Oscar Faber
Early career
Oscar Faber left the Central Technical College (City & Guilds College from 1907, and part of Imperial College of London University) in 1906 with two degrees and took a job as assistant engineer at Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers Ltd (APCM). He worked with APCM's chief engineer Charles Percy Taylor and pursued his ideas for using reinforced concrete in civil engineering applications, through projects involving wharves and jetties.
He and Taylor shared the design work for Swanscombe Jetty (1906-07), at one of APCM's former main cement works in the Thames estuary. It was an early example of precast concrete, which was used both for the deck and the 1.7m diameter piers founded on timber piles. Faber was also resident engineer for the jetty's construction.
While at APCM, Faber also worked on the design of reinforced concrete chimneys for the company's various cement works. Taylor, with his assistant Charles Glenday and Faber, studied the stresses, developing formulae and curves for the design of tall chimneys that were published by Engineering magazine in March 1908, in an article entitled The Design of Ferro-Concrete Chimneys. Its theoretical structural analysis is still correct.
After APCM, he worked for the Indented Bar & Concrete Engineering Company (IBCE), a design and construction firm, as an assistant to Robert William Vawdrey. Owen Williams occupied the same post in 1911-12. Here Faber transferred his expertise in reinforced concrete from maritime structures to buildings.
He met P.G. Bowie at IBCE and together they co-authored the seminal text Reinforced Concrete Design (Vol.I – Theory was later added to the title), first published in 1912. The book describes how concrete behaves under stress in elastic conditions and how to analyse monolithic reinforced concrete structures. It revealed previously 'secret' information about reinforced concrete — held piecemeal by the system manufacturers for commercial reasons. Now the information was available to all readers.
The second volume (Reinforced Concrete Design: Vol.II – Practice), written by Faber alone, was published in 1920. Both books became standard works in universities, colleges and offices alike.
By 1912, the 26 year-old Faber's achievements helped him to secure the position of chief engineer at George Trollope & Sons and Colls & Sons Ltd, one of London's largest and best-regarded contracting firms. The two became Trollope & Colls Ltd in 1918, joining Trafalgar House in 1968. By 1994 it had the largest turnover of any UK contractor. Trafalgar House is now part of Aker Solutions (formerly Kvaerner).
Faber's primary duty at Trollope was to set up and organise a new department for the design and erection of structures in reinforced concrete and structural steelwork. The latter was a fresh challenge for him and resulted in the 1914 paper Design of Steel and Reinforced Concrete Pillars. He was involved with projects for tall industrial chimneys, coal bunkers, water towers, reservoirs and several large London buildings, including Lloyd's Bank, managing to achieve a balance between practical jobs, publications and theory.
His personal life was flourishing too, and on 23rd December 1913 in Croydon, Faber married Helen Joan Mainwaring (1881-1967), who by all accounts was very much his opposite. While Faber has been described as an extrovert — energetic, candid and even selfish — Joan (as she was known) was gentler — patient, sensitive and loving. The marraige produced three children — Eileen Ysolde (1914), Barbara Joan (1918) and John Gordon (1921).
Joan was the only daughter of Dr John Gordon Mainwaring (1840-1906) and Anna Hoefken (born in Germany 1856). When her father died in 1906, her four younger brothers and their mother all emigrated to Canada, but Joan stayed on alone in London.
During World War I (1914-18), like most companies, Trollope turned its efforts towards the war effort and away from civilian work. Faber became involved in government and services projects, such as the design and construction of reinforced concrete barges — steel was needed more for armaments than ships. He also designed the concrete casings (reinforced by a non-ferrous alloy) for non-magnetic naval mines, to counter the action of German submarines — work that led to an OBE.
Under the provisions of the Military Service Act 1916, married men were not eligible for call-up. After the war, the War Graves Commission appointed Faber as their consultant and he solved the foundation problems for many of the cenotaphs built in France and Belgium, including the Canadian Vimy Ridge Memorial and the Menin Gate at Ypres.
Meanwhile, Faber continued the theoretical tests on reinforced concrete that he had begun at IBCE in 1910 at both City & Guilds College and the Northern Polytechnic Institute (now part of London Metropolitan University). His thesis entitled Researches on Reinforced Concrete Beams with New Formulae for Resistance to Shear resulted in a Doctor of Science degree in 1915, and was also serialised in Concrete & Constructional Engineering (C&CE) magazine.
When the founding editor of this publication, Edwin O. Sachs, died in 1919 Faber was appointed as its Technical Adviser and ensured that practical instructions featured within its content. He was an eloquent and literate man, able to explain difficult problems and concepts clearly and simply. This made him a natural teacher and he lectured fourth year students at City & Guilds College from 1916, and later students at the Architectural Association and University College. The material from his lectures was published in C&CE and then republished as Reinforced Concrete Simply Explained in 1922.
However, Faber could also be ferociously critical and difficult, socially and personally. Work meant everything to him and he was successful as well as fortunate professionally. Regrettably, his family suffered sometimes through neglect wrought by his ambitious nature (not uncommon in this era), and even among his colleagues he could be feared as much as he was admired and respected. His son John remembers that at its sharpest "his tongue was a remarkably good servant of his brain".
In the next stage of his career, Faber struck out alone, forming his own consultancy in 1921. He not only continued to develop his expertise in concrete but also decided to return to his original knowledge of mechanical and electrical engineering. The young engineer was soon one of the first to recognize and develop the need for mechanical and electrical services in large buildings.
All items by Oscar Faber  •  All items by Oscar Faber & Partners
Everything built ... 1886 - 1956
Portrait  courtesy AECOM

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