Concrete construction

Concrete was a popular construction material during the 1930s, particularly for government multi-unit housing, but it was also used for individual houses. The industrial nature of concrete lent itself well to modernist architecture.

Concrete building construction

Concrete construction can be identified by thick walls and deep window and door reveals.
Reinforced concrete construction typically consisted of 4” or 6” (100 mm or 150 mm) thick, cast in situ, concrete external walls that were full height to the parapet and continuous with the foundations (Figure 1). The wall thickness was determined by their height (single or double storey) while the foundation walls were thicker, for example, 6” (150 mm) thick foundation walls were reduced to 4” (100 mm).

Reinforcing was typically 3/8” diameter (9.5 mm) at 12” (300 mm) centres in both directions with additional reinforcing around openings.

The external face of the concrete wall was finished with a ¾” (19 mm) thick solid plaster coat and a paint finish for waterproofing.

The interior face was lined with 4 x 2” (100 x 50 mm) timber framing with a 1” (25 mm) gap between the timber and the concrete to prevent any water that might get through the concrete wall from reaching the internal framing and lining. The interior face of the framing was lined with plasterboard.

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Fireplaces and chimneys

Open fires remained a common form of heating during the 1930s despite the advent of electric and gas heating.

Fireplaces and chimneys were constructed from in situ reinforced concrete and supported on a reinforced concrete foundation. They were generally located on an external wall and were often used to provide a feature to the external façade (Figure 2). Some were given a plaster finish. The fireplace interior was lined with fireclay bricks (Figure 3).

The fireplace hearth and surroundings were generally tiled to a ledge, also often tiled (sometimes with mottled or crystalline tiles), at approximately 4’ (1200 mm) above the floor. A timber mantelpiece was sometimes installed to the top of the tiling, and any shelving located beside the fireplace was also incorporated in the overall design.

Many fireplaces are assymetrical in design, with the firebox set to one side, or one end curved and the other end squared, or different tiling shapes and patterns used.