Foreign Exhibition | The early years of Schokbeton

Interior view, US Embassy, Dublin. Photo by Norman McGrath.
Interior view, US Embassy, Dublin. Photo by Norman McGrath.


Exhibition | The early years of Schokbeton

Zwijndrecht, Netherlands | December 2015 to March 2016

Schokbeton is an architectural concrete precasting system, which was developed in the early 30s in the Netherlands. The shock system was invented by two concrete workers who converted a washing machine into a ‘shock table’ on which concrete during the casting process was ‘shocked’ for a few minutes to consolidate the material. The founders got an international patent for this technology in 1935. Over the almost 50 years that the shocking process was used by the company, it was exported from the Netherlands to 30 countries around the world, from Japan to USA.

The initial goal of founders, G. Lieve and M. Leeuwrik, was to make low-cost, custom-made artificial stone elements intended to replace natural stone in buildings. In the artificially acquired land from the majority of the Netherlands natural stone was hardly available, thus very expensive to import in the interwar years. The idea to shocked concrete was derived from the knowledge that vibration was necessary to reduce the water content of the concrete mixture while achieving good compaction and high strength with less cement. Cement was also a product that was less available in the Low Lands and difficult to obtain from neighbor countries.

The first products made on ‘shock tables’ were sills, thresholds, window frames and lamppost. Noted Dutch architects Van der Steur and Van Ravensteijn were the first to use the Schokbeton process to produce architectural precast concrete elements for facade architecture in Rotterdam. Van Ravensteijn was the architect of several animal enclosures and the watchtower of Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam (1938-1941). It’s the first project where Schokbeton is applied in a large architectural scale.

Due to the ability to consistently produce a desired uniform finish and the durability of the material, architectural precast concrete and the Schokbeton process that produced it became popular for the post-war generation of modern architects. Because of the large building task, especially in the bombed city centre of Rotterdam, the Schokbeton company grew to have three branches in the Netherlands and produced complete facades for very large projects such as more than 1000 farm barns in the reclaimed sea landscaped of the Noordoostpolder [1947-1953] and the immense Trade Centre in Rotterdam by architect Maaskant [1953], In the early 60’s half of the European countries had Schokbeton precasting plants producing standard products and customized building elements. Schokbeton was the favourite building material of architect Marcel Breuer, who, like the architect John M. Johansen for the US embassy in Dublin [1964], preferred the unique qualities of concrete at the center of a new architectural language.

Due to economic and technical developments, after 1980’s the economic competitiveness of the shock system was diminished by the advent of add-mixtures such as plasticizers. The Schokbeton Company however, continued to produce concrete façade elements until 2005 and the name is still used in some international locations, which are still using the name to symbolize the quality architectural concrete.

The original Schokbeton plant in Zwijndrecht, constructed in the 1930’s, was until 2015 in use by the concrete company Loveld. It was in this plant the first shock machines were invented and the casting process perfected. Early plants and later office buildings are designed and constructed in Schokbeton.

During the months of December 2015 to March 2016 De Vergulden Swaen, the city museum of Zwijndrecht will tell the history of the firm Schokbeton, exibiting the first ‘wooden shock machine’, models of buildings made with patented shocking process and drawings and photographs of international iconic projects from the 20th century.

see also the A-Z of Brutalism

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