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Letters: Celebrating the return of no fines concrete

No fines house

No fines: Good for housing and high rise buildings

Your article on no-fines took me back to my days as an agent for Wimpey in Kent in the 1960s. We were building tower blocks 14 to 20 storeys high. Reinforced concrete columns were formed in the thickness of the walls by using steel pans around the reinforcement. The no-fines for the walls was poured first, then the columns were poured pulling the pans out with the crane as the columns were vibrated with a poker. Ring beams were formed in the top of the wall shutters to support the floor slabs. We added a lift every four working days. As far as I know all the seven blocks I was involved in are still standing!

  • Mike Reynolds (M) I read with interest the article

“Comeback for no fines housing” (NCE 19 March). Wimpey constructed a significant number of no fines houses during the 1950s and 1960s, filling a need for mass post war housing using limited skilled labour. Initially no fines was used for two and three storey houses, then apartment blocks up to five storeys high. Because of its nature, no-fines concrete did not segregate when being poured, and induced a much lower pressure on the formwork than normal concrete, so two storey pours could be achieved.

With the need to build higher, the multi-storey system was developed, incorporating an insitu reinforced concrete frame.

The no fines concrete walls in the tower blocks were non-loadbearing, with the dense concrete columns, shear walls and beams being incorporated within the shuttering. Well over 700 buildings were constructed using this method (more than with any other system), up to 25 storeys high. However, by the late 1960s/early 1970s, the social aspects of high rise accommodation coupled with the Ronan Point collapse signalled the end of high rise dwellings in the UK.

During the immediate post-Ronan Point period, Wimpey design engineers spent a considerable amount of time proving to local authorities that their no fines buildings could withstand the new upgraded wind loadings and progressive collapse criteria without the need for any strengthening. The inherent strength of the system meant that no building had to be retro-strengthened.

There are still many of these tower blocks giving good service. However, ironically, I have in the past had the opportunity to witness demolition by explosives of two tower blocks which I designed!

  • Malcolm Brittain (F)

In the 1960s, while working for AM Robertson on new pier works in the Western Isles, I mentioned Wimpey’s no fines system. Robertson said that this was not new; rather that the Isles had practised the system for a long time. Materials were not only difficult to get but expensive due to haulage so they imported cement, used shingle from the beach, imported timber which was used as shuttering to the walls and then reused for flooring and roofing.

Later when involved in the use of geotextiles for roads and embankments built on very soft ground I was reminded that the Romans had the same engineering thinking but used fascines.

  • Neil Buchanan (F, retd)

Embracing the Chinese challenge

It was very refreshing to read the editor’s Comment of 2 April. Refreshing because it provided an imaginative and practical suggestion as to how the UK’s construction industry could make a meaningful and profitable contribution to construction projects which may be won by Chinese companies.

The importance of planning, supervision, and safety in all construction projects cannot be emphasised too much; but there are also other fields in which the UK can make a positive contribution to the construction projects won by the Chinese.

It is to be hoped that the UK will have the drive, energy, and ambition to also look beyond our shores, and market our skills abroad - and even in China itself.

  • Harry Hannam (M)

Attracting more high achieving women

Robert Fox highlights the relatively high percentage of new female graduates being offered employment in comparison to the overall number of women graduating in engineering (NCE 16 April). As a recent graduate, I don’t believe male students are under-performing, rather that female students are over performing!

Minorities often feel the need to over achieve, removing justification for likely discrimination and paving the way for others to follow. When you already stand out, you feel more motivated to shine. I am still finding that female engineers are not only taking their studies very seriously but are keen to add heaps of career related extra-curricular activities to their CVs and what employer wouldn’t be inclined to snap up that kind of enthusiasm?

I think the next question should be, “if female engineers are becoming such high achievers and easily securing graduate positions, what can we do to raise the number of female science technology engineering and maths subject students to feed into engineering disciplines”? When we can answer this question, we can solve the inequality across the whole of the industry.

  • Selina Edwards

Securing the right backing

It was good to see Mouchel rewarded as Major UK Consultant of the Year (NCE 2 April) for focusing on its core market and bringing innovation to the Highways Agency. This follows two years of praise for the firm from within engineering circles for turnaround achievements.

However, the bigger picture is that Mouchel is not perceived by investors to be a success. Mouchel is owned by a consortium of banks and a few of Mouchel’s directors. In 2012 those same banks and directors, for whatever reason, would not support Mouchel, its shareholders and institutional investors, as they continued to pursue the core values and clients which are now receiving recognition. Shareholders and investors were dismissed and Mouchel was immediately acquired by the banks.

As a profession we should encourage a holistic view of how we measure success.

We have long suffered from a lack of public and investor interest in the fortunes of our engineering industry and as such we are not in a strong position to meet international competition.

We must have investor support if we are to survive and it is clear that internal awards and profits for our discredited banks will not produce the support we need. An industry which listens to its shareholders and investors and shares in the problems and successes will attract the long term support we desperately need.

  • John Gardner (M) johngardner@runbox.comthe

Second guessing the deceased

Peter Cuming’s assumptions concerning the late Sir Ove Arup’s views on High Speed 2 are remarkable (NCE 2 April). They are remarkable because his personal knowledge of Ove Arup is limited and they are presumptuous because had he known Ove well he would know that to second guess his views on an issue like this was impossible.

I joined Ove Arup & Partners in 1950. In the ensuing 38 years until he died in 1988 I came to know him pretty well, ultimately as one of his senior partners and as a friend. What Ove might or might not have thought on the complexity is anybody’s guess. I do know that he would have respected all opinions even though he might disagree.

Peter Cuming’s views should be respected. But he would be well advised to not try and underwrite them with the support of a deceased personality who may well have disagreed with him

  • Sir Jack Zunz, Drax Avenue, Wimbledon SW20 0EH

Is site experience necessary?

Richard Thiemann’s excellent article on designing for buildability (NCE 2 April) highlights a major issue resulting from the split between designers and contractors, as opportunities to gain adequate site experience in a consultancy-based environment can be few and far between. While the ICE’s Membership Guidance Note 42 specifically emphasises the importance of site experience, it does not mandate proof of it in professional review - demonstration of the necessary understanding of construction processes is sufficient.

Should the ICE therefore be going further by requiring evidence of a minimum six months site experience during training? It would certainly benefit the industry as a whole by helping to heal that aforementioned split and guarantee much improved ability of young engineers in designing for buildability.

  • Scott Sumner

Existing rail capacity versus building new

I would like to express my own views concerning the construction of High Speed 2 (HS2). I read NCE time and time again; however I have not seen anything raising the possibility of using existing infrastructure other than the already congested West Coast Main Line (WCML).

Better utilisation of the Chiltern Main Line would be a more feasible alternative, when the WCML is already operating near capacity.


wcml freight

West Coast Main Line: Chiltern Line upgrade could relieve congestion

As a former employee of Amey, who worked in partnership with Network Rail on the civils examination framework agreement I believe the vast majority of the bridges on this line have the capability to support three/four lines of railway traffic. Quadrupling the tracks south of Solihull to the western suburbs of London would also be feasible as land is consistently available. From the then on, the northern railways in the

West Midlands could be trebled/quadrupled towards Stafford, Derby and Burton-on-Trent to meet with the already sufficient WCML, Midlands Main Line and East Coast Main Line and serve northern England.

A solution like this may not be as swish and high-tech as HS2, but it would be more likely to meet with the approval of the public in an economic climate like today’s, particularly when there is still a deficit to clear.

The government would then be seen to be making good use of perfectly serviceable infrastructure.

  • Matthew Moss


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