Contractor (October 2013) NZCS – Preparing to Celebrate 50 Years

02 Oct 2013

Rob Gaimster
Cement & Concrete Association (CCANZ)

In my previous Contractor columns I have often referred to other concrete industry associations, particularly in relation to the robust quality controlled mechanism they administer – namely the New Zealand Ready Mixed Concrete Association’s (NZRMCA) Plant Audit Scheme and Precast New Zealand’s (PCNZ) Plant Certification Program.

There is however, another equally important group of like-minded professionals, one dedicated to ensuring that the use of concrete is optimised through free and frank information exchange, and that is the New Zealand Concrete Society (NZCS), which in 2014 celebrates its 50th anniversary.


The Society was established in 1963 as the New Zealand Prestressed Concrete Institute (NZPCI), under the guidance of founding President Sandy Cormack, a hugely important figure in the development of the New Zealand concrete industry.

At that time economic conditions meant that the importation of construction materials into New Zealand, specifically structural steel, was virtually prohibitive.  As such, prestressed concrete, with its efficient use of steel, offered a competitive edge.

Financial incentives combined with the wave of prestressing advances coming out of Europe made this new technique extremely attractive to the New Zealand construction industry.

As outlined at the 2002 concrete conference by Sandy’s son Gavin Cormack, then Executive Chairman of Beca Consultants, the NZPCI was formed to promote prestressing by “integrating the universities (teachers and researchers), the contractors, the suppliers of pre-stressing materials, and the consulting engineers with the Ministry of Works and local authorities.”


Over the ensuing decades the NZPCI maintained its focus on encouraging greater knowledge and understanding of all aspects of concrete technology and concrete construction in order to support their development and use where appropriate.

However, in 1980 the Institute made the decision to change its name to the New Zealand Concrete Society to better reflect the wider range of matters it was involved with.

Sufficient progress had been made in the areas of prestressing and seismic engineering to allow the NZPCI to broaden its focus to include durability issues and new construction techniques - this combined range of objectives continue to direct the Society’s activities today.


In addition to his work with the NZPCI Sandy Cormack’s influence on the concrete industry is also illustrated by his work in the area of quality control.

Also highlighted by Gavin Cormack in his 2002 presentation, the middle of the 20th century was a time when the vast majority of major construction projects in New Zealand were state controlled.  While this environment enabled some truly outstanding achievements, it was not always conducive to innovation and was at times prone to overly conservative design.

A key component of Sandy Cormack’s strategy to progress the concrete industry and place it on a robust commercial footing was to establish an independent, industry regulated, quality control mechanism, and at the same time promote its worth to purchasers and specifiers. His endeavours proved successful, with the NZRMCA Plant Audit Scheme still operating today.

Other key figures who influenced the NZPCI and the wider concrete industry in the early years included Bob Norman (second President 1966); Morley Sutherland (President 1970-71) an enthusiast with a passion for prestressed concrete; J.B.S. (Hans) Huizing who held senior posts in the Ministry of Works; and Rob Irwin, to mention just a few.

Bob Park, a hugely influential figure in structural engineering both in New Zealand and internationally, was NZPCI President in 1975-6, bringing with him an emphasis on new concrete design philosophies.


Over the past 50 years many outstanding concrete structures have been realised across New Zealand, with most, if not all, benefiting from the technical and collegial support offered by the Society.

In some shape or form, members of the Society played a role in the original Newmarket Viaduct (first in-situ cantilever bridge), the Mangaweka Railway Viaduct (first base isolated bridge), the Ngauranga Interchange in Wellington (first push bridge) and the Sky Tower (tallest structure).

Over more recent years the Waitakere Trusts Stadium, the Wellington Inner City Bypass, Victoria University’s Alan MacDiarmid building (first multi-storey PRESSS building) and the post-tensioned joint-less slab at K-Mat’s Manukau warehouse have all been realised in part through the expertise fostered by the Society.


A range of communication activities and events are planned over coming months and into 2014, which will celebrate the Society’s achievements, its distinguished members, as well as a number of the enduring concrete structures that grace the New Zealand landscape.

These activities will include a commemorative publication as well as a series of stories on the industry and its significant milestones. 

Celebrations will culminate with the 2014 New Zealand Concrete Industry Conference to be held in the Society’s spiritual home of Wairakei, the venue of the first conference - 50 years ago.

Article appeared in Contractor magazine.