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European Themeroute | Industrial Architecture

Two ever-improving materials radically changed construction during the Industrial Revolution: iron, the key material, and concrete. Iron constructions were used to reduce the risk of fire in the British textile industry from around 1800. In a flax mill in Shrewsbury, for example, the architect Charles ... more


Two ever-improving materials radically changed construction during the Industrial Revolution: iron, the key material, and concrete. Iron constructions were used to reduce the risk of fire in the British textile industry from around 1800. In a flax mill in Shrewsbury, for example, the architect Charles Bage combined cast-iron columns and T-beams with load-bearing masonry. In a fish market in London in 1835, the iron skeleton took over the load-bearing function alone for the first time, here for hygienic reasons.

The light-flooded buildings constructed almost entirely of iron and glass then had a revolutionary effect: The first was a palm house in the London district of Kew, followed in 1851 by Joseph Paxton's legendary "Crystal Palace" for the Great Exhibition in London. Paxton used prefabricated glass panes and iron or wooden beams, thus anticipating the standardisation that became the norm in the industrialised construction of the 20th century. After that, other halls made of iron and glass were built for exhibitions and also for railway stations - for example, London's St. Pancras terminus in 1873.

The most famous symbol of the time, however, is the iron tower built by the engineer Gustave Eiffel in 1889 for the World's Fair in Paris. Engineers gained increasing influence in the building industry alongside architects, who as well as employing their artistic skills, also understood well the new materials, cost calculation and technical equipment, especially for factory buildings.

Iron constructions were further developed when it became apparent that they were not fireproof, but melted at high temperatures. They were now encased in bricks or tiles, and when safe lifts were developed in 1852, these iron skeletons formed the load-bearing core of the first skyscrapers that rose into the sky, especially in Chicago for insurance company offices.

New possibilities for building with concrete were opened up by Portland cement, a highly efficient new binder developed in 1824 by the British Joseph Aspdin. The decisive factor, however, was the combination of concrete with steel. The French gardener Joseph Monier had the idea in 1867: he used it to make plant tubs. The groundbreaking potential was recognised by his compatriot François Hennebique: thanks to the combination of steel rods or steel meshes, which absorb tensile forces, with a shell of concrete, which absorbs compressive forces, enormous, freely supporting structures can be built from this material.

From the beginning of the 20th century, large domed halls and skyscrapers were built from reinforced concrete: the first European skyscraper was erected by the Royal Liver Insurance Company in 1909 in the port of Liverpool. The next step was taken in the 1920s by the engineer Eugène Freyssinet: he had the steel cables tensioned before they were encased in concrete. ”Prestressed concrete" proved to be less prone to cracking and more resilient, but did not experience its great breakthrough until after 1945.

With the increasing mechanisation of construction, tension between engineers and architects came to a head. With "historicism", master builders and clients countered the functionality rejected as "radical abstraction" with stylistic forms from past eras. They used the functional and inexpensive materials of iron and concrete, but clad the outside of their buildings with ashlars or bricks. The administrative buildings of countless factories of this period also have round-arched windows, corner towers and façades richly ornamented with multi-coloured bricks.

The dichotomy also becomes clear in the designs of the respected French architect Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-Le-Duc, who revived Gothic construction principles with modern materials. Representatives of the British "Arts and Crafts" movement also advocated quality craftsmanship, but could not avoid industrial mass products. And the curved, organic forms of the "Art Nouveau" - in Germany "Jugendstil" - which was widespread throughout Europe, were readily realised in iron and glass - even in industrial construction, as the portal to the machine hall of the Zollern collieries in Dortmund testifies.

After the turn of the century, a group of German architects who gained great influence advocated a well thought-out combination of old and new. The pioneer was Peter Behrens, artistic advisor to the energy giant AEG. He built the assembly hall of a turbine factory in Berlin out of concrete, steel and glass: functionally conceived as a long, column-free hall with windows all the way up to the roof, yet presented in a tradition-conscious way, above all through the use of mighty pillars at the corners of the façade. Although they appear to be structural, , the pillars consist of a thin concrete skin with a steel grid reinforcement and have no load-bearing function.

Innovative functionality and spectacular presentation are also combined in the expressionist hat factory in Luckenwalde near Berlin, which Erich Mendelsohn designed: the concrete building composed of clear geometric elements is accentuated by a towering central section for the innovative exhaust air shafts. Mendelsohn also became famous for department store buildings with elegant curved window bands.

An iconic industrial building was created in 1911 by Walter Gropius, formerly an employee of Behrens, at the "Fagus-Werke" in Alfeld. The 1903 teddy bear factory of the Steiff Company in Giengen near Ulm can be regarded as a forerunner of that building as in front of its load-bearing structure hangs a double-shell wall of iron and glass. For the Alfeld factory, Gropius designed a continuously transparent façade made of windows in thin iron frames and unmistakably demonstrated the construction principle at the corners: they consist entirely of windows, without corner pillars, because the load-bearing supports have been relocated to the inside of the building. The "curtain wall", the curtain-like window façade made of mass produced elements, later developed into a defining architectural feature of the 20th century, especially in high-rise office buildings.

The most radical solution for industrial construction was found in the USA: Ground-level halls took the place of multi-storey large buildings. In 1927, Albert Kahn completed the first large-scale plant in Dearborn near Detroit for the Ford factories, which were the first to consistently use assembly line work: a huge hall made of prefabricated steel modules, erected quickly and cheaply, in which the cars went through all the production steps one after the other. If the production process is to be changed or the plant enlarged, steel modules can be converted more quickly than a concrete structure, which requires formwork and drying time. The steel skeleton construction thus perfectly fulfils the requirements of capitalist industrial production, which must always be technically and economically variable.


ERIH Anchor Points

Hornu | Belgium

A portico with three arches and a cobbled ...

Grand Hornu World Heritage Site
Rue Sainte-Louise 82
7301 Hornu, Belgium

Alfeld (Leine) | Germany

Why is it that a boot-last factory in rural ...

Fagus Factory World Heritage Site
Hannoversche Strasse 58
31061 Alfeld (Leine), Germany

Bendorf-Sayn | Germany

A prototype of modern industrial construction? ...

Sayner Hütte Ironworks
In der Sayner Hütte 4
56170 Bendorf-Sayn, Germany

Dortmund | Germany

Angle towers and gables with battlements, ...

The Zollern Colliery
Grubenweg 5
44388 Dortmund, Germany

Essen | Germany

Zollverein is the meeting place for past, ...

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', ...

Zeppelin Museum
Seestrasse 22
88045 Friedrichshafen, Germany

Peenemünde | Germany

Peenemünde was once the embodiment of high-tech ...

The Peenemünde Historical Museum
Im Kraftwerk
17449 Peenemünde, Germany

Carbonia | Italy

Carbone, the Italian word for coal has given ...

Italian Centre for Coal Mining Culture at Geological Mining Park of Sardinia
Centro Italiano della Cultura del Carbone
Grande Miniera di Serbariu
09013 Carbonia, Italy

Cedegolo | Italy

How does a drop of water transform into ...

Museum of Hydroelectric Energy
Museo dell'energia idroelettrica
Via Roma 48
25051 Cedegolo, Italy

Cruquius | Netherlands

King William I of the Netherlands had a choice ...

Haarlemmermeermuseum De Cruquius
Cruquiusdijk 27
2142 ER Cruquius, Netherlands

Lemmer | Netherlands

A celebration of technology – that's at the ...

Ir. D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station World Heritage Site
Ir. D.F. Woudagemaal
Gemaalweg 1
8531 PS Lemmer, Netherlands

Maastricht | Netherlands

How did industrialization affect the cities of ...

Sphinx Quarter | Sphinx Passage
Fenikshof 1
6211 AX Maastricht, Netherlands

Ulft | Netherlands

In Ulft, along the river Oude IJssel, once ...

DRU Industrial Park
CIVON Innovatiecentrum
Hutteweg 24
7071 BV Ulft, Netherlands

Tyssedal | Norway

According to the Norwegian writer, Frode ...

Kraftmuseet. Norwegian Museum of Hydropower and Industry
Kraftmuseet. Norsk vasskraft- og Industristadmuseum
Naustbakken 7
5770 Tyssedal, Norway

Lódź | Poland

Softening plant, pump station and boiler house, ...

EC1 Łódź - City of Culture
EC1 Łódź - Miasto Kultury
Ul. Tuwima 46
90-021 Lódź, Poland

Ponferrada | Spain

Electricity made from coal: When the power ...

The Light Factory. Museum of Energy
La Fábrica de Luz. Museo de la Energía
Avenida Libertad 46
24404 Ponferrada, Spain

San Martín del Rey Aurelio | Spain

How does it feel to be a miner? In Pozo Sotón, ...

Soton Mine
Pozo Soton
Linares, AS-17
33950 San Martín del Rey Aurelio, Spain

Terrassa | Spain

The most eye-catching feature of the Vapor ...

National Museum of Science and Technology of Catalonia
Museu Nacional de la Ciència i la Tècnica de Catalunya (MNACTEC)
Rambla d’Ègara 270
08221 Terrassa, Spain

Member Sites ERIH Association

Tampere | Finland

Vapriikki is a versatile museum centre located ...

Museum Centre Vapriikki
Alaverstaanraitti 5
33101 Tampere, Finland

Bochum | Germany

This impressive hall was built as an exhibition ...

Hall of the Century Bochum
An der Jahrhunderhalle 1
44793 Bochum, Germany

Braunsbedra | Germany

Slender, pointed gable windows and a rosette in ...

Pfännerhall Central Workshop
Grubenweg 4
06242 Braunsbedra, Germany

Dessau-Roßlau | Germany

Fireproof, weatherproof, resilient, comfortable ...

Dessau Technical Museum
Kühnauer Straße 161
06846 Dessau-Roßlau, Germany

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

Kressbronn am Bodensee | Germany

Bodan shipyard was the largest shipyard on Lake ...

Bodan Wharft
88079 Kressbronn am Bodensee, Germany

Thessaloniki | Greece

The Water Museum of Thessaloniki is housed in ...

Water Museum of Thessaloniki
26is Oktovriou 17
54627 Thessaloniki, Greece

Castellanza | Italy

Cotonificio Cantoni is a cotton mill founded in ...

Cantoni Cotton Mill - LIUC University
Università Cattaneo – LIUC (Cotonificio Cantoni)
Corso Giacomo Matteotti, 22
21053 Castellanza, Italy

Milan | Italy

Fondazione AEM was established in 2007 in order ...

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

Istanbul | Turkey

Hasanpaşa Gasworks complex is an industrial ...

Müze Gazhane / Hasanpaşa Gasworks Park and Museum Complex
Kurbağalıdere Str
34722 Istanbul, Turkey