Robert Maillart and Structural Reinforced Concrete

Salginatobel Bridge

Salginatobel Bridge

On February 6, 1872, Swiss civil engineer Robert Maillart was born. Maillart revolutionized the use of structural reinforced concrete with such designs as the three-hinged arch and the deck-stiffened arch for bridges, and the beamless floor slab and mushroom ceiling for industrial buildings.

Robert Maillart attended the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. He was not known to excel in academix theories and the overuse of math. Maillart preferred the use of common sense and tested his bridges by crossing them himself. In Bern, Maillart worked together with Pümpin & Herzog and continued working in Zurich later on.

He established his own company in 1902 and moved to Russia with his entire family in order to manage the construction of larger projects including warehouses and factories. Unfortunately, Robert Maillart faced some bad times during the end of World War I. His wife passed away and he lost most of his projects, causing him to go bankrupt and return to Switzerland. By 1920 he moved to an engineering office in Geneva, which later had offices in Bern and Zurich.

Possibly the first to understand and work with reinforced concrete was Joseph Monier, who embedded iron-wire into concrete. The gardener began to sell his patents to contractors who then built the first reinforced concrete bridges in Europe. The material got widely accepted in the early 20th century and Robert Maillart began to exploit its aestethic.

Maillart managed to design three-hinged arches in which the deck and the arch ribs were combined, to produce closely integrated structures that evolved into stiffened arches of very thin reinforced concrete and concrete slabs. Further works by Maillart include the Salginatobel Bridge across an alpine valley in Schiers, Switzerland and Schwandbach Bridge near Bern. With these works, Robert Maillart became known for his ability to simplify design in order to allow for maximum use of materials and to incorporate the natural beauty of the structure’s environment.

However, Robert Maillart is not only known for his bridge construction work. He also designed columns in many buildings and constructed mushroom ceilings, for example in Swiss warehouses. To one of his most famous designs belong the the columns in the water filtration plant in Rorschach, Switzerland. Maillart’s design of the columns included flaring the tops to reduce the bending moment in the beams between the columns. With the flare, the columns formed slight arches to transfer the loads from the ceiling beams to the columns.

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