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Robert Maillart

Swiss engineer and entrepreneur known especially for his early 20th century arch bridges with a revolutionary concept of aesthetics.

Biographical Information

Name: Robert Maillart
Born on 6 February 1872 in Berne, Berne, Switzerland, Europe
Deceased on 5 April 1940 in Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland, Europe
Place(s) of activity:
Education:

Studies at the Federal Technological Institute (ETH) Zurich in civil engineering

1894 - 1896

Works for Pümpin & Herzog (Bern)

1897 - 1899

Works for the City of Zurich

1899 - 1902

Works for Fraté & Westermann, Zurich

1902

Partner at Maillart & Cie.

1911

lecturer for the summer semester at the ETH Zurich

1912 - 1917

Construction of industrial buildings in Riga, Charkov and Kiev; Maillart returns after the October Revolution as widower with three children

1920

Engineering office in Geneva (now Tremblet S.A.)

1924

Secondary offices in Bern and Zurich

1934

Project for the Sitter Bridge (St. Gall)

1936

Honorary member of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)

Short biography of Robert Maillart

Robert Maillart grew up in a Calvinist family in Bern and his mathematical and drawing talents were already apparent during his years at grammar school. He studied structural engineering at Zurich ETH from 1890 to 1894, lectures by Wilhelm Ritter on graphical statics forming part of the curriculum. After graduating, Maillart worked for Pümpin & Herzog (Bern), the civil engineering department of the City of Zurich and Froté & Westermann. It was while he was employed in this latter company that he had his first spark of ingenuity: for the reinforced concrete arch bridge in Zuoz, completed in 1901, Maillart combined the road deck with the arch in such a way that a two-cell hollow box was formed. One year later, he founded his own company. Maillart designed a gasometer pit for the town of Sankt Gallen in 1903 and for the first time took into account the bending moments in the graphical analysis calculation of the internal forces for the cylindrical reinforced concrete shell fixed at the ground slab (see [Schöne, 1999, p. 71]). Later that year, Maillart observed long vertical cracks in the web in the vicinity of the abutments to the reinforced concrete arch bridge in Zuoz. These led to triangular cut-outs in the abutment elements and finally, in 1905, to the three-pin arch bridge spanning 51 m over the Rhine at Tavanasa. More than any other, Maillart gave the design language of reinforced concrete a valid architectural expression during the consolidation period of structural theory (1900–50). Not only his stiffened polygonal arches, e. g. over the Landquart at Klosters on the Chur–Davos railway line, or the Salginatobel Bridge at Schiers completed in 1930, but also his flat slab developed in 1908 according to the two-strip system are classic examples of the steady state between beauty and utility in the art of structural engineering. “Maillart was an engineer in the truest sense of the word. He placed theory and scientific findings entirely at the disposal of architecture: the first was his means, the other his goal. He saw experience and scientific knowledge as equal partners” [Roš, 1940, p. 224]. Maillart began his activities in Russia in 1912, but two years later he was caught unawares by the outbreak of World War 1 and had to be evacuated from Riga to Kharkov. He designed massive industrial structures for AEG and others in Kiev. Following the death of his wife and the outbreak of the October Revolution, Maillart returned to Switzerland with his three children penniless. Nevertheless, during his second period of creativity (1920–40), Maillart was able to complete 160 structures that embody the rigorous logic and artistic will of their creator. His most important contribution to theory of structures was the introduction of the concept of the shear centre and the clear formulation of its underlying theory in the early 1920s (see section 7.3.2.4). When Robert Maillart died on 5 April 1940, reinforced concrete construction lost a “concrete virtuoso” [Marti, 1996] and a genius of building. In his obituary, Mirko Gottfried Roš (1879–1972) writes:"You were both engineer and artist because your credo was the harmony between size, beauty and truth” [Roš, 1940, p. 226]. 

Main contributions to structural analysis:

  • Zur Frage der Biegung [1921/1];
  • Bemerkungen zur Frage der Biegung [1921/2];
  • Über Drehung und Biegung [1922];
  • Der Schubmittelpunkt [1924/1];
  • Zur Frage des Schubmittelpunktes [1924/1 & 1924/3];
  • Zur Entwicklung der unterzugslosen Decke in der Schweiz und in Amerika [1926];
  • Einige neuere Eisenbetonbrücken [1936] 

Source: Kurrer, Karl-Eugen The History of the Theory of Structures, Wilhelm Ernst & Sohn Verlag für Architektur und technische Wissenschaften GmbH, Berlin (Deutschland), ISBN 3-433-01838-3, 2008; p. 746/747

Structures and Projects

Participation in the following structures & large-scale projects:

designer
engineer
structural engineer

Bibliography

Relevant Publications

  • About this
    data sheet
  • Person-ID
    1000015
  • Date created
    30/12/1998
  • Last Update
    22/07/2014