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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. 

L’Espluga de Francoli | Spain
L’Espluga de Francoli is a wine-making town some 30 km north of Tarragona. The ‘wine cathedral’ is the name often given to this amazing early twentieth century building, which consists of three vaulted bays in red brick in the Gothic style. It was begin in 1913 by the architect Lluis Domenech I ...
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Museum of Wine | The wine cathedral
Museu del Vi "La catedral del Vi"
Josep M. Rendé, 5
43440 L’Espluga de Francoli, Spain

Madrid | Spain
The Atocha terminus is the largest in Madrid, but from the point of view of industrial heritage it consists of two separate stations which comprise one of the most extraordinary industrial heritage spectacles in Europe. It occupies the site of the first terminus in the Spanish capital, opened in ...
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Atocha Station
Estación de Puerta de Atocha
Glorieta del Emperador Carlos V
28012 Madrid, Spain

Murcia | Spain
Water power has always been important in the history of the city of Murcia in south-eastern Spain. There were eight mills on the River Segura and its associated canal in the late middle ages. The Molinos Nuevos (new mill) is first documented in 1363 when it was used for fulling woollen cloth, but it ...
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Museum of Water Power
Museo Hidraulico
Los Molinos del Rio Segura c/ Molinos 1
30002 Murcia, Spain

Santa Coloma de Cervello | Spain
The Colonia Guell is a workers’ settlement in the Garden City style built by the Catalan textile entrepreneur Eusebi Güell (1846-1918) around his principal factory that he re-located to Santa Coloma de Cervello from a site at Sants in present-day Barcelona in 1890. The new factory, in brick in the ...
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Colonia Güell
Colonia Güell SA
08690 Santa Coloma de Cervello, Spain

Santa Cruz de Mieres | Spain
Bustiello is one of the many mining villages in the province of Asturias, and is situated near Mieres, south of Oviedo, not far from Spain’s northern coast. It is a good example of industrial paternalism. The village was built between 1890 and1925 by the mining company Sociedad Huellera Española on ...
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Bustiello Mining Village Information Centre
Centro de Interpretación del Poblado Minero de Bustiello
Bustiello
33612 Santa Cruz de Mieres, Spain

Vila Rodona | Spain
This is one of about 50 architecturally-distinguished buildings constructed in Catalonia in the early 20th century for agricultural co-operatives. Most had spacious interiors to allow air to circulate freely around the wine vats.The building at Rocafort de Queralt, 30 km north of Tarragona, was ...
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Wine Cathedral
Cooperativa Agrícola i Caixa Agrària de Vila-rodona, SCCL
Avda Enric Benet, 4
43814 Vila Rodona, Spain

Karlskoga | Sweden
The Gråbo workers’ museum is located in a building that originally comprised three dwellings, built on the northern edge of Karlkroga by the Bofors company about 1870. The building is of wooden construction and covered in the traditional Falun Rot paint. At times in the past it has accommodated as ...
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Gråbo Workers’ Museum
Arbetarmuseet Gråbo
Korpkullsvägen 12
69153 Karlskoga, Sweden

Bedford | United Kingdom
The Bedfordshire landscape is still dominated by the huge chimneys of the Stewartby brickworks. The iconic 90 m high brick structures were designed to carry away the waste gases particularly sulphur oxides, that were dangerous to livestock in this largely farming landscape. Brick clays were ...
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Stewartby Brickworks & Village
Stewartby Brickworks and Model Village
Stewartby
MK43 Bedford, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom

Birmingham | United Kingdom
No one can grasp a proper understanding of the industrial heritage of the West Midlands without a visit to the Back to Backs in Birmingham. Here you can see the home workshops which generated the momentum to propel the region and power the ‘City of a thousand trades’. Many have come to think of ...
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Birmingham Back to Backs
55-63 Hurst Street
B5 4TE Birmingham, United Kingdom

George Cadbury was quite a man. He left us two fantastic legacies. No prizes for guessing the first one, but do you know the other? A clue is that to appreciate it fully you need to visit the Birmingham Back-to-Backs before coming to Bournville. Having established his now world famous chocolate ...
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Bournville Village & The Bournville Experience
Cadbury World
Linden Road Bournville
B30 2LU Birmingham, United Kingdom

Bradford | United Kingdom
David Hockney painted Salts Mill in warm ochre tones. Today both the painter and the place are world-famous. Hockney was born in the Northern industrial city of Bradford. And Salts Mill, an old textile factory, was built in Shipley just to the north of Bradford. Something unheard of occurred here in ...
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Saltaire Village
Bradford Tourist Information Centre
City Hall
BD1 1HY Bradford, United Kingdom

Bromborough | United Kingdom
Bromborough Pool Village is one of the most interesting of the communities established by entrepreneurs for their workers, although it is less well-known than Port Sunlight, which lies only 2 km to the north. William Wilson (b 1772) belonged to the Scottish family who established the Wilsontown ...
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Bromborough Pool Village
Manor Pl
CH62 Bromborough, United Kingdom

Dereham | United Kingdom
The vast ´House of Industry´ at Gressenhall was built in 1775 to provide a home and work to the rural poor who were otherwise unable to obtain work. In 1834, it became known as the Mitford and Launditch Union Workhouse. Workhouses were a well-known feature of nineteenth century Britain immortalised ...
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Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse
Gressenhall
NR20 4DR Dereham, Norfolk, United Kingdom

Dodford | United Kingdom
The Chartist Movement in Britain in the 1830s and 40s was on the surface a working class agitation for political reform. Three widely-signed petitions were presented to parliament in 1839, 1842 and 1848 calling for universal male suffrage, the ballot, the payment of members of parliament, the ...
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Rosedene
Victoria Road
B61 9BU Dodford, United Kingdom

Droylsden | United Kingdom
Fairfield is a Moravian community, 6 km east of the centre of Manchester, established from 1785, largely through the initiative of Rev Benjamin La Trobe (1728-86), father of the architect Benjamin La Trobe (1764-1820) who did some of the drawings for the buildings. Early buildings that remain, ...
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Fairfield Moravian Settlement
Fairfield
M11 4DA Manchester, United Kingdom

East Tilbury, Essex | United Kingdom
East Tilbury is one of the most important planned landscapes in the East of England. It was built by the Czech Tomas Bata to provide both work and housing in a garden village setting. The Bata Museum and Reminicence Centre is located at East Tilbury Library in the midst of the Bata Estate. Tomas ...
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Bata Factory and Estate
Bata Reminiscence & Resource Centre East Tilbury Library
Princess Avenue
RM18 8ST East Tilbury, Essex, United Kingdom

Falkirk | United Kingdom
The Falkirk Wheel is the most spectacular work of engineering so far constructed during the restoration of the inland waterways network in Britain which began in the 1960s. It connects two canals built in the Central Lowlands of Scotland during the Industrial Revolution period, the 56 km Forth & ...
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The Falkirk Wheel
Lime Road
FK1 4RS Falkirk, United Kingdom

The adaptation of a large mid-20th century flour mill as a centre for the arts has proved to be one of the outstanding examples in England of the adaptation of an industrial building for new uses. The Baltic Mill, constructed in the 1950s, was the last large-scale installation to be constructed ...
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Baltic Flour Mill | BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art
Gateshead Quar South Shore Road
NE8 3BA Gateshead, United Kingdom

Glasgow | United Kingdom
On Glasgow Green, not far from the People’s Palace, stands one of Europe’s most colourful industrial buildings. The firm of James Templeton & Son of Glasgow was founded in 1857 and became a large-scale manufacturer of Axminster-style carpets, which were used on ocean liners as well as in homes and ...
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Templeton on the Green
62 Templeton Street
G40 Glasgow, United Kingdom

Glasgow | United Kingdom
The People’s Palace is a substantial three-storey sandstone building behind which is a glasshouse typical of many built in the late nineteenth century as winter gardens, where people could relax among tropical plants. It was opened in 1898 and designed by Glasgow’s city engineer Alexander B ...
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The People’s Palace & Winter Gardens
Glasgow Green
G40 1AT Glasgow, United Kingdom