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European Themeroute | Industrial 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. Architectural potentials increased with the use of iron, whose quality continuously improved during the Industrial ... more


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.

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.


Member Sites ERIH Association

Dessau-Roßlau | Germany

Along with other architects of the "New ...

The Steel House | Törten Housing Estate
Stahlhaus – Info-Punkt der Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau für die Siedlung Dessau-Törten
Südstraße 5
06849 Dessau-Roßlau, Germany

Dortmund | Germany

For outsiders the Hansa coking plant was a ...

Hansa Coking Plant
Emscherallee 11
44369 Dortmund, Germany

Herten | Germany

The history of the Ewald colliery began in ...

Ewald Mine | Hoheward Landscape Park
Besucherzentrum Hoheward
Werner-Heisenberg-Straße 14
45699 Herten, Germany

Milan | Italy

Fondazione AEM was established in 2007 in order ...

House of Energy and Environment
Casa dell’Energia e dell’Ambiente – Fondazione AEM-Gruppo A2A
Piazza Po, 3
20144 Milan, Italy

Barcarena | Portugal

To protect the Portuguese capital from foreign ...

Nirvana Studios at former ammunition warehouses
Estrada Militar 66
2730226 Barcarena, Portugal

Barakaldo | Spain

The Ilgner building is the only building still ...

Ilgner Electrical Transformers Building
Avenida Altos Hornos de Vizcaya, 33
48901 Barakaldo, Spain

Shrewsbury | United Kingdom

This is really an iconic building of the ...

Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings
Spring Gardens Ditherington
SY1 2SX Shrewsbury, United Kingdom


Vienna | Austria

The municipality in Vienna in the period ...

Karl Marx Hof
12. Februar Platz, 1190 Vienna
Museum 'Das Rote Wien im Waschsalon' Halteraugasse 7
1190 Vienna, Austria

Zwentendorf-an-der-Donau | Austria

Zwentendorf is probably the best place in ...

Zwentendorf Nuclear Power Plant
Sonnenweg 2
3435 Zwentendorf-an-der-Donau, Austria

Antwerp | Belgium

Antwerp Central Station is one of Europe’s ...

Antwerp Central Station
Centraal Station
Konigin Astridplain 27
2018 Antwerp, Belgium

Brussels | Belgium

The early 20th century inter-modal transport ...

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

Hornu | Belgium

Coal mining at St Ghislain and Hornu, 8 km W ...

Grand Hornu
Rue Sainte-Louise 82
7301 Hornu, Belgium

Mons-Frameries | Belgium

A former colliery complex at Frameries, 8 km ...

‘PASS’ Science Adventure Park
Le Pass
Rue de Mons 3
7080 Mons-Framerie, Belgium

Prague | Czech Republic

The sparkling white water palace on the right ...

Prague Waterworks Museum
Muzeum Pražského Vodárenstvi
Podolská 15/17
14700 Prague, Czech Republic

Zlin | Czech Republic

The town of Zlin grew up in the early 20th ...

Museum of Shoemaking | Bata Settlement
Obuvnicke museum
Svit 1
760 00 Zlin, Czech Republic

Helsinki | Finland

The cable factory in Helsinki characterises ...

Cable Factory
Tallberginkatu 1
00180 Helsinki, Finland

Kotka | Finland

The Sunila pulpmill at Kotka of 1937-8 was ...

Sunila Pulpmill and Residential Area
Alvar Aallon katu
Kotka, Finland

Arc-et-Senans | France

The saltworks at Arc-et-Senans is one of the ...

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

Fécamp | France

The Palais Bénédicitne at Fécamp, on the ...

Palais Bénédictine
110 Rue Alexandre le Grand
76400 Fécamp, France

Lewarde | France

The centre at Guesnain 8km SE of Douai is the ...

Mining History Centre of Lewarde
Centre Historique Minier du Nord-Pas de Calais
Fosse Delloye Rue d'Erchin - BP30039
59287 Lewarde, France