Concrete prefabrication as opportunity (Part I)

SAS Prefabricados de Hormigón – one of the companies that made the history of prefabrication in Catalonia

Today we tell you the story of a multi-generational company and how it managed to overcome ups and downs and economic crises

The history of SAS company begins in the late 19th century, when Joan Sas Gregori emigrated to Vilanova i La Geltrú, a town on the Mediterranean coast between Barcelona and Tarragona. There, he founded his company which is considered one of the success stories of Catalan entrepreneurship. At that time, traditional families had a hereu – the first-born son – or a pubilla – the first-born daughter, who at the death of the father had to take charge of the family’s properties. The only obligation that a hereu or a pubilla had was to support the brothers and sisters, either if they decided to stay home, or move out. In this second case, they were obliged to give them the – legitima – to start a new business by their own.

This is the case of Joan Sas Gregori who wasn’t the firstborn of the family. As a result he decided to move to Vilanova i La Geltrú to learn how to be a bricklayer, learning from his uncle Francesc Sas Valls, who was a successful professional in that area. The first documents attesting the work of Joan Sas take us back to 1894, when he solicited numerous permits of quite different character: reforms, wall openings, paints, etc. In May 1900, Joan paid the first municipal contribution of his company. This allows us to officially date the foundation of SAS, that in that time was an “artificial stone” workshop.

The context in which the adventure of the SAS begins is a very dynamic one, which represents the passage between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. This period was characterized by a very important migration from the fields to the city. Among the first factors that caused this great change is the Universal Exhibition of 1888, which caused a large migratory flux to what will be the future Metropolitan Area of Barcelona, generating a great demand for housing. Few years later, this event was followed by the International Exhibition of 1929.

In those years, the construction market experienced a good grow period, that continues until the First World War, when Spain declares itself neutral and Catalan producers start selling materials to both sides. In this way they guaranteed themselves a solid market that enabled many companies to start their business. Moreover, during those years, new technologies and products appeared on the worldwide market, encouraging the experimentation of new materials and opening new horizons. The first great discovery is the hydraulic mosaic, done in France during the second half of the 19th century. But we will have to wait until the end of the century to see this innovative technique in Catalonia. This historic moment represents a fundamental step towards the advancement of building techniques and materials, dictated by a continuous demand for housing.

There are three main phases in the evolution of SAS company. The first goes from the foundation of the artificial stone workshop to the realization of the first hydraulic mosaics; the second takes us up to the creation of the first large concrete window – and that, at the same time, is considered the most important transition moment, with the introduction of the concept of prefabrication. And the last phase when the massive production of prefabricated elements such as screenwalling, wall copings and balusters become very famous.

During the first phase, the first milestone for the SAS company was achieved. Until the end of Joan’s management, in fact, the company was specialized in custom-made pieces, such as the laundry basin which was a fundamental moment for the artificial stone industry. This is of great importance because it allows the privatization of a community activity which used to take place at the river or, in the richest municipalities, at public laundries.

In the following years, the son Joaquim – grandfather of the current president of the company Joaquim Sas, introduced the first technological innovations, such as the water press. His main goal was to present his mosaics at the 1929 International Exhibition, with a patent called “Mosaic Roman” and with a design that imitated the technique of the ancient Romans.

The third big change was made by Joan Sas i Contijoch during the fifties. After World War II, the country needed a complete reconstruction. There were many mosaic makers and the competition was very high. To get out of this impasse, Joan invented the concrete window. This product, until then, was custom-made in the factory as a unique and armed piece. The prefabrication process made it both cheaper and faster. And, from this moment, the revolution begins! For sure, we can say that SAS was the first company to realize decorative prefabricated elements in concrete.

From this moment on, the success story of SAS was based on prefabricated products, such as the crystal screenwallings, the facing tiles and the wall copings. These three items represent some of the best-selling products in SAS history. On one hand, the wall coping element has an important role because it standardizes a product that until then was done straight on site. In addition, it gives the possibility to choose between different models and finishing, with a total of 250 options. On the other hand, the screenwall elements became very fashionable in the seventies as an alternative to the windows, especially in the open spaces such as stairs and outdoor areas with laundries and boilers. These products were used mainly to give light and ventilate interior spaces, playing with the different design of the elements.

The concept of prefabrication was the key element of the company’s philosophy, that allows it to continue being a reference in Europe. Since the beginning of this experience, SAS’s success strategy has been based on constant observation of new market trends, rapid response to demand, dedication and customer care.

Note – This article is based on an interview with Joaquim Sas, dated July 25th, 2019