Robert Maillart’s Innovative Use of Concrete





Modern Movement, Modern architecture, Modern housing


Robert Maillart’s innovative views concerning the use of concrete come within the scope of the history of structures, structural materials and concrete as a material of structure. It will even lead us far beyond these issues. At the end, the point of view expressed in this article will be the view of a structural designer. When preparing this reflection, I realise that there is no straightforward answer to the question: “What is in fact Maillart’s real innovation considering all the contributions he made to the art of engineering?” Putting forward the different aspects mentioned above as an introduction seems to be a more relevant way to find a contemporary answer taking time and context into account. Consequently the first part of this text is a general presentation of Maillart’s works. Following we will make a detour to make what I, and many others, consider to be the most revolutionary aspects of Maillart’s practice fully comprehensible. So starting from the historical development of reinforced concrete as a structural material, we will move to the contemporary context to figure out how the intrinsic structural complexity of concrete is managed today. We will see that some difficulties emerge from the behaviour of concrete in relation to the classic theories of mechanics. If some Modern theories find an answer to the problem, it will become obvious that Maillart had already found a convincing way of dealing with these difficulties. We will then return to Maillart’s works to answer the question through the status he was to give concrete when it came to structural design and the methods he used to achieve his objectives. I hope this will lead us to consider Maillart’s approach as one of the most visionary ever devised.

How to Cite

Zastavni, D. (2011). Robert Maillart’s Innovative Use of Concrete. Docomomo Journal, (45), 12–21.




Author Biography

Denis Zastavni, Université Catholique de Louvain

Studied architecture and engineering at the University of Louvain–la–Neuve (UCL), Belgium, where he also studied some philosophy. He has worked as a structural engineer and architect for over ten years. For six years he was an assistant at the university, running sessions on concrete calculation, technological aspects in architecture and teaching architectural design studios. His PhD was on Robert Maillart’s design methods. His main publications are on structural design, pedagogical approaches in teaching structure and technology, and Robert Maillart’s designs. For the past year he has been working as an assistant professor at UCL, teaching structure, material and architectural technology. His current research is focused on structural design approaches and tools and on deepening his knowledge of Robert Maillart’s structural methods.