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European Themeroute | Housing and Architecture

The continuous improvement in the processing of iron and concrete during the Industrial Revolution opened up new and previously undreamt-of potentials for architects and engineers. At the same time industrialisation caused a revolution in the construction of housing as a result of the grave deficit in ... more

Icon: Housing and ArchitectureHere we lived and worked. European Theme Route Housing & Architecture

The continuous improvement in the processing of iron and concrete during the Industrial Revolution opened up new and previously undreamt-of potentials for architects and engineers. At the same time industrialisation caused a revolution in the construction of housing as a result of the grave deficit in decent housing caused by the thousands of workers who migrated to booming factory regions.

One of the first entrepreneurs to concern himself with social questions was the early British socialist, Robert Owen. At the end of the 18th century he conceived an ideal town for his workers in the utopian tradition of the Renaissance. The idea, however, was never implemented. A textile manufacturer by the name of Titus Salt was much more successful in this respect. In 1851 he built an estate of terraced houses called "Saltaire" for his workers in West Yorkshire.

In France Charles Fourier developed similar ideas for cooperative production and housing. Following his example, in 1859, Jean-Baptiste Godin set up a housing estate next to his foundry in Guise, called "Familistère". This consisted of housing blocks several storeys high, each surrounding a large courtyard covered with a transparent glass roof and serving as a common space for all the inhabitants. Public facilities like schools, kindergartens and shops were integrated into the site.

The British town planner, Ebenezer Howard, responded to the uncontrolled growth of cities with the idea of the garden city. Influenced by the thoughts of the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, he propagated the philosophy of small towns integrated into the countryside, and consisting of single-family houses and community facilities. The land itself was to be owned in common. The concept was made reality in 1903 in the garden city of Letchworth in Hertfordshire. This was soon followed by another garden city in Hampstead, north London.

Architectural potentials increased with the use of iron, whose quality continuously improved during the Industrial Revolution. Using iron and glass it was possible to construct buildings like the translucent Palm House in Kew Gardens (1848) and the even more famous "Crystal Palace" built by Joseph Paxton in 1851. Paxton used prefabricated panes of glass with iron or wooden structural supports: a forerunner of the standard industrial buildings in the 20th century.

A second new material used by architects from 1867 onwards was reinforced concrete, a compound material first developed by a French gardener called Joseph Monier for garden tubs. Thanks to steel reinforcement bars or fibres integrated into the concrete to take up the stress and resist compression, it became possible to construct gigantic cantilever domes from the resulting compound. The start of the 20th century saw a steady increase in the amount of factory buildings, bridges and houses built of reinforced concrete.

Around this time the contrast between engineers and architects – between functional building and building art - came to a head. During the 19th century the profession of "civil engineer" had developed in Great Britain. This was a person who was not only versed in engineering above and below the ground, but also in factory engineering equipment. One of its most prominent representatives was Sidney Stott, who began his career by building multi-storey spinning mills in the Manchester region, and was later responsible for building textile factories in the border region around north-west Germany and the Netherlands.

As a reaction to this, more traditional architects preferred to refer back to the craft qualities and building arts of the mediaeval age. At the end of the 19th century the arts and craft movement exerted considerable influence in Great Britain; and in France, Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-Le-Duc analysed Gothic construction principles. "Jugendstil" flourished above all in Germany and Austria – even in industrial buildings like the engine house in the Zollern colliery in Dortmund.

At the start of the 20th century a group of committed architects got together in Germany with a common idea of combining artistic design with modern materials and functional construction. The pioneer was a man named Peter Behrens, who served on the artistic advisory committee of the gigantic AEG power company from 1907 onwards. In Berlin he constructed a turbine factory from concrete, steel and glass. Functionally it was a long open production building with windows stretching to the roof; and yet it was designed with a feeling for tradition, with massive corners and powerful pillars.

His colleague, Walter Gropius, further developed this concept in 1911 in the form of the "Fagus works", a shoe last factory in Alfeld. He designed the complete facade with glass windows filled with thin iron frames supported by narrow brick mullions. In this way he was able to give the building an impression of transparency and lightness. The corners of the administration building have since become an icon in modern architecture: they consist completely of glass windows without corner pillars, because Gropius shifted the structural supports to the inside of the house. Using this as a starting point he was able to develop an uninterrupted expanse of clear glass known as the "curtain wall", one of the most influential forms of architecture in the 20th century.

The most radical solution in industrial building was invented in the USA. In 1908 Albert Kahn built a factory near Detroit for the Ford motor works which was absolutely suitable for conveyor-belt work: a long hall at ground level, in which all manufacturing steps could be conducted in sequence, and cars could be put together from pre-pressed pressed steel parts in a short amount of time. The building could be extended with new modules when required.

After the First World War the lack of places to live was so great that governments and corporative companies were compelled to invest huge amounts of money in housing construction. In Great Britain large estates of single-family houses were built; and in Germany blocks of flats where erected, preferably in long parallel lines placed in such a way as to allow sufficient daylight to reach each row. The blocks of flats often contained children's crèches, shops and laundries.

Cooperative philosophies were especially expressed in the housing blocks built in Vienna in the 1920s. The best known of these was the "Karl-Marx-Hof", a monumental "proletarian housing palace" consisting of five-storey houses, each of which surrounded a broad grassy courtyard. Shops and kindergartens, even libraries and post offices were also integrated into these fortress-like housing blocks in "Red Vienna". The Dutch constructed expressive housing blocks. At the start they were often made from traditional red bricks and occasionally crowned with a little tower: later ready-made concrete bricks with individually accented coloured facades were also used, as in the "Watergraafsmeer" garden city near Amsterdam.

By contrast, the housing estates erected by representatives of functional architecture contained cube-shaped houses with flat roofs and white rendering. Standardisation went so far that progressive aspects like facing the housing towards the sun or grassing over courtyards became background considerations once again, even in the housing estates designed by Gropius. In addition, Gropius, who still clung on to the ideal of cooperative housing, committed himself strongly to the building of tower blocks. This trend reached a climax in the work of the architect and artist Le Corbusier. His idea of a housing city was finally implemented in 1955 in the form of the "Unités d’Habitation" in Marseilles. This was a massive concrete edifice containing more than 300 housing units, connected by a network of "streets" and containing two floors of shops. Although it soon became clear that there were blatant deficiencies in the architecture, the site had a huge influence on housing construction. 

Dresden | Germany
The garden city in Hellerau is the first and most consistent implementation in Germany of the garden city idea of the English social utopian Sir Ebenezer Howard. Howard had designed the model of planned urban development in 1898 in response to poor housing and living conditions as well as the ...
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Hellerau Garden City
Markt
01109 Dresden, Germany

Dresden | Germany
The principal railway station in the onetime capital city of Saxony is a building of profound significance in European history. The hauptbahnhof was constructed in 1892-98 to the design of the architects Giese and Weidner, and stands on the edge of the ancient city. It was always a complex ...
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Railway station
Wiener Platz 4
Dresden, Germany

Dresden | Germany
On one of his journeys to the Orient, the factory owner Hugo Zietz had an amazing brainwave! Why not build a cigarette factory in the style of a mosque as a contrast to the predominantly baroque buildings in the city of Dresden? He even named it after a tobacco growing area in Turkey, Yenidze. The ...
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Yenidze Cigarette Factory
Weißeritzstr. 3
01067 Dresden, Germany

Eisenhüttenstadt is a new town of the mid-20th century, an expression of the belief of Communist economists in the primacy of heavy industry. It stands on the River Oder, close to the point where it is joined by the Oder-Spree Canal, 25 km south of Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. Since the Second World War ...
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Documentation Centre of Everyday Life in the GDR
Erich Weinert Allee 3
15890 Eisenhüttenstadt, Germany

Essen | Germany
A family house: this sober description in the local land register hardly does justice to a royal palace containing 269 rooms and covering 8,100 square metres of living and working space, surrounded by a 28 hectare park in a picturesque setting above Lake Baldeney. The Villa Hügel was once the home ...
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Villa Hügel
Hügel 1
45133 Essen, Germany

Frankfurt am Main | Germany
The city of Frankfurt has a long tradition of pharmacy, and amongst those trained there was Henri Nestle, the pioneer of the food industry. That tradition was the basis for the growth of the chemical industry in the late nineteenth century, and by 1914 Frankfurt had the highest concentration of ...
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Peter Behrens Building
Industrie Park Hoechst Brüningstraße 45
65929 Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Gelsenkirchen | Germany
The Nordstern park in Gelsenkirchen is located on the site of a disused coal mine and is a mixture of carefully restored and modernised colliery buildings and landscaped gardens from a former National Garden Show. Industrial heritage and industrial nature; a place to relax and recuperate. It all ...
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Nordstern Park
Am Bugapark
45899 Gelsenkirchen, Germany

Giengen an der Brenz | Germany
Europe’s most celebrated soft toys, the teddy bears with buttons in their ears (‘Knopf im Ohr’) are manufactured in an architecturally revolutionary factory building in this small town 32 km north-east of Ulm. Margarete Steiff (1847-1909), a native of Giengen was partially-paralysed at the age of 18 ...
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Steiff factory
Margarete Steiff GmbH
Richard Steiff Straße 4
89537 Giengen an der Brenz, Germany

Hagen | Germany
Nothing has been left to chance here. From the outside it seems like nothing more than a solid family residence. But inside, everything has been planned to match right down to the last detail. The wall decorations, the flooring, furniture, lamps, material, even the plates and the cutlery have all ...
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Hohenhof
Stirnband 10
58093 Hagen, Germany

Herrnhut | Germany
Herrnhut is a small town in Saxony with a population of less than 3000, which is the international headquarters of the Moravian Brethren, a religious movement that had a profound influence in many countries in the eighteenth century, and established more than 30 model settlements in other countries. ...
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Ethnographic Museum
Goethestrasse 1
02747 Herrnhut, Germany

Leipzig | Germany
Founded in 1884 in recently drained marshland to the west of Leipzig, the Leipzig Cotton Spinning Mill developed within 25 years into the largest of its kind on the European mainland. Up to 4,000 women produced cotton on 260,000 spindles and 208 combing machines. Proud industrial architecture ...
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Leipzig Cotton Spinning Mill
Spinnereistraße 7
04179 Leipzig, Germany

Löbau | Germany
They are the icons of the “modern architecture”: Frank Lloyd Wright's “Fallingwater”, Le Corbusier’s “Villa Savoye”, Mies van der Rohe’s “Villa Tugendhat” - and Hans Scharoun’s “Haus Schminke” in the small Saxon town of Löbau. The owner of the local Anker pasta factory approached the famous ...
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Schminke House
Kirschallee 1 b
02708 Löbau, Germany

Monschau | Germany
The guests reverently climb the wonderfully carved wooden staircase sweeping upwards in a curve to the first floor of the house. In doing so they gaze on a picture of cloth production as it generally occurred in the 18th century: washing and drying the wool, spinning and weaving, milling, cropping ...
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Red House Monschau
Stiftung Scheibler-Museum
Laufenstraße 10
52156 Monschau, Germany

The rapid population growth of the 19th century soon led to the idea of industrializing the production of housing. Founded in 1882, the company Christoph & Unmack in Niesky had already produced portable huts for the Prussian military and others using panel construction, in which individual wall ...
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Konrad-Wachsmann-House Niesky
Goethestraße 2
02906 Niesky, Germany

Potsdam | Germany
The water-pumping station on the banks of the Neustadter Havelbucht in Potsdam is one of the most extraordinary industrial buildings in Europe. Its purpose was to accommodate an 81.4 hp steam engine built in Berlin by the young August Borsig (1804-54) that was used to pump water from the River Havel ...
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Steam Pump House
Breite Strasse 28
14467 Potsdam, Germany

Quierschied-Göttelborn | Germany
In Göttelborn nothing is as it seems at first sight. The mining gear and colliers’ housing settlement have changed their roles. The strictly functional, clearly visible pit headgear is an expression of the latest state of technology; yet it has already taken on a museum function. On the other hand ...
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Göttelborn Pit and Housing Estate
Zum Schacht
66287 Quierschied-Göttelborn, Germany

The 300 or so weaving and spinning machines are now at work in China. But the cellars of the old spinning mill are still full of life. Here the waters of the River Wupper have been diverted through a mixed-flow water turbine which in turn drives a rotary current generator. The result is ...
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Johann Wülfing & Son Textile Mill Museum
Am Graben 4
42477 Radevormwald, Germany

There are many recipes for success. One of them is “no time to lose”. This could very well apply to the old Cromford spinning mill in Ratingen in the Bergisch Land, now one of the on-site museums belong to the Rhineland Industrial Museum. Johann Gottfried Brügelmann, an extremely wealthy merchant ...
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Cromford Textile Mill LVR Industrial Museum
Cromforder Allee 24
40878 Ratingen, Germany

Senftenberg-Brieske | Germany
The settlement is like an open book. It tells the intricate story of the affluence and awakening of a once thriving industrial region. A gabled manor house here, an English-style country cottage there, bright colours, timber framework details, art nouveau features and decorative touches on façades ...
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Marga garden city
NL-Kunstschule "Birkchen" e.V.
Straße der Jugend 1a
01968 Senftenberg, Germany

Prosperous | Ireland
Prosperous (An Chorrchoill) in County Kildare was a cotton-spinning settlement, established, with philanthropic motives, by Robert Brooke in 1780. It lies on the Bog of Allen, in the very centre of Ireland. Its inhabitants supported the cause of the United Irishmen in the rising against British rule ...
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Prosperous spinning settlement
Prosperous, Ireland