New Zealand’s concrete trailblazers

Sandy Cormack

This article first appeared in the CCANZ’s Concrete magazine, Vol. 57 Issue 2 and is summarised here with permission. It is part of a series about the NZ Concrete Society preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014.

This year the New Zealand Concrete Society celebrates its 50th anniversary. Throughout its existence, the society has benefited from, and helped foster, the vision, intellect, wisdom, and sheer determination of a group of individuals worthy of the title ‘Trailblazers’. These individuals have made a significant contribution to the concrete industry, the wider building and construction sector, and standards.

Outlined below are four of these trailblazers: Sandy Cormack, Professor Robert (Bob) Park, David Barnard, and Len McSaveney.

Sandy Cormack

Perhaps no other individual is more synonymous with the concrete industry in New Zealand than Sandy Cormack. Wellington born, Cormack was an engineer who became chief executive of Certified Concrete Ltd from its establishment in 1938 until he retired in 1971. He moved to Auckland in 1940 where he remained until he passed away on June 7, 1985, aged 79. Cormack introduced and developed ready mixed concrete to this part of the world.

He was deeply committed to pioneering advances in precast/prestressed concrete. He also involved himself in numerous research projects and the formation of the various industry associations that still operate today.

  • He had a principal role in setting up the NZ Portland Cement Association in 1948, and served on the board until 1978.
  • Through his work in introducing quality control to concrete production, he also served on many standards committees.
  • He was instrumental in establishing the NZ Ready Mixed Concrete Association and its plant classification scheme.
  • He was involved with the establishment of the Prestressed Concrete Institute (later to become the Concrete Society) and was its first president.
  • When the NZ Concrete Research Association was founded in 1972, he was chairman of its technical advisory committee and served on its board until 1985.

Many believe Cormack's greatest achievement was his influence almost 75 years ago in the creation of the first ready mixed concrete plant in Australasia at Grant Road, Wellington. This project launched New Zealand into high-tech concrete and it was from there that Cormack's formidable drive and talents provided huge leadership and service to the industry.

Professor Robert (Bob) Park

Renowned in New Zealand and internationally, Professor Bob Park was key in the creation of the seismic design method called capacity design. This method was an important innovation for reinforced concrete structures and a notable development in the history of earthquake strengthening.

Born in Fiji, Professor Park came to New Zealand in 1951 and studied civil engineering at Canterbury University, where in 1956 he joined the academic staff. Then after 6 years overseas, during which time he completed his PhD at the University of Bristol, Professor Park returned to the University in 1965 where he spent the next 35 years.

Over the course of his career, Professor Park won multiple awards for technical papers, contributed to numerous technical committees, and received honours from an array of professional bodies. President of the NZ Concrete Society from 1975 – 76, Professor Park spent 28 years on Council. In 1995, he was awarded an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Highly respected as one of the most knowledgeable people within the field of concrete and earthquake strengthening research, as well as an inspirational teacher, Professor Park passed away in November 2004.

David Barnard

Trained in the United Kingdom, David Barnard moved to New Zealand in 1975. Described as a 'single-minded advocate for concrete', Barnard spent close to 25 years at CCANZ, including in its previous guises of the NZ Portland Cement Association and the Concrete Research Association. Barnard was the NZ Concrete Society president from 1987 – 88.

Refer to any technical publication or standard on concrete or concrete masonry produced since the mid-1970s and chances are Barnard either wrote it or was a significant contributor. Tireless in his efforts to implement relevant research and deliver practical training, Barnard has prided himself on developing strong relationships across the construction sector and imparting independent advice.

Although Barnard retired from his role at CCANZ in 1999, he remains in demand and busy within the industry as a consultant.

Len McSaveney

NZ Concrete Society president from 1988 – 89, active within fib, and a staunch supporter of student research, the term 'innovator' is often used to describe Len McSaveney. In fact, a March 2002 issue of Concrete used the parlance of the day – 'Change Insurgent' – to describe his role as a promoter of new ideas and technology.

Graduating from Canterbury University in 1964, McSaveney went to work for what is now Holmes Consulting Group. After a time travelling, he moved back to New Zealand in 1974 to work for RT Scott Limited, a company later bought by Stresscrete, and in turn by the Fletcher organisation. His long association with Fletchers included roles at Firth Industries and Golden Bay Cement.

Lightweight aggregate in Wellington’s Westpac Stadium, the thousands of concrete power poles across the middle of the North Island, and the uptake of self-compacting concrete all owe a debt to McSaveney’s willingness to embrace change.

Sandy Cormack image above: Curtesy of Fletcher Archive Trust.

This article first appeared in the CCANZ’s Concrete magazine, Vol. 57 Issue 2 and is summarised here with permission. It is part of a series about the NZ Concrete Society preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014.

Published in engineering.