With the onset of the nineteenth century, the world was thrust into a new era of industrial productivity. The industrial revolution brought an influx of innovation that rapidly and forever changed the industrial landscape of the world. From the advanced cultures of western civilization to regions of instability and poverty, new technologies that spawned from the industrial revolution had everlasting impacts. The industrial revolution had a vast array of effects on architectural practices, ranging from architectural style to construction materials, which benefited society as a whole. Never before seen construction materials were what highlighted the architectural revolutions during the industrial revolution.
Before the nineteenth century, primitive building materials such as brick, wood, and stone were all that were used to create any sort of shelter. As the industrial realm began to expand, metals such as iron were then able to be mined in vast quantities “and replace wood, brick, and stone as primary materials for large buildings” (Building Design/Architecture). Charles Bage, a mill owner from Britain, was a pioneer in the use of iron as a replacement for such primitive materials. His original architectural design, which he created in 1796 and was known as the “fireproof design,” made use of cast iron, brick, and flagstone to greatly increase the strength of his mill, which allowed for the accommodation of larger and heavier machinery.
Although his design proved unreliable, due to the collapse of several mills in Great Britain, “it was not until the early 1830s that Eaton Hodgkinson introduced the section beam, did the use of iron in industrial architecture become widespread” (Structures and Technology). As architects began to perfect preserving the structural integrity of their designs, doors to new opportunities of design began to open. With materials such as iron and glass already in mass circulation and use, around halfway through the nineteenth century, a material so critical and influential drastically changed the process of industrialization: steel. “Before the industrial revolution, buildings with multiple stories were supported solely by their walls” (Modern Architecture). With a much more urban society beginning to form, a need for bigger and taller buildings developed. Because of this, a phenomenon known as vertical urbanization began to take hold of cities worldwide.
Vertical urbanization literally means building upward, as in making buildings taller rather than making a larger quantity of smaller buildings. The use of vertical urbanization saves vast amounts of land, and is much more economically beneficial than traditional horizontal urbanization. Vertical urbanization rendered the practice of resting all the weight of a building on its walls completely obsolete, and made steel arguably the single most important product to be bought and sold on a worldwide scale. The mass production of steel was the main driving force behind the ability to build skyscrapers during the mid 1880s” (Building Design/Architecture). “A combination of steel and reinforced concrete allowed for the building of skyscrapers” (Sreekanth 1).
The steel frame provides stability throughout the skyscraper while evenly distributing the weight of the building. William Le Baron Jenney is credited with building the first skyscraper in America, in 1884. Soon after, skyscrapers would begin to take over downtown and commercial areas of most major cities worldwide. Thanks to the industrial revolution, steel was made readily available, and allowed for the incorporation of skyscrapers into the urban landscape.
From the beginning of civilization to right before the nineteenth century, architecture was just as much of a form of art as painting a picture is. For every building constructed, a specific plan would be formulated by an architect and the construction would follow the architect’s vision, thus creating a one of a kind structure. But as the Industrial revolution gripped the world, the artistic aspect of architecture essentially disappeared. For the most part, buildings were standardized; meaning that parts used for construction would be mass produced resulting in a very homogenous look for buildings of the same functionality. Construction companies would focus on building cheaper and faster rather than originality or making buildings pleasing to the eye.
Even if some artistic aspects were to be added for visual purposes, they would be from a production line with thousands of others exactly like them. For instance, “All the beams and columns were mass produced were mass produced to standardized designs” (The Industrial Revolution 1080-1900). This shows how even columns that were supposed to be representing traditional Roman architectural style were stripped of all craftsmanship and originality. Even so, architects and their skills were still needed. “Architects to design canals, tunnels, bridges, and railroad stations were in high demand” (Design Presentation).
The difference was that these architects were generally not hired to create original works, but simply to put up bridges and tunnels that would get the job done. Some architects however, did not feel inclined to conform to the new phenomenon of industrial architecture. Many architects separated and formed their own factions dedicated to restoring the art to architecture. One such group, called “The Royal Institute of Bristol Architects, tended to focus on designing art galleries, houses for the rich, law courts, libraries, and so forth” (The Industrial Revolution 1780-1900). Due to such factions being created, a divide began to emerge between the two separate types of architects.
As the human race continues to progress, the architecture created by us continues to change and evolve to fit our needs. The Industrial Revolution was a time period of critical change that overall caused architecture to change as well, for the better. Besides losing some romantic characteristics, architectural practices changed to better suit the needs of humanity due to the Industrial Revolution and architectural practices will continue to evolve to meet the demands of humanity for as long as humanity exists.
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