TALK: Engineering Heritage Victoria and the RHSV - Dr Giorgio Marfella presents 'Seeds of Concrete Progress'

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Giorgio Marfella

In partnership with Engineering Heritage Victoria

The fascination of the Modern Movement with the uncompromising aesthetics of concrete silos scattered worldwide is well known. Since their first appearances in North America, the arrays of concrete silos used for storing grain along railway networks have captured the attention of many, including architects, industrial archaeologists, painters, photographers, and artists. However, several aspects of the construction and engineering of their design are less known and remain worthy of more research.

On the edge of Nhill, across the railroad tracks, is the former Noske Brothers’ flour mill. According to Richard Cornish writing of his ‘Six reasons to visit Nhill’ in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Built in 1888, it became the largest freestanding concrete structure in Australia 20 years later when a massive concrete silo was added. Now abandoned, the site has a brutal beauty that attracts photographers, especially at dawn and dusk, when the dying light of the day wraps itself gradually around its concrete curves.”

In the early 1900s, concrete grain elevators also blossomed along the Australian railway networks of the Wheat Belts, marking with their enduring presence the landscapes of many rural towns and cities in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and Western Australia. The Australian reception of these industrial structures of American provenance is proof of the far-sighted efforts of the State Governments of the time and contribute to the nation-building of modern Australia in a global context.

These widespread concrete structures also have important significance in engineering and technological history due to their innovative construction methods. The rural and urban proliferation of grain silos in Australia contributed significantly to developing a confident local concrete industry. During the 1920s, concrete technology entered a new phase bolstered by ingenious systems of movable formwork, like slip forming. After World War II, the mastering of engineering and construction techniques used in silos opened the doors to high-rise concrete construction methods still critical today for infrastructure and multi-storey buildings.

Dr Giorgio Marfella is a graduate of the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Florence (Italy) and holds a PhD in Architecture from the University of Melbourne.

He joined the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, at the University of Melbourne in 2014, where he is appointed as full time Senior Lecturer in Construction and Architecture. Giorgio is a registered architect and the current chairperson of the Architects Registration Board of Victoria, and before becoming an academic he has practiced with several renowned architectural companies based in Melbourne.

Giorgio is an international expert on the design, technology and history of tall buildings. In his doctorate thesis, he researched the techno-economic evolution of Melbourne’s skyscrapers during the second half of the twentieth century, revealing how their built form was a by-product of entrepreneurial speculation, public interest, international design exchange and radical technological innovation. He is a research active academic and member of his Faculty’s research centre, Australian Centre for Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage, where he contributes for his expertise in construction history. His research activities are concentrated on the techno-economic implications of tall buildings of the present, the cultural legacy of those from the past, the history of technology in architecture, and the processes of design innovation through the advancement of building products and materials.