Monash informed Davies that he expected concrete work to be completed that week. However, the Directors of the BAT Co wanted to enforce the penalty for late completion. Monash told Gibson that the idea had apparently come from Cameron who was currently in Japan, so "with a little tact and diplomacy", they should be able to settle the matter with Hart and Wilkins (presumably other directors). However, the Directors did insist on a £50 penalty payment; so JM sent them a cheque for £25 and an account for £25 for the hire of an electric winch.

Monash's previous project for Cameron had been in 1895. His next project for BATC came in 1909.


Register Building, Adelaide.

This building for the Adelaide Register was built in two major stages, an original building (£5,400) followed by extensions soon after (£3,700?). Two minor contracts involved additional printing press foundations (£220) and a small floor to a basement (£103). The proprietor was Robert Kyffin Thomas and the architects Garlick & Jackman.

Jackman told Monash in March 1907 that Thomas would call in to Melbourne to "have a chat about reinforced concrete buildings" after a visit to Tasmania. Jackman added: "I have already recommended this class of work for [The Register's] proposed new building in this city … and I would be glad if you could give him as much information as you can". He kept Monash informed of progress, but in September, JM learned he was thinking of inviting the rival Ferro Concrete Company to submit a tender. (Although JM had managed to exclude the Ferro Concrete Co from Victoria, it was free to operate in South Australia.) Monash feared that this would give his competitors an opportunity to get hold of RCMPC's know-how. He told Harvey to "delicately" point out that JM would feel unable to provide advice on "how the building should be designed to suit reinforced concrete" at the risk of seeing his competitors tender on the building so designed. Competition would not in any way reduce SARCC's price, and "would only end in giving a great many people additional trouble for nothing". Jackman was "well qualified to judge whether our proposals are fair and reasonable".

The elaborate neo-classical[?} facade appears heavily rusticated. Arched windows are formed by exaggerated voussoirs. There are balconies at first and second floor level. Four rectangular pillars screen the entrance. Four pilasters decorate the central portion, supporting an entablature.

Register Building, Adelaide. Initial elevation and section of facade. From a Garlick & Jackman drawing received by SARCC on 25 November 1907. (The printed note with bracket reads: "Please give price of this portion separate".)

Monash and Harvey then prepared computations and estimates, Harvey expressing concern about the facade: "a composite front composed of Stone, Steel and Concrete". A formal proposal and quote for £5088 were submitted, and Monash travelled to Adelaide at the end of September for a meeting with Thomas, Sowden & Jackman. He reported to Bakewell that all had gone well, though there was an "element of doubt" due to "the uncertain temperament of the gentlemen concerned". Another difficulty was that The Register could not clear its tenants out of the existing building until 1 January, so SARCC would not be able to start until March 1908. As the firm's work on Kither's Building was coming to an end, a hiatus threatened. Prices of materials were liable to rise in the interim, so Monash wanted to sign a binding contract, but leave prices open to reflect the market. The situation was delicate, and Bakewell was reluctant to pressure the proprietor and architects, for fear of losing the job altogether.

In November 1907, open tenders were called. Jackman assured SARCC that they would "have their bit", but rumours abounded, even that the building might be in brick. Tenders must have come in higher than expected, because Jackman devised an alternative facade using reinforced concrete in place of stone. JM quoted £500 for the additional concrete. Early in December, Harvey was told that SARCC had the job, but the facade was to be in stone. Soon after, he travelled to Melbourne to get started on the detailed design of the building, including the facade, under Monash's supervision. Before leaving he wrote to JM: "I will be able to bring the final (?) plans … I was surprised to find the indefinite state of the architect's decision on numbers of matters of importance".

At present (Nov. 2005) I have not investigated the change in facade between the JTC drawing (above) and the Register photograph of 1911 (below). The question mark in the above quotation is Harvey's.

With Harvey back in Adelaide by late January, JM warned him that he might have to take on a much larger share of responsibility for Adelaide operations. "The continuous hot and oppressive weather here [Melbourne] is greatly affecting the promptitude with which I and my staff are able to deal with business in hand" and later "I have been extremely busy in Victoria with a rush of new business". He did, however, provide Harvey with constant advice on engineering design.

In January Monash had to remind Jackman that there had been no formal acceptance of the tender, and that all SARCC's work so far had been "voluntary". The contract became official later that month. The final quotation (£5300) was submitted on 6 February 1908, and the first Requisition for materials on 12th. On 27th, Harvey warned JM that the City Building Surveyor, Vicars, had said "in [the] case of Kither's Building he had been too lenient … but this was not going to be so with the Register Building". However, there is no evidence in our research notes of significant problems with building approvals.

For reasons not picked up in our brief study, three ground floor columns (at least) and some facade columns were of steel encased in concrete, necessitating another excursion into steel design. Monash checked Harvey's calculations and found them satisfactory, but decided to send them to the steel fabricators, Johns & Waygood, to be double-checked.

The facade as built retains the general ideas expressed in the drawing, but greatly simplified and less expensive.

Register Offices, Grenfell St, Adelaide. Photograph: State Library of South Australia PRG 280/1/3/110. Other photographs held by SLSA include B 3529 showing the building in context.

By the end of April, excavation was complete and work could start on the structure. In July, Harvey complained of organisational problems. Rates for carpenters (constructing formwork) were absurdly high, while quality was very bad, resulting in bulging walls and sagging girders. He continued: "I suspect that McCartney [works manager] and Black [foreman] are at loggerheads … and between them are turning out indifferent work. I am taking McCartney into serious consultation on the position and will sift the matter out". The work was less complicated than at Kither's Building.

Monash sympathised. The tendency in Victoria was for work to be getting cheaper and "we habitually carry out complicated work of a standard equal to the William Street Building for about 14d [?] for labour of all kinds", though "we also have to deal with a per centage of indifferent and lazy men …" Monash held McCartney responsible. He had to be told to get the rate down to a reasonable level or face the consequences. It turned out that McCartney thought he had the right to give orders directly to Black's men, rather than going through Black. Harvey reported that now this was sorted out, Black was taking a renewed interest in his work.

In mid-October, Harvey discovered a serious error in the early setting out, affecting the alignment of the secondary girders and columns carrying the first floor. He told Monash: "Black of course blames McCartney as it was during the early part of the work". JM advised Harvey be philosophical:

I can only express my regret at the annoyance to you from errors of the nature committed at Register, and the consequential anxiety and lack of confidence engendered in your mind. These matters, annoying as they are, must be borne philosophically. As our volume of work expands, they must be expected to increase. In all these matters the best that can be said is that the most successful man is the one who makes fewest mistakes.

However grave mistakes deserve severe disciplining. This sort of mistake not only costs money, but brings discredit to our whole work, injuring future prospects. I would be glad if Mr Bakewell could see his way to administer to Macartney and Black a very severe reprimand for their respective responsibilities in the matter, as such a course may bear useful fruit on future work.

In the meantime Mr Gibson and I will seriously consider whether a sufficiently suitable trained man on the Melbourne staff is willing to go to Adelaide to take up architectural work. However, there is hardly one of our men who has not had mistakes of a like nature to his credit. Our second best man here, P. Fryer, on his very last job, seriously misread a plan and put a whole row of main girders to the wrong spacing; and Lynch himself had a lot of boxes for the Preston Reservoir made 1'-0" wider than shown on drawings.

In September, Monash told Harvey that, with the final account for Kither's Building settled, and the contract for the forthcoming Bowman's Building "fixed beyond recall", "I think we can afford to take a rather stiffer hand with Mr. Jackman about the delays and extra charges we are encountering on this [Register] job".

Discussions on additions to the building commenced in December 1908, before the first contract had been completed. Monash made quick estimates and quoted "Block C £616;", "Block D £2720", and "Block D to present roof level £3250".

There is a gap in our research notes until March 1909 when JM attended the official opening of the new building by the Governor of South Australia. In May he advised Harvey about the difficulty of making claims against the general contractor for delay caused by getting in each others' way. Slow work by masons on the facade had resulted in SARCC being given an extra two months to complete the contract. Such claims were "always very difficult to establish and maintain". Engineers and Architects generally fought shy of them and cast the onus on the proprietor, so "it will probably end up in one of our commercial staff, say Mr. Nicholls (should Mr. Bakewell not care to deal with it) … being brought face to face with the Register Proprietors … The most we can hope for is that by making out a strong case, we can use it in the nature of a counter-blast or set-off for deductions for unperformed work". Final settlement occurred on 1 July.

Meanwhile, Harvey had been placed in a difficult position when the client or architect made a late decision to install printing machinery in the basement. To prepare bases for the machines, it was necessary to excavate adjacent to and beneath the level of the main column footings. It seems that Jackman took direct control of this dangerous work. Harvey was faced with a dilemma. If he stood by and a disaster occurred, he (and SARCC) might be held negligent from a legal as well as an ethical standpoint. If he intervened, SARCC would definitely become responsible, but might receive no payment. JM's discussion of the technical and administrative issues is impressive - covering five pages although he declared himself too busy to consider it properly! He pointed out that extreme care was needed to avoid responsibility. Harvey handed Jackman parts of JM's letter, possibly after observing that the latter had "very careless men" opening up further excavations in the basement.

Work on the additions, known as 'Register 2' started in mid-December 1908, before the first contract had been wound up, with Black as foreman and Leahy as sub-foreman. The new Resident Engineer, H. G. Jenkinson, had arrived to take over from Harvey. Our research notes lack any detail on this second contract, possibly because Jenkinson did not need the level of support that Monash had given Harvey.

Addendum to the Register project.
JM's advice for young contractors' engineers on how to do business with architects.

During the course of the project, architect Jackman decided to demand settlement of the values of additions to and deletions from the contract as work progressed, rather than leaving them to be settled at the end. Harvey asked Monash for guidance. Extracts from JM's reply are as follows:

You will remember that at the outset of Kithers, I raised strong objection against us, from our end of the bargain, pressing for a recognition and price valuation of the work and extras as the works proceeded, holding that such a course would disadvantage us in being compelled to accept less for items which we saw fit to label as extras, than if we left these issues for a settlement at the end. That is still my view, and I think that on the broad result of our bill of extras as it will finally pan out, you will agree that we have secured a higher payment than we could have done had we from time to time raised these issues, many of which stood on a doubtful foundation, as the work proceeded.

But, when we find the Architect himself pressing for a valuation of each specific item of additions or deductions before such are undertaken, the matter stands on an altogether different footing. It is he, and not we, that raise the issue for discussion, and it is we, and not he, who can make terms. If the Architect, in any given instance, wants us to do something, and our terms are not satisfactory to him, the only options he has are either to abandon his request, or to accept our terms; because if, for example, we asked £10 for a piece of work which he thought was only worth £5, and if in the face of that he ordered us to go on with it, he would not have a leg to stand on to resist paying what we originally asked, if the matter ever came to arbitration. To put the matter in another way, I think the Architect is ill-advised to give us the clear opportunity, he proposes to do, of making our own terms for all these alterations.

The precise course to be pursued, therefore, is to take each item and value it on the fullest and most elaborate lines, putting on at the very least a 50 per cent margin upon the utmost expected cost. An apparently high rate per cubic unit can always be easily explained away by pointing out that it is not materials but labor which forms the chief factor in alteration work; that there is really no saving in materials in deductions, because we are already committed to the purchase of those materials &c. &c. For example, to substitute a two-and-a-half inch wall for a six inch wall, the only saving is in the small quantity of concrete materials, the steel and the labor cost being substantially the same. In this way each separated item might become the subject of energetic argument, but the chances are that four out of every five items would go through without much question, and having once gone through, Mr Jackman is irrevocably committed to paying for them at the figure submitted.

Consequently, my broad advice upon the position is to cordially accept Mr Jackman's proposed procedure; in fact to pretend to like it exceedingly, and then go assiduously to work to make the most of each item as it crops up. You can, as I have said, count upon coming away with your time very well spent at least four times out of five. Sooner or later Mr Jackman will attempt to dispute some instance where we have a very clear fighting case to justify our valuations. If so, seize upon such at once to enter upon a detailed demonstration how moderate really our demands are, and drive the argument home for future use in other issues where our case may not be quite so strong.


Robert Reid's Warehouse roof (project).

This project is mentioned mainly because it indicates contact between JM and the architects Hyndman & Bates. Undated pencil sketches on scraps of tracing paper, perhaps by W E L Wears, show the cross-section of a 5-storey building with basement and trafficable roof. The entire project seems to have involved the addition of several storeys to an existing building and possible installation of hydraulic powered lifts [elevators]. Initially RCMPC was called in to tender for the roof only. In April 1907, they offered to place reinforced concrete secondary girders and a roof slab on existing steel main girders. The idea was to use trussed falsework resting on the steel girders so as to avoid propping from the floor below. However, the architects decided to use steel secondaries to "stiffen" [stabilise?] the main girders and RCMPC quoted £424 for the slab alone.

Pencil drawings dated August 1907 show a building 115 × 48 feet in plan. A very quick estimate of £2700 was prepared for building the entire carcase in reinforced concrete. Computations include a proposal for a lateral girder over the full 48-foot span, abandoned as "too deep".

There is no evidence of an outcome for either of these schemes.


Telephone Exchange, Windsor (Melbourne).

According to drawings in the J Thomas Collection, this was a narrow building about 31 feet wide by 88 feet long internally. The outer walls were thick masonry. Two ribbed concrete floors were supported on the perimeter walls and on a row of reinforced concrete columns down the middle. Concrete stairs and landings were provided in an adjacent masonry stairwell. The client was the Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs with Thomas Hill as Acting Works Director, Works Branch, Victoria.

Thick masonry side walls support two reinforced concrete floors. The main floor girders span from wall to wall, with smaller beams running parralel to the walls. The floors are propped at mid-span by a row of columns running parralel to the walls.

Windsor Telephone Exchange. Cross-section through ground, first and second floors. Roof not shown. At the bottom are S J Lindsay's initials and date 20/2/08. From a drawing in the J Thomas Collection.

Monash was lobbying for the job in April 1907, while RCMPC was involved in construction of the Government Printing Office in Melbourne. Preliminary notes in May indicate a general floor load of 200 psf plus specific concentrated loads. On 10th, JM wrote to Hill that he would be pleased to explain "the whole of the calculations" to him, but wanted them to remain confidential. In July he submitted a quotation of £710 for footings, columns, ground floor and two suspended floors, and stairs. It was not until November that the general contract was let to Swanson Bros.

Detailed engineering design commenced from that date, with S J Lindsay initialling the drawings and reporting on progress. The first requisition for materials for concrete work was issued on 12 February 1908. All floor work was complete by 15 April. In late June there was an urgent order from Swanson Bros for precast plates. Early in September JM reported to Swansons that all RCMPC work was complete and asked for final payment. In March 1909, JM told Hill that RCMPC would point up the cracks in the floor once they were subjected to working load. In June, P T Fairway double-checked the safe live load on the floors.

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