On the Blue Sofa:

Maria Ell­boeck: Nowa­days every­one recog­nis­es the yel­low Doka form­work pan­els. That is in part due to her hard work.

On the Blue Sofa:

Maria Ell­boeck: Nowa­days every­one recog­nis­es the yel­low Doka form­work pan­els. That is in part due to her hard work.

In conversation with Maria Ellboeck

Aus­tria 1956. The Allies had left. The coun­try was being rebuilt. There were con­struc­tion sites wher­ev­er you looked. Includ­ing large-scale projects. Maria Ell­boeck, a young woman from Amstet­ten, was present on many of these vast build­ing sites, at least in her thoughts. She began work­ing for St. & A. Hopfer­wieser in Amstet­ten in 1956. The firm, which was renamed Umdasch K.G. a few years lat­er, focused from the mid-1950s on the man­u­fac­ture of form­work pan­els. As a result it was award­ed the con­tract for the con­struc­tion of the Danube pow­er sta­tion on the riv­er at Ybbs/Persenbeug, as well as oth­er pow­er sta­tions. Large-area form­work pan­els were urgent­ly need­ed for these vast con­crete struc­tures – and Hopfer­wieser devel­oped such pan­els spe­cial­ly. The build­ing of these hydraulic pow­er sta­tions was a mile­stone in the his­to­ry of Austria’s recon­struc­tion. And it also marked the birth of a new firm and a new brand: Doka. The name was derived from that very project: Donau-Kraftwerk (Danube Pow­er Sta­tion).
Maria Ell­boeck can still remem­ber clear­ly the day when she joined the com­pa­ny. “It was on a Sat­ur­day, and Mr Umdasch was about to leave for Vien­na. He dic­tat­ed some­thing which I took down in short­hand and then typed up for him, and with­in ten min­utes I had the job. That was how I began.”

Maria Ellboeck’s first task at Hopfer­wieser was the sale of form­work pan­els. “We had to do a lot of adver­tis­ing and speak to the con­struc­tion firms. There was a rhyming slo­gan which meant, in trans­la­tion:

You can build anything in no time at all with Doka formwork panels!“

Ell­boeck worked from the start in the depart­ment led by Ernst Roeck, who became the direc­tor lat­er. He was the right hand of Josef Umdasch, the head of the com­pa­ny, and was respon­si­ble for Doka. “Mr Roeck was a very wise and far-sight­ed man. He need­ed a sec­re­tary — and that was where I came in.” Ernst Roeck’s far-sight­ed­ness soon became appar­ent. He had a fine instinct for new trends, and the com­pa­ny ben­e­fit­ed great­ly from that.

At some point someone realised that we needed not only formwork panels for the building industry, but whole formworks made of wood and metal – a formwork and a scaffolding in one.“

And so the fur­ther devel­op­ment of Doka form­work pan­els began right at the very start of the com­pa­ny.

So in about 1958 we start­ed to devel­op the form­work and scaf­fold­ing. They were wood and steel prod­ucts for large-scale build­ing sites. Ini­tial­ly they were used for pow­er sta­tions and bridges, and then we added oth­er things as well. And then there was a large build­ing site in Tyrol where they were build­ing the Europa Bridge. Anoth­er famous exam­ple was the Koelnbrein Dam. And of course we had vast build­ing sites abroad too.” Over the decades numer­ous large struc­tures, includ­ing many famous and pres­ti­gious projects, were built using Doka form­work sys­tems. Ell­boeck remem­bers one in par­tic­u­lar, Itaipú, because it was so large. “It was ten or maybe twen­ty years after we start­ed that we were involved in the huge dam in Itaipú between Brazil and Paraguay.” Doka lat­er opened a branch in Brazil and Argenti­na. Ell­boeck com­ments: “Mr Roeck was even in Brazil for a while, and I man­aged the sales alone from Amstet­ten.”

Itaipú

Accord­ing to Wikipedia the hydraulic pow­er sta­tion between Brazil and Paraguay is still one of the biggest gen­er­a­tors of elec­tric­i­ty today. In 2016 it set up a new world record with 103 mil­lion MWh of ener­gy pro­duced, over­tak­ing even the Three Gorges Dam pow­er sta­tion in Chi­na. Itaipú was built in the 1970s and was com­plet­ed in 1984. The two coun­tries share the pow­er it pro­duces, where­by Paraguay exports most of it to Brazil.

Large-scale Formwork

In the 1960ies the con­struc­tion of the Bren­ner motor­way between Tyrol and Italy has begun. It is the first motor­way pass­ing through high moun­tain area. Spec­tac­u­lar bridge con­struc­tions such as the Europabrücke or Lueg­brücke are sur­pass­ing seem­ing­ly with­out effort the Alpine area (pho­to from Doka archive from July 1968). A pre­con­di­tion to build such bridges was the Large-scale Form­work devel­oped by Doka in 1966. It com­bines the Doka-beam with the three-lay­er-plate and steel com­po­nents.

Despite its grow­ing pres­ence on the world mar­ket Doka has not remained alone on the form­work mar­ket. Although Doka form­work sys­tems have estab­lished their posi­tion fast and in many coun­tries, espe­cial­ly in Aus­tria and South­ern Ger­many. But: “The com­pe­ti­tion was tough,” recalls Ell­boeck. And even though Doka was award­ed prac­ti­cal­ly all the major con­tracts in Aus­tria, there were excep­tions — and that was annoy­ing. “In Aus­tria we won all of them, except for the Land­haus in St. Poel­ten in the new gov­ern­ment dis­trict. That was short­ly before I retired; I was annoyed about that.”

Maria Ellboeck’s respon­si­bil­i­ty with­in the firm grew to match Doka’s suc­cess. “My work load grew at a vast speed and at one point in time I need­ed office assis­tants because I was respon­si­ble for the sales man­age­ment and all the work asso­ci­at­ed with that, for exam­ple prod­uct trans­port, ship­ping, agree­ments with the pro­duc­tion sec­tion and the tech­ni­cians. ” By the time she retired in 1986 some 15 staff mem­bers and appren­tices had worked in her depart­ment.