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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.

Fireproof floor proposal for David Mitchell.

On 14 August 1904, Monash prepared a quotation for fireproof floors for a proposed building for David Mitchell. The original computation is a gem of simplicity with structural design, quantities and estimate of cost all done on a single sheet of paper approximately A8 size. This epitomises JM's efficient and business-like approach. Mitchell must have shown interest, as on 18th JM prepared a "developed design" on four sheets of quarto (approx A4). There is no evidence of construction and the project may have been an early idea for Mitchell's Olivers Lane building.

Minor proposals, Sept 1904.

September 1904 saw a quotation for a proscenium arch for Essendon Town Hall (no evidence of construction) and a girder for "Mr Blackett", presumably architect W. A. M. Blackett, to carry a brick wall over a span of 8 feet.

Bank Place Chambers ("Whitehall").

The ground floor has four thick rusticated pillars and a deep decorated freeze above them. The five upper floors are clad in brick with a prominent ledge to mark each floor level.

Left photo: ornate ground floor. Right photo: upper stories. Photos c.2000.
The building is currently used as serviced apartments.

This was a significant project for Monash: his first building with a reinforced concrete structural frame (footings, columns, floor beams and slabs, and internal partitions). The ends of the partition walls were flared in plan to dovetail into the brick external walls, whose thickness was governed by outdated building regulations. The architect for the project was "Lt. Colonel Tunbridge" of Tunbridge & Tunbridge and the general contractor was Clements Langford. The earliest document in the UMA file is a rough sketch cross-section of 31 March 1905, showing room and corridor sizes which may have been made at an early meeting. Computations and estimates were made the next day, but a set dated 16 and 18 June is marked "Preliminary Calculations".

On 26 June JM, wrote to Gummow that he had been "engaged in a great contest with the Building Surveyor's Department ... and now have every hope of getting his sanction to the execution of the floors and columns of a seven storey building in the City". The same day he made notes for a meeting with the Building Referees, who considered proposals such as this that did not conform to existing building regulations. The notes list recent examples of reinforced concrete construction; emphasise the resistance of concrete to fire; and note that r.c. floors are stronger than stone or plain concrete slabs.

Later that day JM was able to write in a second letter to Gummow:

"You will doubtless be pleased to hear that the very protracted crusade, in getting reinforced concrete adopted in City Building Construction, has at last eventuated in complete success. Since writing you earlier today, we had a final meeting with the City Building Referees, and they have given their formal award approving of the system as a proper alternative to the fireproof construction stipulated by the Building Act. This award was given specifically in respect to the plans of a building submitted by Lt. Col. Tunbridge as Architect on behalf of the National Mutual Life Association.

The building is to be situated near the Bank of Australasia, in Bank Place ... thus being right in the centre of the city. The building will be approximately 77' × 33' inside of outer walls. It has 7 floors, including basement. The whole of the footings, columns, floors, joists, girders, stairs, partitions, lintels and flat roof are to be of reinforced concrete, totalling in value, roughly £3500. The stipulated loading is 80 lbs per s.f. [pounds per square foot] live load, being for offices and residential purposes only. No span for any rib exceeds 16 ft and most are only 14 ft. The problem does not involve, therefore, any exceptional stresses.

At the moment of writing, the matter stands this way. A rough price has been given, and approved. A more accurate price is now asked for, upon the basis of a detailed specification, which I will have to prepare. I have no reason to doubt either the acceptance of this price, or the progress of the job; as the building which it is to displace is already being pulled down. I am therefore making an immediate start with the detailed design. As the work will have to be pressed forward very rapidly, I fear there will not be time to submit to you the detailed set of drawings in the first instance. I will have to resort to splitting up the problem into elements, submitting same to you for your advice in order of urgency, thus:- Columns, joist, girder, floorplate, stairway, &c, &c. I enclose the first of these herewith, and beg your early reply.

Bank Chambers.
Query No.1.
Basement Columns.

There are to be 7 columns, each supporting a floor area of 170 s.ft. They run right up the building from foundations to roof. The "free" length (between floor and ceiling) will not exceed 12 ft.
The computed utmost total load on any one column at the foundations is as follows:

Dead Load196,292
Live load, all floors loaded simultaneously with 80 psf  95,200

It is proposed to make these columns in the basement 24" × 14" in plan section.
Please advise as to:
 (a) Concrete mixture,
 (b) Number, diameter, and arrangement of vertical rods,
 (c) Spacing, and diameter of horizontal ligatures,
 (d) An outline of what you consider the best method of transferring the load from such a column, to the footings, which will be about 6' × 6' resting on very good ironstone bottom."

JM would have been able to perform the necessary calculations himself, but either because of haste or a desire to obtain a completely independent check, he chose not to tell Baltzer the results of his own figuring. JM had decided, as a result of practical experience and laboratory tests, that GF&Co misunderstood the formula for the amount of shear reinforcement required in beams. When he received Baltzer's calculations, he made a marginal note against the relevant calculations: "All wrong. Worked out on [wrong formula] but their results are correct as far as they go", and doubled the amount of reinforcement.

(Note for engineers: Baltzer used Rankine's formula to calculate the strength of the columns, giving a factor of safety of 5 assuming ends partially fixed, or 4 assuming pinned ends. For transfer of loads from columns to footings he referred JM to Beton und Eisen IV (1904) p.197.)

Please refer to caption. Shear reinforcement of the main girder includes bent-up main bars, and stirrups.

Typical Girder. Type E. Extract from Bank Place Chambers Drawing No.4: Type Details. (J Thomas Collection.) The floor slab and three "ribs" are shown in cross-section. The top of a reinforced concrete partition wall is shown below the right-hand rib.

On 8 July, JM informed Gummow that he had bid £3700 for the job and was confident of getting it. He included technical discussion of the structural design of r.c. partitions and floors. On 11th RCMPC informed JM, then in Sydney, that Bank Chambers had been "settled". A memo dated 27th reads: "Saw Swanson Bros ... told them price was net. They say they will tender on M. P. Coy's price and go at M.P. Coy. for 10 per cent." [Here "M. P. Coy" = Monier Pipe Co. = RCMPC.] However, the successful tenderer was Clement Langford.

Early in August, Gibson noted that the price of timber was about to rise and asked JM how much would be needed for Bank Place. On 15th JM drew up a list of "Points to be settled to allow design to proceed". On 24th a revised price of £3495 was tendered allowing for alterations to the design. This price was accepted by Tunbridge & Tunbridge, "Civil Engineers & Architects", on 9 Sept 1905. From the middle of the month the production of detailed computations and drawings was constant. In November, JM informed foreman Alex Lynch that, following tests he had conducted at the University, shear reinforcement in floor beams was to be boosted. This was done mainly by inserting more stirrups, which gave the added benefit of reduced spacing.

Please refer to caption.

University of Melbourne Archives, GPNB/1208. (Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co. Collection.) Work on one of the upper floors of Bank Place Chambers (alias "Whitehall"). Parts of the masonry external walls progress ahead of concrete work. Two archways for the central corridor of the floor under construction are complete. At middle foreground, one of the stair wells can been seen. (The inscription on the original slide box has become unclear, and someone has queried "Gas Works Offices?". However, the building itself corresponds in many ways with the plans of Bank Place Chambers. If it is BPC, the view would be looking diagonally from the front of the building, in a south-easterly direction.)

Please refer to caption.

University of Melbourne Archives, GPNB/1212. Basement. If this is typical of the other floors, the archways mark the central corridor, and partitions are yet to be installed. Girders above the arches (seen receding into the distance) support ribs that span across the top of the photograph to the external wall at right. The middle girder is of Type E, as shown in the drawing above.

More historic images of this building are held by the University of Melbourne Archives with numbers GPNB/1197, 1199 and 1200. GPNB/1197 is centred on the frieze, on the front facade at first-floor level (see modern photo above). GPNB/1199 is the view of construction reproduced on p.12 of Lewis 1988. GPNB/1200 shows concreting of the roof slab, with parapet and chimneys complete, looking over the building from the rear towards the West.

In January 1906, JM recorded a meeting with "Col. Tunbridge, Mr. Langford, George and Lynch" about the unsatisfactory rate of progress. Concreting had been delayed while waiting for completion of brickwork.

On Friday 2 March, RVIA members visited the site. The RVIA Journal [Vol.3, 199-202] reported that the building was to be used as offices and residential chambers. The floors were 3 inches thick and the partitions 2.5 inches. Colonel Tunbridge said it had "fallen to his lot to provide a practical illustration of the lecture delivered before the RVIA by Major Monash a year or so ago". President of the RVIA Charles D'Ebro proposed the health of Tunbridge and Monash. Mr R J Haddon FRIVA said it "certainly did offend" that building regulations required the outer walls to be brick when the interior was reinforced concrete. JM said the original intention had been to keep the masonry and r.c. work separate, building the outer walls from external scaffolding. A late decision to construct the masonry from internal scaffolding had caused delays, but the rate of construction was now one floor per week. Newspaper articles followed in the Argus (3rd) and Age (5th), the first possibly drafted by JM. The project was marred by the death of a workman that month, J. Fisher, hit by a piece of timber that fell while being hoisted.

Our research notes conclude with the drawing of the fourth floor being issued on 23 April 1906, a mention on 29 May of an increase in the structural depth of the fifth floor, and a note to GF&Co saying that by the end of May 383 cubic yards of concrete had been poured at Bank Place. A "Record of Work" listing carpentry, metalwork and concreting does not go beyond 12 April 1906.

Proposed Grimwade floor.

Late in June 1905, contact was made with architects Geo Parsons & Son concerning a building for Russell Grimwade. Sample computations and estimates for a reinforced concrete floor were prepared early in July. This was later amended to allow for increased loads. A formal letter of tender was submitted on 1 August. However, early in September, Parsons wrote to tell Monash that his Monier floor had been included in their specifications, but had been omitted during construction (presumably replaced by a timber, or steel-and-timber, floor). This had been done "in order to shorten the time". It had nothing to do with cost "although incidentally we make a small saving".

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