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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.

Mitchell's Building [No.2], Oliver('s) Lane

In Monash's time the thoroughfare was referred to as "Oliver's Lane". It is now officially "Oliver Lane".

A first building for David Mitchell had been completed in Oliver's Lane late in 1907 [link]. In March 1908, Monash made notes on quantities and costs for a second building adjoining the first. JM told Mitchell he wanted proper drawings and a specification before giving a firm price; but it would be about £3150 if Mitchell charged for his cement, or £2600 if he supplied it free. In May, JM offered to do the work for £3000, with Mitchell supplying cement at 11/- per cask, but warned that "in view of both steel rolling mills being extremely busy for us, with heavy works in hand … it will be quite 3 weeks after we place any orders before we can start the work". There were further negotiations over the Schedule and Monash again asked for drawings. "Please send the 1/8 scale plans of the building which you showed me. Also definite information on building lines and angles. Until we get this we cannot make a start on the working drawings." Monash accepted that all work would be subject to the approval of the City Surveyor; and that there would be a deadline three months from the start of work and a six-month maintenance period. His formal acceptance of these terms was sent on 15 May.

There is a hint here that Mitchell, or someone working for him, was filling the role of architect, at least in specifying the layout of the building and liaising with the authorities.

Facade of Building 2 with Building 1 further down the lane. Basic plan of Building 2, situated to the left of Building 1. The masonry side wall of Building 1 is now a party wall. On the left of Building 2, the new masonry side wall steps in to reduce the width from 5 spans to 4.

Photo: Oliver Lane (west) facade with Building 2 at left.
Sketch: Plan of Building 2, with Oliver Lane facade at bottom.

Detailed design of the structure led to another difference of opinion between Monash and the City Building Surveyor, H E Morton. JM was certain he was the local expert on design of reinforced concrete buildings and worked to a more generous factor of safety than his competitors [example]. Morton and the Building Referees sought to impose what they would have seen as higher standards. Proportioning of beams started on 19th May and the first requisition was issued on 22nd. A working drawing for the basement and ground floor, plus footings and columns, was prepared by J A Laing and signed by JM on 15 June. On 16th, Morton reminded JM that the Referees' Award required the design live load to be 1.5 cwt per square foot (168 psf or 8.04 kPa) instead of the 120 psf (5.75 kPa) for which RCMPC had designed. He continued: "It was understood that there was a probability of this Building being let in separate occupations and that Floors would be designed as Party Floors … Please amend design to agree with Award."

JM told Morton the problem had arisen because Mitchell had failed to inform him of the Referees' requirements. Morton had also noted that beams should be designed for a bending moment of WL/10. This led JM to initiate discussion of the bending moments in beams loaded at points 1/3 and 2/3 along their spans, which was how the main girders were loaded by the secondaries.

Monash conveyed the news to his Works Manager, Alec Lynch, by telling him that Morton wanted the floors to be four inches thick rather than three, and wanted seven bars of 7/8 inch diameter (22mm) in the beams where RCMPC had specified only six. JM had decided that only the ground and third floors needed to be altered, but Lynch was not to let Morton know this. Also, Lynch was to have the extra 7/8 inch bar ready to pop in the formwork if the Inspector turned up, but otherwise to forget it. In a letter to Mitchell, Monash told how he had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Morton to accept the RCMPC design, but had had to agree to the increase in floor thickness. However, he proposed to do this for the ground floor only, and hope that the whole thing would be forgotten when it was time to build the other floors.
Warning: do not try this at home.  More

Morton approved new computations regarding the floors, but then asked what Monash was going to do about strengthening the columns. JM replied with a list of increased sizes for the columns above ground level but noted: "I regret that the Basement columns were all erected before the question of the increased loading requirements came under my notice, but in view of the fact that these columns have been constructed of very rich concrete, viz 1 : 1½ : 2½ and further, seeing that they are very thick in proportion to their length, these columns will respond to a calculation for the increased loading without a serious encroachment upon authorized stress intensities." He explained that in European practice, columns with a height-to-width ratio not greater than 12 were stressed up to 15 kg/cm2 [213 psi or 1.47 MPa]. He would not do this himself, but thought nevertheless that the basement columns would be safe. Comments

A drawing for the third floor and roof was issued on 27 July, initalled by J A Laing and P T Fairway and signed by Monash. Early in August, JM wrote to a J Cormack regarding scaffolding and labour for "cementing the front and back of the building". The final account for £3059-12-0d was sent to Mitchell's on 22 October 1908.

In November 1914 there was a fire at Mitchell's Buildings. RCMPC checked structural integrity and carried out restoration work. An estimate of £487 by Fairway is dated 24 November. The job seems to have dragged on, with bits of work spreading until March 1916.

Nature of Structure (Mitchell Building 2).

The structure of Building 1 has been reviewed elsewhere on this website. Drawings for Building 2 offer better clues, but there is still room to wonder about (or at) the piers of the facade. In the drawing of 15 June 1908 the north wall of Building 2 is clearly marked "Brick Wall" and the southern wall "Existing Brick Wall" (heavy black lines in the plan above). A detail of the footings, reproduced below, shows full details of reinforcement for the internal columns, but none at all for the facade piers ("Wall Columns"). A detail of the connection between transom and facade column shows reinforcement extending from the transom into the column.

Refer to preceding text and captions.

Details of footings. Left: for internal column. Right: for facade column.

Refer to preceding text and captions.

Connection of transom and facade column.

A drawing issued on the 29th July 1908 contains an indication of column reinforcement for typical interior columns and facade columns. The facade columns (rectangular in plan and 30" wide) vary in thickness, from basement up, in the sequence 24", 24", 21", 21", 15". Their longitudinal reinforcement is shown as "4 bars 5/8" [16 mm] throughout". This confirms information in the steel requisitions for Building 1. It means that the proportion of steel in the cross section of the lower parts is 0.0017 of the gross concrete cross-section (24 × 30 inches, or 610 × 762 mm). Practice established later in the 20th Century was to provide at least 1% longitudinal reinforcement (0.01) i.e. about six times as much. Therefore, if the facade columns were built as shown, a modern engineer would classify them as 'mass concrete' with only nominal reinforcement. No ties are shown to hold the vertical bars in position and stabilise them, but the requisitions for Building 1 suggest 3/16" (5 mm) with spacing unknown. Such "ligatures" are shown for the internal columns in the "details of footings", spaced at 6" intervals.)

The octagonal internal columns decrease in size, from the basement up, in the sequence 18", 18", 16.5", 16.5", 12". Their longitudinal reinforcement varies from 8 bars 7/8" diameter in the basement to 4 bars ¾" in the 3rd floor.


National Trust of Australia (Victoria) File No. B7005.


States Tobacco Co. Partitions

This small job is hardly worth mentioning, but does indicate that Monash was willing to take on any job that would get potential clients accustomed to the new material and, of course, turn a profit. The only document I have seen is an order dated March 1908 with price £65.

Carlton Brewery floors

This involved three jobs. The architects were Sydney Smith & Ogg, with W E L Wears acting as intermediary, and a Mr Stroud representing the architects or clients. The first job seems to have been simple floor plates supported on steel joists. RCMPC submitted quotes in April 1908 for both precast plates and in situ slabs, but recommended the latter. Two areas of floor were required, approximately 112 × 23 feet designed for 3 cwt per square foot and 112 × 56 feet for 2 cwt. Thicknesses were 6.5 and 5.5 inches respectively with spans of 10 feet. The builder was Archie Crow. The first requisition was issued on 4 May.

In mid-May the architects approached RCMPC about a top (3rd) floor as part of the "remodelling of the old bluestone cellars". Design load was 1.5 cwt and the proposed thickness 5 inches for spans just under 10 feet. RCMPC's quote for this job refers to the "floor in the Ballaarat St Cellar".

In the middle of June the architects complained of the quality of finish underneath the floors. RCMPC agreed to do £70 worth of "plastering" free of charge. (This probably means rendering with cement mortar.) An account for £930 was presented on 2 July.

The next job concerned floors for the CB Brewing Tower. A letter of tender for £1845 was submitted on 4 August. On 4 September, JM told the architects that work was "almost complete".

Victoria Brewery floors

I have sighted very little information on this. A drawing in the J Thomas Collection is entitled "Victoria Brewery: Reinforced Concrete Floor". The plan shows a narrow rectangular building with internal dimensions 92 × 22 feet surrounded by masonry walls 3 feet thick. The floor plate is 6.5 inches thick, supported on beams at 6'-2½" centres. The draughtsman was S J Lindsay, and the date appears to be 30/4/06.

In the RCMPC "Quotation Files" in UMA is a brief reference to a project entitled "Victoria Brewery Floors" for Sydney Smith & Ogg which appears to have been built from May to August 1908. The RCMPC engineer was H G Jenkinson. It is not clear whether the concrete was precast or in situ.

University Medical School, minor work

This is another small job. According to my research notes, a memo dated 2 May 1908 shows a Mr Yencken as foreman for C Langford, the builder. RCMPC tendered to Langford for two footings, two columns and many lintels for a total of about £60, and further work for £25. The drawings sighted show only lintels and mullions and this seems borne out by an small account for £38-12-0 tendered on 1 July.


Grant's Building

Once again, the story that emerges from our research in the RCMPC files needs to be confirmed and expanded by referral to other sources. This is how it stands.

This project is historically significant because it is probably the first warehouse in the City of Melbourne, under city Building Surveyor H E Morton, in which all vertical load was carried by columns rather than load-bearing walls. (The AMLF Stores in the suburb of Kensington, designed in 1905, had columns and non-load-bearing infill walls.) Unfortunately, the proposal was greatly reduced in size, from four storeys to one, before construction began. Provision was made for it to be extended upwards. The cost of doing this was investigated in 1912 [link] but there appears to have been no outcome.

The building was ordered by Thomas Alexander Grant of Glen Elgin, Toolern Vale. It was situated on Allotment 10, Section 43, Swanston St North, opposite the City Baths. The architects were Tunbridge & Tunbridge, whose letterhead described them as "Civil Engineers & Architects". The first communication recorded is a letter from Tunbridge dated 2 May 1908, enquiring what spacing of columns would be most economical in reinforced concrete construction. The scheme was tentative, as on 11 May RCMPC provided estimates for alternative configurations. Two storeys 83 × 80 feet in plan would cost £3100. Three storeys would cost £4300. Omitting the "fireproof" flat concrete roof and opting for a conventional roof would save between £700 and £750.

Monash's covering letter notes that the design floor loading has been reduced to 150 pounds per square foot [I do not know the original figure] but that this had been boosted by 40 per cent, to 210 psf, to allow for "vibrations". [Applied to a building, this term could well refer to the effect of rotating machinery, but the concept seems in JM's time to have overlapped with the modern concept of 'impact' e.g. in bridge decks.]

On 27 May, JM had a long meeting with "Colonel" Tunbridge to discuss the estimates. On 8 June, RCMPC received a drawing showing an elaborate four-storey facade. (The date is estimated, as architects at the time rarely put dates on drawings.) A letter of tender was sent on 15 June, but is marked "superseded".

The facade has two strong horizontal lines: a cornice to the flat roof, and another cornice at mid-height. Strong vertical lines are established within this scheme by exposed columns stretching over two storeys. Spandrels mark the intermediate floors. The central bay is wider and elaborated by blank panels.

Grant's Building as originally proposed. (Later reduced to one storey.)

On 3 July, Monash noted: "Col. Tunbridge calls and all in a hurry wants reduced estimate for a one-storey building with flat roof". There is no architectural drawing for this scheme in JTC. JM's instructions to his assistants for the redesign begin: "To prevent confusion, all previous design and estimate notes had better be wholly disregarded". The new cost was estimated at £1307, to which a margin of £370 was added, giving a tender price of £1677. This was accepted immediately. JM informed Works Manager Lynch that work would start the following Monday 13 July, and that about 8000 cubic feet of concrete would be required. RCMPC's first requisition was issued on 9th.

On that day the City Building Surveyor told the architects that the "contractors" (presumably RCMPC) had informed him they were starting work. He requested calculations. "I have had considerable trouble of late on various works through work being proceeded with before the particulars were supplied."

This letter, on the Building Surveyor's letterhead, contains the strange statement: "Re metal for reinforcement - if colonial steel is used, the stress intensity must not be taken as higher than 1,600 lbs per square mile". Was this a joke by Morton or someone in his office, or just a slip by a bored clerk? JM did not rub it in, but simply wrote "Kindly note the stress intensity stated on last line", and Morton replied "16,000 pounds per square inch".

The final structural computations were carried out by P T Fairway in the middle of July and JM sent them direct to Morton, explaining the building was to be single storey, but with the roof designed for 200 psf to allow for upward extension. Morton demanded to see the drawings, because he needed them to understand the calculations. At this point Monash lent Tunbridge £20 against the value of the architectural drawings. On 25th July, an engineering drawing of the concrete structure was issued, initialled by J A Laing and signed by P T Fairway as Engineer. (JM was probably preoccupied with a tender for the Stony Creek Weir.)

When he checked the calculations, Morton protested through the architects that the design allowed a bearing pressure beneath the foundations of 9000 psf and he could not accept more than 3 tons per square foot (6720 psf). RCMPC replied that they had never intended to load the footings to 9000 psf - that was just a check on their ultimate capacity. And in any case, as the foundations were deeper than usual, they should be quite capable of withstanding the higher pressure if necessary.

On 14 September, RCMPC announced that their work was almost complete and requested a second progress payment of £500. On 14 October they asked for the final certificate.

It is fairly certain that none of the walls of this humble building were load-bearing, which might make it the first in Australia to dispense entirely with the out-dated practice. Supporting evidence can be found in later correspondence. In December 1908, Monash was involved in discussions with architect W B Forster regarding proposals for a public lecture theatre. JM wanted again to avoid the use of load-bearing walls, but Morton told him that Grant's Building had to be seen as an exception because "he had allowed the work to go on on lines much less severe than the Referees wanted" and he did not wish this to become public.

Refer to text (below) and captions. Refer to text (below) and captions. Because the column is in a side wall, the footing extends only on the inside, so as not to encroach on adjoining property.

A. Vertical cross-sections through front wall at roof level and floor level.
B. Plan of footing for side-wall column, with horizontal cross-section of column and "curtain wall".

The drawing of 25 July 1908 also provides supporting evidence, though it is not crystal clear. At top left above is the detail for the moulded beam at "roof" level (possible future first floor) with its parapet wall. Underneath is the detail for the beam forming the skirting wall at footpath level. All these features are in reinforced concrete. Just below the moulded beam and just above the skirting wall can be seen cross-sections through horizontal wooden members, suggesting timber-framed fenestration.

Reinforcement for columns along all four sides of Grant's Building is properly detailed on the drawing (compare Mitchell's Building No.2). The plan, above right, shows a column in the side wall. The wall appears in horizontal cross-section and is marked "Curtain Wall", the term used at the time for a wall not intended to carry vertical load. Unfortunately, there is no clear indication of its nature. At Mitchell's Building, similar shading was used for what are almost certainly brick walls. No reinforcement is indicated, but that does not rule out concrete. A further complication is that it is not clear whether the horizontal section is taken below or above ground level and there is nothing to show how the wall was supported, whether from a strip footing or a ground beam.

Footings of the side-wall columns are eccentric to avoid encroaching on adjoining property. The detail of the skirting wall shows the ground floor slab to have been non-structural, supported by fill.


Canterbury Post Office (portions)

This job was for the federal Dept of Home Affairs (Commonwealth of Australia) with Thomas Hill as Works Director (Victoria). The builder was Murphy Bros.

The first documents in the RCMPC file are from mid-May 1908. The final quote, dated 11 August, is for the floor of the switching room (design load 200 psf), a flat roof over the colonnade (70 psf) and a staircase with 30 risers. As with the Windsor Telephone Exchange, the general contract was let later, in September. Monash then contacted Murphy, and P T Fairway made the final calculations over the following weeks.

The Post Office is in an acute angle formed by two streets. The narrow end of the building is rounded off to avoid a sharp corner. Rooms 1 to 3 are at the opposite end. An engineering drawing showing beam layout plus typical concrete outlines and reinforcement was drawn by J A Laing on 18 November and initalled by PTF on 7 December. The main part of the contract was Area 1 shown on our sketch plan at left: the floor over the terminal room. This had two pairs of lateral beams, presumably under heavy equipment, and three longitudinal beams. Area 2 is the stairwell. Faint marks indicate that a floor system was considered for Area 3, but it seems not to be included in the contract. At the bottom of the sketch, forming an arc in plan, is a 3" slab with 3/8" bars at 4" pitch. Notes indicate that the under-surfaces of the slabs were to be left as stripped. The top of Area 1 was to be screeded to receive battens for timber flooring. The stairs were to have a granolithic finish, and the colonnade roof a layer of "ashphaltum".

The first requisition for materials was issued on 4 December. On 3 February 1909 Alex Lynch reported all work complete except the granolithic on the stairs, which had to await work by Murphy. RCMPC's final account for £181 for the floor and stairs and 32 lintels was sent to Murphy Bros on 24 May.

The building may be seen on Google Street View at the corner of Canterbury Road and Maling Road, Canterbury, Victoria. A historic view is available at the National Archives of Australia with Series/Control symbol "B5919, 15/35" or Item Barcode 5950778.

Hawthorn Telephone Exchange & Post Office

This project is known to us only through four drawings and a letter. An early, superseded sketch is in the Canterbury Post Office file (see directly above). Two drawings in JTC dated early August 1908 show structural plans of the Ground and First Floors and "Ceiling", with details for the columns, beams, footings and stairs. They are initialled by J A Laing and P T Fairway and signed by Monash. A third drawing in September shows complete stair details. A letter dated 13 July 1909 to Bade[?] & Co of North Brighton asks them to send the held-over £20 to finalise RCMPC's accounts for the project. These facts strongly suggest that the project was built, but the absence of a specific project file in UMA is unusual.

Abraham's Floor

This was a small floor 56 × 15 feet in plan built at 275 Little Lonsdale Street. The architects were Grainger, Kennedy & Little. Correspondence covers the period May to July 1908, devoted to negotiations over prices and working out what the client could afford.

Bililla Curved Lintel

This small job, for a house in Halifax St, Brighton, is mentioned for its curiosity value and interest to engineers. The architect was Walter Butler. The correspondence, which has remained in RCMPC's "Quotation File", is minimal and somewhat confusing. It runs from late May to late June 1908. The builders[?] were Cumming & Waldie. The description below is based on H G Jenkinson's calculation sheets and the sketches they contain.

The engineering interest lies in a "curved lintel" or girder, above a large window. It had a radius in plan of about 36 feet and was about 43 feet long, supported on four columns. Its cross-section was first designed as 12 × 12 inches, then changed to 15 × 9. Cumming wanted 18 × 12. Its reinforcement was four longitudinal bars of ½" diameter. A note in the calculations says "no stirrups required".

For engineers. As this implies, no check was carried out on torsional stresses induced by the curvature. I need to check this, but believe that Codes of Practice in the English-speaking world did not deal with torsion in reinforced concrete until the 1960s.

The columns were 12 feet high. At one stage they were to be made from 15" Monier pipe filled with concrete and four 3/8" bars - "no ligatures required". Cumming later asked if they could be tapered from 16" at the base to 13.5" at the top. They were to sit on brick bases prepared by Cumming with a ¾" bolt sticking up.

Cumming was told that the changes he wanted would cost extra. The original quote was £39 and the charge was £41, so it is difficult to know just what was carried out.

Shop fronts, North Brighton

This is another job that was too small to justify its own RCMPC file, and has been left in the "Quotation File". It was a beam to span across three shop fronts in Bay St, North Brighton, supported at four points by the brick side walls. The architect was M H Ah Mouy of 16 Nimmo St, Middle Park. The estimate, in May 1908, was £28, including some small lintels for other windows. Calculations were by H G Jenkinson. The first requisition was issued on 16 July.

The calculations contain a sketch elevation. There is a larger drawing bound into the file in such a way that it cannot be opened without undoing the string that holds the entire file together.

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