The object of this pamphlet is to stimulate the use of Portland Cement Concrete as a material for the building purposes on landed estates in Great Britain and Ireland, on the grounds of its applicability and economy, more especially where suitable materials are on the spot and labour plentiful. Having had considerable experience of its uses, I venture to recommend it, and beg to submit a few well-chosen and inexpensive designs for the consideration of those who may have occasion to erect such buildings and require to study economy. (preface, vii)
The accompanying designs are well worth a look for those interested in either concrete or nineteenth-century architecture. Birch’s drawings remain picturesque, employing elements such as half-timbering and rustication. If I had not known Birch was advocating for the use of concrete, I would not have guessed that it was the intended material for construction.
Beauty is probably not the first word that comes to mind when people think of concrete,but one look through photographs in Le Béton en Representation:La Mémoire Photographique de l’Enterprise Hennebique 1890-1930 is enough to make you fall in love with the material. Francoise Hennebique’s “ferro-concrete”, a system of steel reinforced concrete patented in 1892 as Béton Armé, helped popularize the use of concrete in Europe and the near east. In addition to establishing his own company, Hennebique cannily used a network of agents to license the use of his patented system to firms constructing their own designs with the amazing results that between 1892 and 1902 over 7,000 structures were built using the system Hennebique.
You might think, that is all very interesting, but this book is in French and I can’t read it. Why would I check this out? Check it out for the amazing, inspiring photographs! The commercial photographers who documented these buildings may have only been interested in creating realistic images to use in advertising and promotional materials, but these images are so beautiful! Photography captures the prismatic surfaces and stark lines of concrete silos, bunkers, and staircases and transforms bland industrial structures into stunning modernist compositions. The fine tonal gradations of concrete are captured so exquisitely by the medium of black and white photography, the hard shell metamorphoses into a sensual surface, almost suggestive of human skin.
To be inspired by more images like these , Le Béton en Représentation can be found in the library catalog here.
Blog from the University of Texas Architecture and Planning Library