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concrete

27

I

n 1925, the Royal Horticultural Society

engaged the Scottish-American

partnership of Easton and Robertson

to design a new exhibition hall near

its existing premises in Vincent Square.

Modernist in outlook, the pair partnered with

the highly regarded Anglo-Danish engineer

Oscar Faber to deliver the greatest area with

the fewest columns. Faber had pioneered

the calculation of load factors in concrete

structural elements and was determined to

innovate. Recent large-span buildings in

Sweden (Gothenburg) and France (Orly)

provided clues, but some had been executed

in timber and none was a perfect precedent.

His final design featured six near-parabolic

arches of in-situ reinforced concrete, ending

in small, vertical columns for the least

footprint possible. These formed a space

17.5m tall at its highest point, 22m wide and

45.4m long. Side thrust was countered by the

lowest of four levels of horizontal slabs that

together formed the roof. The slabs were tied

into the arches by extensive reinforcement,

kept thin by special screwed joints invented

by Faber. To further emphasise this bravura,

the side walls between the slabs were filled

only with glass. Easton and Robertson clad

some of this concrete with artificial marble

and plaster, in part anticipating criticism of so

much exposed material.

Brutalism

Within a generation though, such timidity

had vanished,most obviously with the

work of the movement termed – as early as

1955 – Brutalism.Now, concrete was not

only exposed but celebrated. The material’s

mass and toughness were seen as universal,

even democratic, and its strength and

evident plasticity enabled realisation of the

contemporary concept of the megastructure, a

large fixed shell containing multiple, variable

functions. In 1968, working with the newly

ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN

Caption

Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate.

(Photo:Shutterstock/Claudio Divizia.)

Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate.

(Photo:Richard Summers.)