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Concrete: The Vision of a New Architecture

Peter Collins
Foreword by Kenneth Frampton
Introduction by Réjean Legault
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 472
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    From the Foreword by Kenneth Frampton: "Concrete remains a valuable historical text that in many respects has never been given its due. It is an unmatched pioneering history of the development of reinforced concrete up to 1914. It records and analyses the densely articulated, if provincial, English debate with respect to the aesthetic challenge posed by the increasing popularity of concrete from around 1870 onwards. Finally, until very recently it was the only readily available monograph on Auguste Perret in English. In this regard it is particularly valuable as a thorough and perceptive assessment of Perret's life and career, one that still stands as a point of departure for all current attempts to situate this seminal architect within the wider trajectory of twentieth-century culture."

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7119-8
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xx)
    Kenneth Frampton

    Dedicated to Marie Dormoy, an early commentator on the work of Auguste Perret, Peter Collins’s first work of consequence —Concrete, published in 1959 — is possibly one of the most misleading publications of its time. That Collins elected to publish his study of Perret under this title is symptomatic of an epoch in which concrete was still commonly regarded as the demiurge of the Modern movement. Even sophisticates such as Collins appear to have uncritically assumed that concrete was as much the quintessence of modernity as the architecture it gave rise to. In fact, it is difficult to find...

  5. INTRODUCTION Concrete: On Peter Collins’s Vision of a New Architecture
    (pp. xxi-lx)
    Réjean Legault

    The publication in 1959 ofConcrete, The Vision of a New Architecturewas Peter Collins’s first significant contribution to the study of twentieth-century architecture. Concrete tells the story of the exceptional encounter between a material, reinforced concrete, and the vision of a celebrated architect, Auguste Perret. With this substantial book, whose title reads like a futurist slogan, Collins showed that his erudition and wit could bring a unique historiographic project to life. But it was his second book,Changing Ideals in Modern Architecture, published in 1965, that brought him international recognition.² An iconoclastic genealogy of modernist thinking,Changing Idealsproposes...

  6. Preface to the First Edition
    (pp. lxi-lxii)

    • CHAPTER ONE Béton
      (pp. 19-35)

      At the beginning of this century, when interest in reinforced concrete as becoming widespread, the popular lecturer on the subject had a standard — one might almost say ritual — phrase with which to open his discourse. ‘Concrete’, he would say, ‘is one of our oldest building materials, having been frequently employed by the Romans. The dome of the Pantheon, built nearly eighteen hundred years ago, is an eloquent testimony to its architectural possibilities, as well as reliable evidence of its durability and strength.’ Then, conscious that he had fulfilled his duty towards polite convention by placing his subject on...

    • CHAPTER TWO Concrete
      (pp. 36-55)

      In 1836, the first gold medal ever awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects was presented to George Godwin for a prize essay entitledThe Nature and Properties of Concrete, and its application to Construction up to the present period.¹ It was a scholarly work, and typical of the period in which it was written in that it still relied largely on the authority of classical authors for confirmation of the scientific facts adduced. Beginning with the quotation‘Auxilia humilia firma consensus facit’, and taking as his text Matthew vii. 25, which refers to a man who built his...

    • CHAPTER THREE Reinforcement
      (pp. 56-75)

      Architects in nineteenth-century America never seem to have taken as great an interest in the structural possibilities of concrete as their confrères in Europe, even though, by a curious coincidence, some of the most important contributions to the development of reinforcement were produced in the United States. The reasons for this are not far to seek. Until the last quarter of the century, the high cost of imported cement made the use of mass concrete an unjustifiable luxury for any type of building, and when eventually the cement industry was established in America, steel was becoming increasingly available for tall...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Exploitation and Development
      (pp. 76-94)

      With an equity which fate seldom introduces into the realm of business affairs, it so happened that Hennebique’s most successful competitor was Edmond Coignet, the son of the originator ofBétons Agglomérés. Inspired by the same ambitions as his father, but better equipped technically for the task, Edmond Coignet had been trained as an engineer at the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures, and made his first distinguished contribution to the theory of concrete design in 1888, when he read a paper on the subject of reinforcement to the French Society of Civil Engineers .¹ In 1892 he constructed his...

    • PLATES
      (pp. None)

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 97-111)

      The various discussions which took place in the 1870’s concerning the architectural expression of concrete were not perhaps of tremendous consequence in the general history of nineteenth-century architecture, but they throw an interesting light on the Victorian mind, since they represent one of the few controversies concerned with a new architecture which did not peter out in frustration and disappointment. In spite of their tremendous achievements in planning and construction, the architects of the period were extraordinarily sensitive to their shortcomings as regards choice of architectural forms, and whilst certain modern historians may justifiably urge us to disregard contemporary self-criticism...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Twentieth Century
      (pp. 112-150)

      The analysis of modern architectural opinions presents considerable difficulties, because since the beginning of the century there have been so many of them, and so many means of propagating them, that it is hard to distinguish the multifarious currents, and hazardous to claim any one trend as typical over a wide field. Within and between each country, the periodicals circulate; to be read avidly by those who share the editor’s views; to be cast violently aside by those who react against them. During the first quarter of the century, most of the architectural periodicals were highly conservative, and it was...


    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Student
      (pp. 153-172)

      Le Corbusier once remarked reproachfully that Auguste Perret was not a revolutionary but a ‘continuator’, and that his entire personality was to be found in ‘the continuation of the great, noble and elegant truths of French architecture’.¹ This observation was prompted by an episode which had occurred twenty-five years before when, at the age of twenty-one, he had worked half-days in Perret’s office and studied during the afternoons. Perret had suggested several times that one of these afternoons might profitably be spent at the palace of Versailles.’ “Have you been to Versailles yet?” Perret asked for the third time. “No,...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Apprentice
      (pp. 173-193)

      Since it is now accepted as a commonplace of architectural history that Auguste Perret’s apartment block in the rue Franklin in Paris constituted ‘the first employment of ferro-concrete as a medium for architectural expression’¹, it is natural that those who have studied his work in its relationship to the general evolution of contemporary architecture should regard this building as the starting point of his career; and so, in a very real sense, it was. Yet it must be remembered that Auguste Perret was nearly thirty before he undertook this enterprise, and although its originality is uncontestable, it is evident from...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Theorist
      (pp. 194-223)

      It might perhaps seem pretentious to assert that the theories of Auguste Perret were but the logical extension of those which inspired the creation of the Parthenon, were it not that similar claims have been made to support almost every architectural theory put forward within the last two hundred years. Indeed, the tremendous veneration which succeeding generations have felt for this monument is nowhere more clearly shown than by the persistence and ingenuity with which its qualities have been variously interpreted to justify every change in architectural fashion, from the servile duplication of Greek monuments to the most individualistic compositions...

    • PLATES
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER TEN The Constructor
      (pp. 224-269)

      Auguste Perret’s career as an architect was divided into two distinct periods, which may be termed ‘formative’ and ‘definitive’. In the formative period, which lasted until 1928, he designed few important buildings, and was obliged for lack of financial resources to concentrate more on structural economy than on refinements of surface and line. Apart from the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, which in any case was faced with marble, and had been already conceived in its general lines before he was asked to participate, the only monumental buildings he constructed in reinforced concrete at that time were the churches at Le Raincy...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The Master
      (pp. 270-288)

      Despite Auguste Perret’s adherence to that mediaeval tradition which, as expounded (though not practised) by Viollet-le-Duc, was the very antithesis of academic, he was persuaded at the age of fifty to open an independentatelierat the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. It was not unnatural that the younger generation should have thus sought him out. In 1924 there was not another architect in Europe who was so clearly creating a new architecture from modern building materials, or who could claim to have consistently pursued the same rational ideal for over twenty years. Industrial or exhibition buildings in bare concrete had long...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 289-301)
  11. Three Unpublished Essays by Collins
    (pp. 302-302)

    The Classicism of Auguste Perret. This essay is the written version of a paper presented at the twenty-third annual meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians, Washington DC in 1970. It was presented in a session on twentieth century classicism chaired by Stephen W. Jacobs of Cornell University. A résumé of the paper was published in the October 1970 issue of theSAH Journal(29, no.3, p. 272).

    The New Brutalism of the 1920s. This essay is the written version of a paper presented at the twenty-seventh annual meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians in New Orleans, Louisiana, Thursday...

  12. The Classicism of Auguste Perret
    (pp. 303-314)

    It seems to me that the most useful contribution I can make towards a realistic appreciation of this well-worn taxonomical theme is by concentrating on the extent to which the character of Perret’s architecture was a synthesis of the concepts of antiquity and mediaevalism developed theoretically in the late nineteenth century, i.e. in the era in which he received his formal education. In this way I hope to dispose of the assertion (implicit in the phrase “dilute classicism”) that Perret’s reinforced-concrete architecture was ‘insipid,’ in the sense that it demonstrated his inability to liberate himself from the stylistic nineteenth century...

  13. The New Brutalism of the 1920s
    (pp. 315-340)

    I imagine that everybody here has some familiarity with the church of Notre Dame du Raincy, designed in 1922 by Auguste Perret, and built by his own contracting firm. I assume also that most of you are prepared to admit its historical importance: an importance recognized by Henry-Russell Hitchcock inArchitecture: 19th and 20th Centuries, when he wrote: “when Perret erected the church of Notre Dame at Le Raincy, concrete came of age as a building material.”

    Nevertheless, since Nikolaus Pevsner does not even mention the building in his bookPioneers of Modern Design, and since the only reference to...

  14. Perret’s Articulation of Reinforced Concrete Frames
    (pp. 341-352)

    The architectural use of exposed concrete is now so widespread as to seem not only natural but inevitable. Yet during the first two decades of the twentieth century, it was generally assumed that reinforced-concrete frames must, by their nature, be invisible supports, except in utilitarian buildings such as factories. Architects whose clients could afford to clothe these structural elements in what they considered “respectable” materials (i.e. brick or stone) designed the buildings to have the external appearance of masonry construction. Less wealthy clients used non-structural veneers, such as stucco, to cover the load-bearing frame and its solid infill. Even the...

  15. Index
    (pp. 353-364)