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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. 

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

Konrad-Wachsmann-House Niesky
Goethestraße 2
02906 Niesky, Germany

Oberhausen | Germany
The workers’ colony of Eisenheim in Oberhausen became one of the first international industrial archaeological causes célèbres in the mid-1970s. Ironworking in the area began in 1758, and the principal mines and works of the Gutehoffnungshütte company were subsequently established there. The colony ...

Eisenheim Settlemant and Museum
Berliner Strasse 10a
46117 Oberhausen, 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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

Marga garden city
NL-Kunstschule "Birkchen" e.V.
Straße der Jugend 1a
01968 Senftenberg, Germany

Budapest | Hungary
The Wekerle Estate in Budapest is one of Europe’s outstanding Garden City developments, inspired by the works of Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928) in England. It is located in Kripest, or the XIX district, which has been formally part of the city since 1950, and takes its name from Sándor Wekerle ...

Wekerle Estate
Wekerlei Társaskör Egyesület
Kós Károly téry park
Budapest, Hungary

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 ...

Prosperous spinning settlement
Prosperous, Ireland

Waterford | Ireland
Portlaw lies on the River Clodiagh 20 km north-west of Waterford. It developed as an industrial community from 1825 when property in the vicinity was bought by David Malcolmson (1765-1844) a Quaker, descended from Scots who migrated to Ireland in the 17th century, who had prospered by working corn ...

Portlaw Industrial Community
Information: South East Tourism Granary Building, The Quay Waterford Tel. +353 (0)875 788
Tannery: Factory Road, Portlaw
Waterford, Ireland

Capriate San Gervasio | Italy
Crespi d’Adda is a community where textiles were manufactured in a mill completed in 1878, but it is important chiefly as a model community, designed by Silvio Benigno Crespi n (1868-1944), who had studied the textile industry in Cologne and Oldham and in France. The village is one of the most ...

Crespi d’Adda
piazzale Vittorio Veneto 1
24042 Capriate San Gervasio, Italy

Caserta | Italy
The Casino Reale de Belvedere, the former summer palace and hunting lodge of the Bourbon kings of Naples, built by King Ferdinand I in 1774 from plans by Luigi Vanvitelli, stands 3 km north-east of Caserta, and 33 km north of Naples. Ferdinand was traumatised by the death of his son and heir in ...

Belvedere di San Leucio
81100 Caserta, Italy

Collegno (TO) | Italy
The Villagio Leumann at Collegno, 10 km west of Turin, ranks with Crespi d’Adda as an outstanding example of Italian entrepreneurial philanthropy. A Swiss entrepreneur, Isaac Leumann (1807-87) set up a textile business at Voghera near Pavia in Lombardy, where his son, Napoleon Leumann (1841-1930), ...

Leumann Village
Villaggio Leumann
Corsa Francia
10093 Collegno, Italy

The Alberg de Poveri (hotel of the poor) in Naples is one of the supreme expressions of enlightened despotism in Europe, and influenced the provision of accommodation for the poor in many countries. The building is probably the largest in Naples, and only part of what was envisaged was actually ...

Real Albergo dei Poveri (Palazzo Fuga)
Piazza Carlo Iii, 5
80137 Napoli, Italy

Schio, 26 km north-west of Vicenza, became one of the most important textile centres in Italy in the second half of the 19th century, although until the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 it belonged to the Habsburg Empire. The industrial monuments in the region are interpreted by the Open Air Museum ...

The Schio & Vincentino open air museum of industrial archaeology
Laboratorio didattico di archeologia industrial di Schio
Palazzo Asilo Rossi Via Pasubio 92
36015 Schio, Italy

Terni is the principal industrial city of Umbria. Manufacturing companies were first attracted by the water power available from the River Nera. Woollen mills were built in the 1860s, followed by electro-chemical plants and linoleum factories. Stafano Breda opened the first steelworks, which by the ...

Bosco engineering works | Centro Multimediale di Terni SpA
Piazzale Antonio Bosco 3/A
05100 Terni, Italy

Torino | Italy
Turin is one of Europe’s principal centres of automobile engineering, and Fiat’s Lingotto works was its flagship factory. The founder of the Fiat company, Giovanni Agnelli (1866-1945) visited Detroit in 1912, where he reputedly was impressed by the management theories of Frederick Winslow Taylor ...

Lingotto factory
Lingotto Fiere
via Nizza 294
10126 Torino, Italy

Līgatne pilséta | Latvia
The 30 wooden houses that comprise the village of Ligatne were built in the late nineteenth century to accommodate workers at a substantial paper mill which itself dates from 1816. The mill still operates and prides itself on making high quality products from waste paper. The buildings are of brick, ...

Līgatne Paper Mill village
Brīvības iela 5
LV 4110 Līgatne pilséta, Latvia

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