Francois Hennebique, forgotten genius: you don’t know who he is, but modern civilization has benefited greatly from his invention.
While his name may be unfamiliar to you, you’re probably surrounded right now by what this self-taught engineer and builder created more than a hundred years ago: reinforced concrete.
Hennebique built his family home on a property he purchased in Bourg La Reine in 1910. He designed a manor made of concrete—an experiment that would allow him to explore and exhibit the strength and solidity that reinforced concrete could provide to a structure. While one might think such a house would be ponderous, too cumbersome for its surroundings, Hennebique incorporated the motto: “fleurs, lumière et aération” (flowers, light, and ventilation) into his design. With suspended gardens—irrigated by the manor’s own water tower—, enclosed patios and large windows, the design harmonizes beautifully with the surrounding property.
The design and construction of his massive, yet elegant concrete house allowed Hennebique to demonstrate the infinite possibilities offered by his revolutionary invention. He subsequently built more than twelve hundred reinforced concrete structures around the world, including the beautiful building at 1, rue Danton in Paris and the Risorgimento Bridge in Rome.
Hennebique passed away in 1921, and his grave can be found at Bourg-la-Reine cemetery—encased in concrete, of course.