The crisp pages of Concrete Quarterly studiously follow the material that built the 20th century, says Steve Parnell
On 25th May 1940, it became illegal to start a new magazine due to paper rationing. This may explain a rash of magazines in the immediate post-war period – a rash that included Concrete Quarterly which started in July 1947. Its second issue, however, didn’t appear until February 1948 and contained the doggerel ‘The “Concrete Quarterly” / Is not as punctual as it ought be to / The reason for this distortage / Is paper shortage.’ It’s perhaps not surprising that the fortunes of CQ mirror that of the material it advocates and whose exciting, unexplored properties promised to solve an optimistic new world’s architectural problems. Architects would find the latest projects and techniques to fulfill this promise in CQ’s pages.
During these first years, daring engineering virtuosity rubbed shoulders with the most inane mundanity, each hiding behind equally utilitarian titles. The reader endured mile after unforgivable mile of concrete road, visiting the daring structural gymnastics of Pier Luigi Nervi, Félix Candela, Eduardo Torroja, Riccardo Morandi and René Sarger on the way.
In the 1960s modernism got high on concrete and CQ’s circulation soared to an impressive 23,000 in 1965, when the original editor, Betty Campbell, died. In 1961, she had predicted that “the precast slab is already established as a versatile finish with a range of natural colour well-suited to our climate.” That would be grey, then, which was also well-suited to black-and-white photography. Colour was reluctantly added in 1978 with the comment that CQ had “[…] remained faithful to black-and-white if only because so many concrete structures lend themselves better to that medium.” CQs pages were crisply composed with drawings, text and photographs all eulogising concrete.
CQ was as international in its outlook as it was fastidious in its fixed format. Only the occasional obituary interrupted the case studies of built projects showing alarmingly similar solutions the world over. No adverts.No news. No competitions. Just fabulous covers summarising the period. Architectural history written with a single material.