The Third International Congress on Construction History was held last month in the small town of Cottbus in eastern Germany.
Its Proceedings, available at the ICE Library, contain over 200 papers, which were arranged in a number of parallel sessions.
These were: knowledge media, biographies, materials, historical research, teaching knowledge transfer, vaults, structures, military construction, construction in art, engineering science, documentation, 20th century economic studies and construction history in film. Unsurprisingly structures dominated.
As with previous conferences, in Madrid and Cambridge, it was noteworthy for its global coverage – both in terms of delegates and subject matter – and the number of young researchers active in the field, particularly in Spain, Italy, Belgium and Germany.
Debate was lively and dialogue essential as it remains apparent that, despite previous events, much research is pursued in relative isolation in national silos, while ideas and techniques rarely remain restricted in that way. One trend appears to be increasing research into 20th century construction.
Two papers on curtain walls by Miron Mislin, comparing developments in the US and Germany, and Anke Fissabre and Bernhard Niethammer’s paper on an example of a glass curtain wall of 1903 for the Steiff Toy Factory. The latter designed by Richard Steiff, inventor of the teddy bear, is a recent rediscovery, and a reminder that structurally innovative buildings can still be found. It is invidious to select further papers, suffice it to say that anybody interested in developments in construction over the last 2,000 years will find papers of interest in the Proceedings.
Approaches vary from Malcolm Dunkeld’s review of paintings by Ford Madox Brown and other artists to Radelet-de Grave’s study of Jacob Bernoulli’s Elastica.
The Technical University, Brandenburg hosted the event.Its library and media centre is a striking piece of modern architecture. It hosted an exhibition on David Gilly, who worked as a civil engineer and architect in 18th century Prussia, and helped establish the Technical University in Berlin.
That institution, founded as the Bauakademie, was a pioneer of engineering education in the 19th century, just as Cottbus is leading the way in engineering history and heritage today. With international courses on world heritage it is demonstrating a demand for teaching and research in a field which is a poor relation in Britain despite the proportion of construction expenditure on maintenance and renewal broadly similar to Germany.