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Nick started his cotutelle award with the University of Lille (ENSAPL) in 2020 as a full-time doctoral student in architectural and construction history. Prior to that he worked for many years in education, including most recently for the global Instituion of Structural Engineers, headquartered in London. Nick has self-published a book on the history of the famous Brunel and Barry families of 19th-century engineers and architects.


Prof. Gerry Adler
Alan Powers

Technical Standards, Novel Materials & Building Design

Learning from ‘Belle Epoque’ urban buildings that used novel reinforced concrete systems

My doctoral examines sixteen example historic buildings in three modern metropolises: Ile-de-France/Paris, Lille Metropole and Brussels. These buildings were constructed using (at least partially) novel reinforced concrete and cement materials-systems. Early technical standards for these novel materials-systems included new industrial patents, building requirements and technical guidance. These were applied using prior technical knowledge about iron and steel components, as well as economic imperatives for more fire-resistant structures and better sunlit interiors. There were also social and political demands for better air circulation, greater hygiene and more affordable housing. The thesis considers all of these factors in determining key relationships between technical and aesthetic drivers in historic building design. I define a new historical mechanism, which perhaps can be applied to the modern day in our use of new construction materials and systems.

The importance of terms

  • What do we mean by a technical standard?

  • Did building designers of a century ago see buildings the same way we do now?

  • How do we decide what we really need from a novel construction material or system? 

  • Has concrete been worth the global cost?

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