Concrete and Steel
Govanhill Baths was one of the first public buildings in Glasgow to use reinforced concrete, a combination of steel and concrete. This is one reason the building is still standing. Here is a letter from the architect A.B. McDonald to the Corporation, dated 28th February 1913, recommending the use of reinforced concrete:
“The following is the report by the City Engineer on the use of reinforced concrete in the construction of public baths and wash houses
‘With reference to the remit to me, contained in the minute of the committee on Public Baths and Wash Houses, dated 29th November last, to make enquiries regarding the adoption of reinforced concrete in the construction of the proposed baths for Govanhill and Langside, I find that this material has been recently employed in the construction of public baths in many towns in England and abroad, while swimming ponds have been so constructed in the public baths in Manchester, Salford, South Shields, Jarrow, Goole, Northampton, Chelsea, Hammersmith and Croydon. At the last two mentioned places the roofs also have been constructed of reinforced concrete.
“This modern material which combines the permanent durability of the most lasting stone and the elastic strength of steel has not been utilised to any great extent in Glasgow. The roofs of the New Art Galleries and Sauchiehall Street are constructed of reinforced concrete, but the system required here for special lighting precludes its adoption in public baths, where the simplest form of single span roof is all that is required
In situations where land is valuable, the space saved by the adoption of reinforced concrete construction is a factor worthy of serious consideration.
“The saving of space is most evident in the construction of the side walls of the building, which, without any lessening of stability, are reduced from the 18 inches of ordinary construction to one half of that thickness.
“The ponds in the existing baths of the city are constructed of ordinary concrete various thicknesses, the average being about 2 feet 6 inches. This has unfortunately proved unsuccessful in preventing leakage. There is a continual loss of water from all the ponds, but at two of them the losses very considerable. These ponds, when under repair (which costs an average £60 each) have to be emptied and that adds considerably to the annual expenditure for water.
“The adoption of reinforced concrete for ponds would not only reduce the thickness of material required but would add immensely to their capacity for retaining water. tests have been made to prove the impermeability and water tightness of swimming ponds constructed of reinforced concrete. One example may suffice for the purpose of this report. It is that of a swimming bath, 70 feet long by 25 feet wide, with walls only four and a half inches thick and floor 6 inches thick, constructed under the direction of Doctor J.S. Owens who says
“‘We could detect no leakage at all, nor any signs of cracking, although the water was alternately heated up to a range of about 15 degrees and cooled down again. That is a result very difficult to get with ordinary concrete without a lot of trouble and using a lining of waterproof material. I may say that the inside of this tank is not lined, nor was any precaution taken to prevent leakage.’
“Structures composed of ordinary materials – such as timber, iron, steel, lead and slates – inevitably perish by natural decay or corrosion. In the case of public baths and wash houses this inherent elements of deterioration is hastened by the inevitable humidity of such establishments and the fact has to be faced at the strength of the structure depreciates year by year, in spite of ever increasing maintenance charges, which soon represent an outlay disproportionate to the original cost of the building.
“In the light of the foregoing, I consider it essential that all the materials used in the construction of future public bath and wash houses shall be of an imperishable nature’, and, in view of the circumstances that under the boundaries act of 1912 it will be necessary within the next few years to erect public baths and wash houses in several parts of the extended city, the adoption of reinforced concrete is in my opinion a matter of the utmost importance. Apart from the reduction of maintenance charges that would be affected by its use, the hardness and impenetrability of the material, and the smooth continuous surfaces that it allows in the formation of walls and ceilings, render it admirable for the construction of public baths and wash houses, where the absence of shelter for insects and microorganisms is particularly desirable.
The fitness of reinforced concrete to resist the deteriorating influence of time that obtains in respect of ordinary construction can most conveniently and practicably be proved by a careful examination of such public baths throughout the country as have been constructed on this system. ”