the concrete frame – a model of economy

by helenawesterlind

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If the success of an architectural typology can be defined merely by its reproducibility the concrete structural frame must be regarded as the most successful example of architecture as an industrial process. It is a global phenomena that appears in endless variation based on a few generalised design principles and has become “the most recognisable –the most fundamental –project of twentieth-century”.

Adrian Forty has pointed out that the introduction of concrete as a building material, not only, changed the economics of construction, but that it also has affected the entire composition of the building industry by shifting the balance from skilled craft labour to unskilled labour. As an alternative to traditional construction that was dependent on expensive skilled craft labour, concrete offered the possibility of cheaper construction by sidestepping the traditional trades, and breaking their monopoly over construction. “There are good grounds for saying that the phenomenal success of concrete in advanced economies where wages are high has had as much to do with this aspect of concrete as with any constructional advantages”.

It is against this background of ‘economy of labour’ that the phenomenal success of the concrete frame typology can begin to be understood–as yet another consequence of the capitalist demand for more cost-efficient construction. The execution of reinforced concrete as a structural frame enabled the pursuit of a ‘structural economy’ that promised even greater radical reductions in material, time and labour.

The conceptual basis for the model was provided by Le Corbusier, when he in 1915 tried to patent, but failed, his Domino design for a simple post and slap reinforced concrete structure. The scheme represented a new method of construction that promised a rapid an economical way of producing mass housing as a solution to the post-war rebuilding problem after WW1. The Domino scheme was a continuation and radicalisation of existing standardized reinforced concrete systems such as the Hennebique system. Even though Le Corbusier’s project was never realised in its pure form, and is widely acknowledged to not be fully resolved technically, the project became extremely influential as a concept of an economical model for housing that anticipated the industrialisation of construction.

to be cont…