Roger H. Corbetta: “Mr. Concrete”

Industry icon Roger Corbetta is featured on the cover of the April 1958 issue of Concrete Construction.
Industry icon Roger Corbetta is featured on the cover of the April 1958 issue of Concrete Construction.

The company Roger Corbetta established in 1922 went on to become one of the nation's largest and most successful construction firms. Corbetta Construction Co. pioneered in such areas as the use of plywood for concrete forms, concrete pumping, and site precasting.

It was Corbetta's dedication to the development of a strong concrete industry, however, that earned him the moniker “Mr. Concrete.” He was instrumental in founding several organizations, starting in 1950 with the Concrete Industry Board of New York City, which brought together concrete contractors, producers, architects, engineers, testing labs, cement manufacturers, and reinforcing steel producers.

In the April 1958 issue, Concrete Construction reported on Corbetta's address to the first annual convention of the National Concrete Contractors Association, which evolved into today's American Society of Concrete Contractors (ASCC). Corbetta predicted that the concrete industry would rapidly come into its own, with poured-in-place and precast concrete replacing brick, steel, and plaster. He advised the audience to be alert to new markets via job-site precasting.

Corbetta told the contractors that the growing use of concrete for structural frame purposes would present opportunities for them to move away from subcontracting and, as his own firm had done, accept the larger responsibilities of general contracting. To meet those challenges and gain the power of a collective voice, he said, contractors needed a strong, dedicated national organization.

Corbetta served as president of the American Concrete Institute in 1963. Two years later, he became the first president of ASCC (then the American Society for Concrete Construction). In 1968 he was elected president of the Building Trades Employers Association, covering 19 trades. He also worked on a national accreditation program for concrete contractors.

Mary K. Hurd, a former editor of Concrete Construction, recalls visiting a construction site with Corbetta some 30 years ago. “We measured dimensions of some recently cast concrete columns—relative to a mutual interest in the establishment of standard construction tolerances,” said Hurd.

In 1972 ACI established the Roger H. Corbetta Concrete Constructor Award to recognize individuals or organizations for significant contributions to progress in methods of concrete construction.

Corbetta died May 26, 1974, at age 77, while in New York to attend the International FIP/PCI World Congress, where he was to receive an award for his contributions to the concrete industry.

Michael A. Lombard: ‘Born to Build'

In the concrete industry of the 1920s, "the challenge to produce quality with economy was virgin territory," according to Michael Lombard (photo November 1980).
In the concrete industry of the 1920s, "the challenge to produce quality with economy was virgin territory," according to Michael Lombard (photo November 1980).

Michael A. Lombard joined Corbetta in his crusade for a stronger industry, and later looked back on those years as “concrete's pioneering period.” Half a century ago, in the same year Bill Avery founded Concrete Construction magazine, Lombard and his son, George, formed The Lombard Company, now run by George and his sons in Alsip, Ill. Both active in the industry, Lombard and Avery struck up a longtime friendship.

Along with Corbetta, Lombard was instrumental in establishing ASCC and served as its president in 1970. He was enthusiastic about the concept of a concrete industry trade show, but attempts by ASCC to stage a show suffered from a lack of resources.

Lombard learned of a successful show in another industry, organized by a trade magazine. “The thought struck me—Bill Avery, a man dedicated to the concrete industry and the publisher of Concrete Construction, would be the perfect person to promote a trade show for the concrete industry,” he wrote in his memoir, Born to Build (1994). “I invited him to join me on my next cruise to Florida.” Thus the World of Concrete, launched in 1975, was “an idea born aboard the Lombard Company yacht.”

With its skewed walls, the St. Francis de Sales Church, built by Lombard in the 1960s, was one of the more challenging concrete projects on record (photo July 1996).
With its skewed walls, the St. Francis de Sales Church, built by Lombard in the 1960s, was one of the more challenging concrete projects on record (photo July 1996).

In the early 1950s, Lombard became active in ACI and was elected to the Board in the 1970s. He received ACI's Roger H. Corbetta award in 1977.

A November 1980 article, “The contractor as a precaster,” discussed how The Lombard Company came to set up its own precast concrete plant to produce architectural panels and slabs. Lombard first became interested in the concept in the 1920s, as assistant superintendent on a sewage plant project that used site precasting to build the 600-square-foot tanks. Later, when his own company delved into the industrial construction market, precasting exterior walls proved to be a practical approach.

Two years before his death in 1998, Lombard talked with Concrete Construction about one of his memorable projects, the St. Francis de Sales Church in Muskegon, Mich. (July 1996). Designed by renowned architect Marcel Breuer, the poured-in-place concrete structure features soaring hyperbolic paraboloid sidewalls that warp outward from the rear to the front of the structure. The flat front wall is wider at the top than at the bottom and leans inward 24 feet out of plumb. The rear wall is wider at the bottom and leans inward 52 feet. The hyperbolic sidewalls lean outward 17 feet. Lombard recalled that when he asked the architect how he envisioned it would be built, Breuer replied, “I don't know. I just design it. You figure out how to build it.”

Charles J. Pankow: Innovator

Pankow's commitment to innovation lives on through the support of the nonprofit foundation he founded.
Pankow's commitment to innovation lives on through the support of the nonprofit foundation he founded.

An industry visionary for more than 50 years, Charles J. Pankow is remembered for his innovations in technology, processes, and business practices. One such advance was increasing project automation via onsite pre-casting of structural and architectural elements and slip-forming all vertical members of a structure.  

In an article titled “Site pre-casting” Pankow authored for the April 1980 issue of Concrete Construction, he encouraged readers to target this market: “Two of the reasons for precasting are to achieve high dimensional accuracy of building elements and to get a cost advantage by using repetitive, automated procedures with fixed forming units that do not have to be dismantled. ... [the contractor who does his own precasting] controls the timing, the budget, and the quality of the work.”

Pankow developed systems to optimize the use of precast architectural elements by designing them to serve as formwork for poured-in-place structural elements (photo April 1980).
Pankow developed systems to optimize the use of precast architectural elements by designing them to serve as formwork for poured-in-place structural elements (photo April 1980).

Pankow became interested in improved delivery methods early in his career and was a champion of design-build procurement practices. He formed Charles Pankow Inc. in the garage of his Altadena, Calif., home in 1963 with the mission of offering faster, more efficient construction services.

Pankow played a key role in the development of a precast concrete hybrid resisting moment frame, a technology that advanced the science of earthquake-resistant construction. The economically competitive system provides superior seismic performance and can be built with the speed of a precast building, reducing labor costs and equipment usage by using prefabricated forms.

Pankow was instrumental in founding ACI's first local U.S. chapter in 1957 and the Civil Engineering Research Foundation in 1989. In 1974 he received ACI's Roger H. Corbetta Award for his innovative construction methods and for developing economical uses for concrete. He served as ACI president in 1980.

In 2004, the year of his death, Pankow established the nonprofit Charles J. Pankow Foundation to continue supporting innovations in design and construction that will benefit the public with buildings of improved quality, efficiency, and value.