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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.

Dr Ham's Building

The file at UMA contains little information about this building. It is described throughout as "Dr Ham's Building" or "Professional Chambers Collins St" [Melbourne]. No street number is given. There is no correspondence between RCMPC and Dr Ham to indicate who he was or whether he acted as an individual or a representative of an organisation. W E L Wears represented RCMPC with the architect Beverley Ussher, of Ussher & Kemp.

Rough quantities and an estimate were prepared on 4 July 1907, followed by a hurried quotation and schedule of work on 5th. On 28th, Monash's clerical assistant Ted left a note for him: "Mr. Wears called in - and says he will make enquiries about the matter. 5.5 pm. Mr. Wears blew up and said he'd seen Ussher and Kemp and would see you in the morning." Then follows a note by JM: "Conversed by tel. with Mr. Wears re above at 8 pm. He will attend to matter further."

A letter from Wears to Ussher, dated 21 August, noted that the cost in reinforced concrete for walls and floors would be about 15 to 20 per cent more than for brick walls and wooden floors. He reminded Ussher that in making a comparison he should include the cost of all girders required for brick and wood floor construction, as girders would be an integral part of the concrete alternative. Also, reinforced concrete would save space and would carry reduced rates of insurance which should be offset against the greater capital cost.

Discussion of layout and structure continued in October. Computations were made by S J Lindsay from early December, continuing into January 1908. On 14 January, RCMPC applied to the Clerk of Works, a Mr Jenkinson, for a progress payment of £200. On 22nd they submitted an account to general contractors Baillieu Patterson &Sons for £338-14-6d. A cost-breakdown was prepared by Lindsay in February.

In August 1908, RCMPC quoted Ussher for reinforced concrete side walls, piers, and chimneys. They noted that the work was relatively complex, so that reinforced concrete did not show the same advantage as it did in frame construction with 'curtain walls', or for heavily loaded floors.

There are three drawings in the UMA plan folder: two versions of the architect's drawing showing "Flat Roof over Basement", dated 3 October 1907; and a tracing dated 16 December made from the architect's plan of the Second Floor. These are reproduced below, but not to the same scale.

Complex plan shape of roof with dotted lines suggesting several rooms below and column supports.

"Dr Ham's Building". Architect's drawing showing "Flat Roof over Basement", 3 Oct 1907. University of Melbourne Archives.

Plan showing a larger area than in the drawing above. The plan is symmetrical about a central corridor. On each side are two large rooms plus two smaller rooms or closets.

"Dr Ham's Building". Tracing of architect's plan of Second Floor, 16 Dec 1907. (University of Melbourne Archives. (Very approximate sketch made by author. Scale is smaller than that for the drawing above.)

That is where the story told by the UMA file ends. There are no drawings in the John Thomas Collection with relevant titles. It is difficult to know, on the basis of the UMA file alone, if and how the two drawings are related, and just what work was done for the £338 claimed.


Dissecting Room, University of Melbourne

This job was an additional storey for the Medical School at the University of Melbourne. The architects were Smart Tappin &Peebles and the Builder C Langford.

A sketch plan in pencil was received from the architects in December 1907. An engineering sketch, also in pencil, shows a space 73 × 40 feet surrounded by masonry walls, with a row of three columns on its longitudinal centreline. Three main floor beams run in the short direction, each with two spans of 20 feet. Their ends are let into pockets in the masonry "between the windows". Monash provided two quotes:

  1. For a reinforced concrete plate 3.5 inches thick to be supported on rolled steel joists: £170
  2. For a monolithic reinforced concrete floor system, including columns, girders and plate, designed for 100 psf: £268

Both quotes were net, i.e. exclusive of any commission to the Builder.

Monash wrote to Professor Kernot that the architects intended to recommend alternative (2), as set out in JM's letter to the relevant Committee of the University Council. "Could you give to whoever is on Committee … the assurance of your good opinion of reinforced concrete as a justification for adopting what they might otherwise be prone to consider something in the nature of an experiment? … I trust you will forgive the liberty I am taking in thus making use of you in a business matter."

On 4 January 1908, the architects delivered a drawing incorporating the concrete proposal and RCMPC issued the first requisition for materials. A progress payment of £200 was requested on 24 February. In mid-April, they sent an account to the architects for £268 for construction, plus £32-10-0 for an additional floor surface and £5 for a scotia. Langford wrote a week later to say he was mystified by the two additional items. Correspondence on this topic continued for some time.

Melbourne Town Hall additions

My research notes on this project, based on the RCMPC file in UMA and a Letter Book owned by Alex Lynch, leave many gaps. The architect was H E Morton of the City of Melbourne, and the Builder was R Stockdale. My initial notes suggest the project may have included:

Rough calculations and quotes for various jobs were prepared in August 1907. In January 1908, a formal tender was submitted. In June, slab sizes for the first and second floors were tabulated. In September, a sketch with calculations shows a tunnel-like corridor rising from the Billiard Room on the first floor to the Robing Room on the second. Work of some sort commenced in November 1908, when the first requisition for material was issued. In February 1909, an estimate was submitted for a major portion including the Billiard Room. Structural computations and estimates for minor jobs such as balconies and stairs were submitted throughout the period. In December 1909, RCMPC announced that their work was finished. They submitted an account listing:

Floor plates & casing of RSJs:£1264
Billiard room:£196
Extras: £159

In June 1910 Gibson, writing to Monash who was overseas, said that Stockdale was going to arbitration [on his claims for payment] and wanted RCMPC to join with him. Gibson had told him that that was impossible because it was JM who dealt with Morton, and "in any case I certainly would not start out to make bad blood with the latter gentleman for the sake of £150!"

This project shows Morton exercising his authority as Building Surveyor for the City. He twice challenged RCMPC's calculations for the strength of floors (Jan 1908 and Jan 1909).

In December 1908, referring to reinforcement in the floor slab of the Billiard Room bridge, he wrote: "when the bending moment is taken as WL/10, every second rod at least must be bent to follow the curve of contraflexure". (At the time the use of WL/10 rather than WL/8 was the common method of allowing for continuity in beams.) At first inspection, it appears that no attempt was made to take advantage of the 'box-girder' effect of the corridor cross-section. All load was assumed to be borne by beam action in the floor slab. This is surprising, as there are cases of RCMPC treating partition walls as deep beams. Computations were done by P T Fairway.

Rocke's Warehouse, Collins St (project)

Cross-section through building. At each side are masonry walls. These support a reinforced concrete "box" that serves as a new storey. Its floor forms a new ceiling for the warehouse.This was a project for an additional storey to sit on top of the 18-inch masonry walls of the warehouse. The architects were Smith & Ogg. Initial sketches were prepared in September 1907. A drawing in JTC shows the storey designed literally like a tank, with reinforced concrete floor, walls and roof. These were ribbed inside at 10 foot intervals, giving the appearance from within the room of a series of haunched portal frames. The room was 141 feet long and 11 feet high, floor to ceiling. The clear span was 30'-9". In October, Smith & Ogg were given a preliminary estimate of £1435 for the structure "on the lines embodied in the Referee's Award" (which permitted reinforced concrete as a departure from the traditional building regulations). In November 1910, RCMPC wrote to Smith saying they understood the matter was being discussed again, and sent a copy of the relevant part of the old drawing "as requested by your Mr Sedgefield". It appears there was no outcome.

Detmold Chambers, proposed additions

This was another unsuccessful project in November 1907. The only evidence for it is an architect's drawing in JTC showing an additional, fifth, storey for Detmold Chambers at 237 Collins St, for E F Millar, Esq. Again, this is a reinforced concrete 'box' sitting on the masonry walls of the existing building (see example above). The walls of the new storey slope slightly inwards, giving a suggestion of a Mansard roof and the windows on the short end, at least, are ornate. The building is long and narrow, the 5th Floor plan showing a single row of offices plus corridor. The architect's name does not appear on the drawing.

Whittaker's Floor (project)

This unsuccesful quote was for a "fireproof floor" supported on RSJs as part of alterations to premises at 17 Swanston St. for Richard B Whittaker (or Whitaker).

Spencer Street Power Station additions to Boiler House

Only brief details are provided here. The architect was H E Morton, City Architect and Building Surveyor. The general contractor was Murray & Crow. The RCMPC part of the project consisted of:

The total floor area, according to a quote in December 1907, was 44 squares.

Murray & Crow signalled they were ready for the flue in March 1908. Drawings for the floors were not completed to Morton's satisfaction until May at least, when he told RCMPC to get a move on, as there was a heavy demand for electricity. JM countered that the slow rate of progress was not RCMPC's fault. On 9 June, he said the floors were almost complete. The duct, as originally drawn by Morton's department, had a semicircular arched roof. In December, JM told Morton he had redesigned it as a relatively flat arch. RCMPC's final account for £986 was submitted in February 1909. In April, Murray & Crow, in discussing payments, alleged that the quality of RCMPC's work had been poor.


Lincoln Stuart & Co, RC Floor

This project involved modifications to a building in Flinders Street, Melbourne, for Lincoln Stuart & Co. The architect was R M King of Mayfield Grove, Caulfield. First recorded contact was early in January 1908 over rough sketches. On 9th, Monash delivered an estimate of £936 for a first floor of 84 squares, including footings, columns, beams, and floor slabs designed for 1.5 cwt per square foot. On 21st he estimated £646 for a reduced scheme of 52 squares designed for 1.25 cwt per sq ft. The internal plan of the building was about 82 feet deep by 62 feet wide. The floor slab was let into the masonry walls for support along the sides and back. At the front it was supported on a line of steel beams, part of the facade. There were two rows of internal columns running in the longer direction. The pattern of beams formed floor panels approximately 21'-3" by 7'-4" centre-to-centre of beams. This was disrupted by provision for a stairwell and a lightwell. Four weeks was allowed for completion. In a formal letter of tender, issued at the end of February, JM notes that "my assistant (Mr Jenkinsen CE) has this matter in hand". (Both of the drawings now in JTC are initialled by Jenkinson.) Lincoln Stuart accepted immediately.

A memo the following day notes "Mr King understands that the Building Referees will require plans of the Monier work …" and that he wanted Monash to get approval for an 18-inch wall to permit occupancy by a Business College. JM was in Tasmania at the time. On his return, he wrote to King that design was proceeding satisfactorily, but asked "Do you think you could see your way to permit us to put a small column, say 9 inches diameter, under the South West corner of this light area, as it would save heavy and perhaps unsightly girders in this corner?" King regretted that he could not.

Some days later JM told King that he could not take on responsibility for getting building approvals on behalf of the client - that was King's job. JM was willing to help and would come to the Town Hall with King, bringing the drawings if required. He noted that he had spoken to Morton [the Building Surveyor] and was sure everything would be OK.

The first requisition for materials had been issued on 2 March 1908, and two drawings on 4th and 9th respectively. It seems JM did not send drawings for approval until 19 March, and then in response to a letter from Morton. Regarding stress calculations, he asked if Morton could specify a "stereotyped method of presenting such calculations as you will hereafter require … so that we could make all our calculations on these lines and merely have to submit to you facsimile copies of the papers on our own files?"

On 27 March JM told King that work was almost complete and asked for a progress payment of £350 or £400. On 16 June he asked him to send the balance of £300-4-8d and thanked King for his courtesy and "the facilities rendered to us throughout the whole of this work".


NZ Wool Store (alias Bell's Grain Store?)
project for additional (3rd) floor

RCMPC used the label "New Zealand Wool Store" for this project, but according to my notes it concerned alterations to Bell's Grain Store, Kensington (Melbourne) for the NZ Loan & Mercantile Agency Co Ltd. Although there was no outcome for RCMPC, the story shows them battling to reduce costs and win the job against competition from expanded metal.

The architects were Oakden & Ballantyne with W E L Wears as intermediary. An architectural plan and section of December 1907 show a building approximately 140 × 120 feet with four storeys and a saw-tooth roof. On Thursday 23 January 1908, Wears wrote to Monash: "We have now arrived at that stage of progress when it will be necessary to prepare final details and estimate". Oakden & Ballantyne wanted them by noon the following Wednesday. The resulting documents contain an estimate for the bare concrete structure of £6525. The entire calculation, including structural computations for footings, columns, floors and walls; quantities of steel and concrete required; and the cost estimate covered only eight pages. A noteworthy feature of this first scheme was that the "main" (deeper) floor beams spanned 14'-8" between centres of columns, while the "secondary" beams spanned 21'-3".

JM sent the documents to Wears with a note:

  1. "Carefully check all arithmetic where such is within your purview.
  2. Carefully criticize rates and price policies where such is within your purview.
  3. Keep all papers together and duly return."

A fortnight later, Wears informed JM that the building dimensions had been changed, but it was now certain to go ahead and might be "continued" in a year or two. This sparked a fresh design with floor bays 24 × 12 feet. Four alternative floor systems were considered:

Prices per square worked out at £7-18-0d; £8-8-5d; £8-16-10d; and £9-5-7d respectively.

An estimate was also prepared for the cost of a competing floor system consisting of a concrete slab reinforced with expanded metal, resting on a frame of Dorman Long steel beams and columns. The result was £1803. RCMPC compared this with "Our design £1811 - for an honest 2 cwt per square foot with factor of safety of 4 while theirs is not". The factor for the competing system came in at 2.5.

Yet another design, marked "No.3. Revised design for 3rd floor", was prepared "based on new stipulations" in late March and early April. The design live load was now down to 150 psf, and the bays defined by main spans of 12' and secondaries of 6 feet. The cost was £7-2-6d per square. On 8 April an estimate labelled "No.4" gave the total "cost to us", for the work now envisaged, as £12,048. The formal letter of tender the next day includes a handwritten list of adjustments negotiated with Ballantyne and initalled by Wears. On 13th, Oakden & Ballantyne wrote to Wears regretting that the building would not be going ahead due to "the unfavourable outlook in pastoral matters". A letter from Wears to JM reads: "NZ Wool Store. This is a little disappointing but there ought not to be any difficulty in securing this business, as we have in Mr. Ballantyne a friend". However, there is no evidence in the file of any later outcome.

For engineers.

"Notes for design" prepared for the first scheme for the "NZ Wool Store" show a design live load of 224 pounds per square foot applied to the "whole floor plate" [i.e. the panel?], reduced to 210 psf for design of joists and 200 psf for girders.

In accordance with current practice, column capacity was calculated simply as [Ac + nAs] fc where Ac is gross concrete area, n is modular ratio, As is area of steel, and fc is permissible compressive stress in concrete. The outer walls were assumed to resist wind forces. They also stabilised the building against sidesway which therefore did not influence column buckling. Buckling within floor height was not considered because low concrete strength meant column dimensions were relatively stout. Bending in columns due to uneven loading of floors was not considered.

Refer to text.Design of beams was based on only nominal continuity, using either WL/8 or WL/10. This is reflected in a sketch of typical reinforcement for a line of joists where it intersected a girder (shown schematically at right). There is no real provision for 'negative' bending moment (upper face in tension).

Buffalo Hospice (project)

A memo from Wears to Monash dated 18 January 1908 mentions plans for a "Buffalo Hospice" - presumably a hospice near Mt Buffalo, a tourist resort that was a favourite of JM and a group of close friends. Although RCMPC did not gain business, the letter is interesting for the light it sheds on competition.

Wears's memo begins: "Saw Austin on Sat a.m. Plans not ready yet. He will have particulars ready for us 20th inst, so will go right up from Express. Austin says Davidson wants to get alternative prices for the R.I.C. work. I suggested that if that were so he could arrange to get any other firm they might have in mind. (Johnson Expanded metal & Kahn bars) to submit a price against ours with full guarantees of responsibility for work. This would suit us, or ought to, if you feel disposed to go in for the job. Since Reid Bros & Russell would have to get a design made out & get their prices made up by some Contractor, and without our knowledge of the situation, we would not have much to fear. He (Austin) suggested that Contractors should provide in their price for RIC work, using Kahn Bars & Expanded metal work. I said under those conditions it would not be likely that we should tender a settled price direct to the Department as the Contractors could reduce the cost of the Reinforced Concrete work and put it on the other work."

AA Company flat roofs

This was a small job for the AA Company in Exhibition St, Melbourne. The architect was F Stapley. The final contract was for a flat roof covering 15'-6" × 57'-6" over stairs and stables. Initial discussion took place in January 1908. Calculations were carried out by H G Jenkinson. The first requisition was issued on 2 May. An account for £88-14-6 was sent to Peters & Hetherington on 4 June.

University of Melbourne Porch (unsuccessful)

In March 1908, RCMPC quoted £31 to build a gothic porch to sketches by Bates, Peebles & Smart. Monash himself made calculations.

Royal Bank strongrooms and stair

The architects were Purchas & Teague and builders Murray & Crow. The quote was made at the end of February 1908, being £138 for the main strongroom, £46 for stairs to the basement, and an indecipherable amount for work at a smaller strong room. In mid-March, the builders appealed to RCMPC to push on "much faster". The account was submitted at the end of April.


Condell's Estate Buildings

This project was for the Trustees Executors and Agency Co. in Elizabeth St, Melbourne. The architect was Francis J Davies and the builders Peters & Hetherington. In making his first quote, mid-February 1908, Monash noted that the cost of cement had risen to 12/- per cask delivered to the city. The final quote in March was split into sections. The plan area was just over 50 squares. For nine columns with footings, supporting a ground floor designed for 150 psf (originally 200) and 11 columns supporting a first floor, the price was £1470, or £1476 omitting the builder's 10 per cent commission. For an arched continuous girder over the shop fronts with four large piers: £150/£130. Stairs would be £28 gross and lintels £108 gross.

P T Fairway's computations for the arched girders at the front use WL/12 and mention "it will be desirable for top bars to run full across the span". There is still no allowance for bending moment in the piers.

Instead of paying Davies the usual architect's commission for drawings, RCMPC made 14 lintels for his private residence. The first requisition was issued on 19 August. Calculations were not sent to City Building Surveyor Morton until 2 September, after he had requested them through Davies. On 28 September, JM reported to Davies that the job was complete except for "some bulkheads", but he was having trouble getting the sizes of windows from the builder. At the end of November he complained that workers fitting out the building had chipped away concrete from one of the main girders, cut a main reinforcing bar and then wrenched it out of their way! RCMPC submitted an account for £1720-4-8d to Peters & Hetherington in January 1909. Correspondence on payment continued until at least May 1909.

Herald & Weekly Times Building (quote)

This was an uneventful, unsuccessful quote, but certain aspects are of interest to the historian. The architects were Grainger & Little and the consulting engineer H V & A Champion. A memo dated 4 February 1908 records that "Major Champion" telephoned and had the plans ready. Tenders would be advertised the following Saturday and were returnable by 26th. He wanted a quote for a reinforced concrete alternative "with any explanations or plans you consider necessary to explain this construction".

Monash was in Adelaide until the 11th. He later stated that RCMPC had not received the plans until 22nd, and the only calculations in the file are dated 28 and 29 February. On 1 March, alterations to the Schedule were phoned through by Wears. On 2nd, JM submitted a tender to Champion of £3220 to cover design and construction of RC floors and roof. In his covering letter he regretted not being able to tender for the whole building. He had been obliged to go to Launceston [he sailed from Melbourne on 26th February and returned on 29th] and there had been no time to prepare presentable drawings.

JM's arguments in favour of the RC alternative were:

This offer was evidently not taken up, but in 1911 RCMPC supplied precast plates for a roof for the Herald & Weekly Times. I do not know (June 2005) whether this was for the same building or for an extension.


Bowman's Building, Adelaide

Photo: First wing complete, prior to erection of the second. University of Melbourne Archives, Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co. Collection, BWP/23779.

This project was situated in King William St, Adelaide, between the Bank of Australasia and the English Scottish & Australian Bank. From photographs and the description in Burden it appears to have consisted of two parallel office blocks with a glass-covered arcade running between them to Gilbert Place. The blocks were connected by bridging corridors. The client was Keith D Bowman and the architect Herbert Jackman of Garlick & Jackman. The building was demolished in 1972.

The first mention in the files occurs in March 1908, when W W Harvey informed Monash that plans were going ahead. The architects must have asked for a quote in August, when JM told them it was a very big design job, and as he was very busy in Melbourne, they would have to wait a week or more for an answer. On 12 August, The Advertiser described the project under the heading: "A King William Street Arcade". After doing his own figuring, Monash came up with a quote of £14,334 on 17th which was accepted on 29th.

Monash gave Harvey the task of handling the design, providing him with hints on matters of detail and "our new girder table". The first requisition for materials was issued on 18 September 1908. Harvey's correspondence with JM reveals the customary problems of coping with design changes introduced by the architect and/or client, and the architect's complaints of slow progress. At least six steel columns were employed in the building, sourced from Johns & Waygood in Melbourne. JM told Gibson in June 1909 to please accept the J&W quote "and ask them to push on with it as soon as possible". Some disharmony was caused on site by tension between foremen McCartney and Black, resolved only when one of them was removed from the job. About the same time Jackman appointed a Clerk of Works to the site, whom Harvey thought would be "of assistance to us in working with other trades". In February 1910, Harvey reported that all concrete work was finished, except for one chimney.

Newspaper reports concerning this building may be found on the National Library of Australia's Trove: Digitised Newspapers. See The Advertiser: 17 Aug 1908 and 20 Dec 1909 and The Register 16 June 1910 and 27 May 1911.

More historic images of this building, partially constructed, are held by the University of Melbourne Archives with Location Numbers BWP/23780 to /23783.
BWP/23780 shows the side wall of the first wing, as in BWP/23779 above, but viewed diagonally from the rear of the site. BWP/23783 is identical to BWP/23782, but is slightly off-vertical.

Images of the completed building are held by the State Library of South Australia with Call Numbers B 4305, B 60354/68, and PRG 280/1/29/95. See also Burden, p.147.

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