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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. 

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 ...

Zyrardow factory town
1 Maja 45
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Sagunto | Spain
Puerto de Sagunto, one of the latest factory-town of Spain, offers us a journey through its Industrial heritage, legacy of his more recent history. Its origins are due to the initiative of the Basque shipping company “Sota y Aznar”, which chose this point on the coast in 1900 to release iron ore ...

Puerto de Sagunto
Address Horno Alto nº2: Avenida Altos Hornos 46520 Puerto de Sagunto
Address Tourist Info Sagunto: Plaza Cronista Chabret s/n
46500 Sagunto, Spain

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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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. ...

South Wales Miners Museum
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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 ...

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
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Vienna | Austria
The municipality in Vienna in the period between the end of the Habsburg Empire in 1918 and the anschluss of 1938 expended much energy in the provision of housing for the city’s working class, and many apartment blocks carry inscriptions with the city’s name, the date of building, and the ...

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Antwerp | Belgium
Antwerp Central Station is one of Europe’s most breathtaking railway termini. The city’s first station was the wooden terminus of the railway from Brussels and Mechelen, which lay outside the fortifications at Borgerhoutse Pont. In 1886 it was decided to build line to a new terminus in the city ...

Central Station
Centraal Station
Konigin Astridplain 27
2018 Antwerp, Belgium

Brussels | Belgium
The early 20th century inter-modal transport hub on the north side of Brussels takes its name from the family of Frans de Tassis who became Master of the Post in the Holy Roman Empire in 1501, and whose family, the counts Tour et Taxis, managed the postal services in the Habsburg Empire and other ...

Tour et Taxis
Projet Tour et Taxis
Avenue de Port 86c
1000 Brussels, Belgium

Hornu | Belgium
Coal mining at St Ghislain and Hornu, 8 km W of Mons, began in the 1770s. In 1810 the mines were acquired by the Frenchman Henri de Gorge Legrand (1774-1832). In 1816, having declared that he was ‘trying to attract strong men by-unheard of comforts’, he began the construction of a workers village in ...

Grand Hornu
Grand-Hornu Images
rue Sainte-Louise 82
7301 Hornu, Belgium

La Louvière (Houdeng-Aimeries) | Belgium
The entrance is a thick steel guillotine door, flanked by two round towers which look as if they might have come out of the Middle Ages. Behind them are redbrick buildings which, because of their rich decorations, might easily be mistaken for churches or palaces. From one of the roofs emerges the ...

Mining Site Bois-du-Luc. Ecomusée
Ecomusée du Bois-du-Luc
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7110 La Louvière, Belgium

Zlin | Czech Republic
The town of Zlin grew up in the early 20th century around the shoe factory established in 1894 by Tomás Batá (1876-1932), which exported its wares to many countries. In the 1930s Batá also manufactured furniture, machinery and aircraft.Parts of the town were planned by Frantisek Gahwa after ...

Museum of Shoemaking
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Copenhagen | Denmark
The workers’ museum is located in the assembly house of the strong trades union movement in Copenhagen that was built in 1878-79, and remained for many decades the focus of the Danish labour movement and a meeting point for Socialists from all over Europe. The museum was established in 1982.Parts of ...

Workers’ Museum
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Kongens Lyngby | Denmark
From the first water-driven factory to modern mass manufacture à la LEGO, the Brede Værk makes 150 years of Danish industrial history so palpably clear, that you might almost think that you had been part of it yourself. The central venue is the Brede Klædefabrik, one of the largest 19th-century ...

Brede Works
Brede Værk
I.C. Modewegsvej
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Fiskars | Finland
The ironworks founded in 1649 at Fiskars 78 km west of Helsinki by Peter Thorwöste has had a continuous history since that time and its work is carried on by the Fiskars Corporation which moved out of Fiskars village to new premises from the 1980s. In the eighteenth century Scots were prominent in ...

Fiskars Museum

Peltorivi 13
10470 Fiskars, Finland

Helsinki | Finland
The cable factory in Helsinki characterises the changes that took place in industry in Finland, and in other European countries in the course of the 20th century. All cables used in Finland had to be imported until the Suomen Kaapelitehdas Oy (Finnish cable company) was founded in 1912 by Arvid ...

Cable Factory
Tallberginkatu 1
00180 Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki | Finland
The workers’ housing museum, part of the Helsinki City Museum, is situated in one of four wooden apartment houses built in Kirstinkuja in 1909 for some of the city’s own employees. Designed by the architect A Nyberg, these were some of the first houses for working-class people to be constructed by ...

Workers’ Housing Museum
Kirstinkuja 4
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The Sunila pulpmill at Kotka of 1937-8 was designed by the great Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1888-1976) and is one of the most notable 20th century industrial buildings in Europe. It remains in production and parties can visit the premises by arrangement.Adjacent to it is a large residential area ...

Sunila Pulpmill and Residential Area
Alvar Aallon katu
Kotka, Finland

Tampere is the principal industrial city in Finland which prospered in the nineteenth century with the growth of the textile industry. Amuri is a working class district in the city which in 1900 had a population of about 5000, accommodated in blocks of wooden houses in which kitchens were shared by ...

Amuri Museum of workers’ housing
Amurin Työläismuseokortteli
Satakunnankata 49
33230 Tampere, Finland

Arc-et-Senans | France
The saltworks at Arc-et-Senans is one of the most spectacular industrial monuments in Europe. It was built between 1775 and 1779 on the fringe of the forest of Chaux, since supplies of wood for fuel were becoming scarce near to the existing works at Salins, from where brine was pumped through a ...

La Saline royale d’Arc-et-Senans
Institut Claude-Nicolas Ledoux
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F 25610 Arc-et-Senans, France

Fécamp | France
The Palais Bénédicitne at Fécamp, on the Normandy coast, 60 km west of Rouen, is a huge factory built between 1882 and 1888 in a mixture of the Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance styles. It was designed by the architect Camille Albert (1852-1942) for Alexandre-Prosper Le Grand (1830-98), wine merchant ...

Palais Bénédictine
110 Rue Alexandre le Grand
76400 Fécamp, France

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