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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. 

Alfeld (Leine) | Germany
Why is it that a boot-last factory in rural Lower Saxony becomes a turning point in modern architecture? The former warehouse of the Fagus Factory turns that question into an exciting story, displayed on five floors, and recounting various aspects that still shape our reception of architecture. This ...
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Fagus Factory World Heritage Site
Hannoversche Strasse 58
31061 Alfeld (Leine), Germany

Delmenhorst | Germany
Twelve hours work in suffocating factory rooms followed by a meagre dinner in a house belonging to the company, and maybe a chat over the garden fence with the neighbour before going to bed. This was more or less the typical pattern of everyday life in the north German Wool Combing and Worsted ...
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Nordwolle
Nordwestdeutsches Museum für Industriekultur
Am Turbinenhaus 10-12
27749 Delmenhorst, Germany

Angle towers and gables with battlements, artistically ornate staircases, an imposing boulevard of lime and plane trees against the background of a palatial redbrick façade! Was this once supposed to be a colliery? Indeed it was. The original owners consciously set out to build a magnificent ...
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Zollern II/IV Colliery LWL Industrial Museum
Grubenweg 5
44388 Dortmund, Germany

Zollverein is the meeting place for past, present and future. The past are the Ruhr Museum with its presentation of the exciting natural and cultural history of the Ruhr Region and the "Monument Path" which brings industrial history back to life. Zollverein was once the largest coal mine in Europe, ...
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Zollverein Mine and Coking Plant World Heritage Site
Besucherzentrum Zollverein Zeche Zollverein Schacht XII Gebäude A 14 / Kohlenwäsche
Gelsenkirchener Str. 181
45309 Essen, Germany

Friedrichshafen | Germany
'Flying cigars', 'luxury liners of the air', 'giants of the skies': ever since the invention of airships they have sparked people's imagination. People are also the main focus of the Zeppelin Museum at Friedrichshafen. Who was this Count Ferdinand Zeppelin sticking against all odds with the idea of ...
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Zeppelin Museum
Seestrasse 22
88045 Friedrichshafen, Germany

Haarlemmermeer | Netherlands
King William I of the Netherlands had a choice between 240 windmills or three coastal pumping stations. He could not afford to waste time because every year violent storms beat against the banks of the Haarlemmermeer. In 1836 the ever growing lake even threatened to flood Amsterdam. So two years ...
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Steam Pumping Station De Cruquius
Cruquiusdijk 27
2142 ER Haarlemmermeer, Netherlands

Cromford | United Kingdom
The first modern factory in history was built in Cromford in the Derwent valley, not far from Nottingham. The Derwent is anything but a fast-flowing river. That said it flows quickly enough to be able to drive waterwheels. Richard Arkwright, a former wigmaker, recognised this fact and promptly ...
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Cromford Mill World Heritage Site
Cromford Mill
DE4 3RQ Cromford, United Kingdom

Lanark | United Kingdom
A small village in the heart of a wild romantic landscape. There is nothing here to indicate that cotton was once manufactured here in large quantities. The fact of the matter is that New Lanark was created for this very reason alone. The powerful currents of the River Clyde were the driving force ...
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New Lanark World Heritage Site
New Lanark Mills
ML11 9DB Lanark, United Kingdom

Llanberis | United Kingdom
How do you steal a mountain? You knock it off. That’s the answer you’d get from a Welshman. The Welsh speak from experience. In North Wales they knocked off mountains en masse – in the form of hundreds of slate quarries. In the 19th century the slate tiles on almost every roof in Britain had been ...
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National Slate Museum
Padarn Country Park
LL55 4TY Llanberis, United Kingdom

Port Sunlight | United Kingdom
A walk through Port Sunlight is like a journey through England’s architectural heritage set in a beautiful parkland setting. The picturesque character of this late 19th century garden village is no coincidence. Its founder, William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925) built Port Sunlight to house the workers ...
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Port Sunlight
Port Sunlight Village Trust
23 King George’s Drive
CH62 5DX Port Sunlight, United Kingdom

Bendorf-Sayn | Germany
The casting hall in the Gothic style at the Bendorf ironworks, Sayn, 10 km north of Koblenz, is one of the most monumental industrial buildings in Europe. A blast furnaces was built at Bendorf in 1769 by Clemens Wenzeslaus, Elector of Trier. When the state of Nassau was absorbed into Prussia the ...
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Sayner Hütte iron works
Informationen | Information: Rhein. Eisenkunstguss-Museum Schloss Sayn, Abteistr. 1 Fon: +49 (0)2622 - 902913 Anschrift der Hütte:
In der Sayner Hütte
56170 Bendorf-Sayn, Germany

Bochum | Germany
This impressive hall was built as an exhibition hall by the Bochumer Verein ironworks for the 1902 world exhibition in Düsseldorf, after which it was used as a gas-blower and dynamo station in the cast-iron works. The airy steel construction is one of the first examples of purely functional ...
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Hall of the Century Bochum
An der Jahrhunderhalle 1
44793 Bochum, Germany

Dessau-Roßlau | Germany
Along with other architects of the "New Building" group, Walter Gropius, the director of the Bauhaus Dessau Design Academy, was a leading figure in the building of housing estates in the 1920s. After the First World War housing was scarcer than ever. Between 1926 and 1928 Gropius designed the Törten ...
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The steel house | Törten housing estate
Stahlhaus – Info-Punkt der Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau für die Siedlung Dessau-Törten
Südstraße 5
06849 Dessau-Roßlau, Germany

Frankfurt am Main | Germany
In 1928, IG Farben was the world's fourth-largest company and its largest chemical company. Consequently, the space requirements for the building were for one of the largest office buildings ever constructed. It was designed in the New Objectivity style. The 250-metre long and 35-metre tall building ...
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Poelzig Building, former IG-Farbenhaus
Norbert-Wollheim-Platz 1
60323 Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Lutherstadt Wittenberg | Germany
This housing estate is a real stroke of luck. It was built between 1916 and 1919 by a young Swiss architect called Otto Rudolf Salvisberg, and throughout its existence it has been spared the fate of individual privatisation, demolition and new buildings. In this way it provides visitors with an ...
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Piesteritz housing estate
Karl-Liebknecht-Platz 20
06886 Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany

Sonneberg | Germany
Sonneberg, the town of toys, was founded in the Gründerzeit (Wilhelminian era) as an industrial settlement with checker-board pattern streets, composing a structure of urban blocks. Over 90 percent of the buildings dating to the time between 1840 and 1940 were dedicated exclusively to toy production ...
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Sonneberg Town of Toys
Bahnhofsplatz 1
96515 Sonneberg, Germany

Żyrardów | Poland
Friendly, hospitable Żyrardów invites you to stroll through the charming nineteenth-century streets of the only post-industrial settlement in Europe that has been 95% preserved. Żyrardów, Poland’s former flax capital, delights visitors with the richness unexpected in such a small town of its ...
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Zyrardow factory town
Resursa
1 Maja 45
96300 Zyrardow, Poland

Merthyr Tydfil | United Kingdom
Cyfarthfa Castle Museum & Art Gallery is one of the great “finds” of the South Wales Valleys. The castle was built in 1824 by the ironmaster William Crawshay the second. It overlooked his immensely successful ironworks which were the largest in the world in the first quarter of the nineteenth ...
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Cyfarthfa Castle Museum & Art Gallery
Brecon Road
CF47 8RE Merthyr Tydfil, United Kingdom

Port Talbot | United Kingdom
Set in a country park the museum is run by a committed group of ex-miners. Main features include a traditional miners cottage scene, historic photographs illustrating the miners way of life, the poignant story of the children underground and early mining equipent displayed in a realistic setting. ...
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South Wales Miners Museum
Afan Forest Park Cynonville
SA13 3HG Port Talbot, United Kingdom

Wrexham | United Kingdom
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct carries the waterway originally called the Ellesmere Canal, but now the Llangollen Canal, some 38 m above the River Dee, and is 308 m long. It was completed in 1805 under the direction of Thomas Telford, who in the initial stages of the project was responsible to William ...
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Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Station Road Trevor
LL20 7YQ Wrexham, United Kingdom