Last edited 21 Dec 2021

Nineteenth century building types


[edit] Introduction

Karl Marx famously stated “It’s not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness [1].”

This idea that the pressures of culture ultimately shape our society, and us, is fundamental in understanding the new building types that emerged in nineteenth-century Britain. Such architecture was only made possible by the use of new materials, notably iron. During the nineteenth-century ‘...the infrastructure of railway lines modified relations of space and time, changed the whole concept of place, and permitted new divisions of labour’ [2].

A chain reaction occurred, as larger distances could now be covered, spreading the mining of raw materials, the manufacture of objects, the management of processes, and the marketing of products. From this, new building types emerged, and a new genre of architecture was born.

This proliferation of new building types correlates with Eugene Viollet-le-Duc’s quote that architects need to ‘...conform to the needs and customs of the time’ (1863) [3]; for it was they who were required to design the railway stations, the factories, the banks and the shopping arcades with no obvious convention or precedent – creating forms which were not pastiches of past styles but genuine expressions of the present.

[edit] The rail network

Culture shaping architecture is no better shown than the architecture that stemmed from the nineteenth-century railway line. Functioning as the skeletal spine behind the Industrial Revolution, the railway line connected parts of Britain in a timeframe that would have previously been impossible. This new infrastructure and efficient mode of transport allowed Britain’s industrial economy to flourish and also gave rise to the railway station.

The first passenger train between Stockton and Darlington in 1825 inaugurated a massive expansion of the rail network. ‘...By 1848, more than 5,000 miles of railway had been built in Britain. In addition to stimulating major technological advances in bridge construction and tunnelling, this brought a boom in the construction of stations. [4]’ ‘...Unprecedented as building types, train stations challenged architects aiming to design buildings that could communicate function and fulfil monumental expectations [5]’.

St Pancras Station, fronted by George Gilbert Scott’s Midland Hotel (1865-71), and composed of a huge train shed by the engineer William Henry Barlow, in conjunction with R. M. Ordish (1864-8), did just this; taking the form of a Gothic chateau, the façade ‘...declared respectability by adhering to the cultural conventions of the period and by using forms and details derived from past styles. Behind the façade, however, the shed exploited new materials for practical advantage. [6]’

The key new material was iron, obeying none of the traditional rules of masonry construction, it allowed wide spans and large areas of glass. The St Pancras train shed ' the largest and most spectacular of the High Victorian period, being a single span of 74m (243ft), rising 30m (100ft) high in a slightly pointed wrought-iron arch. The total length is 213m (700ft). At the base the arched vault is secured by rods 76mm (3 in) in diameter under the platforms. [7]’

Here the juxtaposition between the façade founded on style and association, and the pure structural and functional expression of the station shed reflected ‘the cultural gulf between engineering and architecture of the nineteenth-century. [8]’

Alongside St Pancras Station is Lewis Cubitt’s, King’s Cross Station built in 1850-2 as the London terminus for the Great Northern Railway. Taking the more direct solution to a large frontispiece, Cubitt’s choice of wide brick arches signalled the presence of the two arched sheds behind. ‘This was not ‘functionalism’ so much as the representation of function: a bold and direct image evoking associations with viaducts and bridges. [9]’ ‘An Italianate clock-tower rises from the centre, and triple-arcaded porticoes originally stood below the great arches, giving a Roman scale and dignity to the unpretentious composition. [10]’ The sheds, each with a span of 32m (105ft), technically resemble the glass and iron structures of the period, such as Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace (1851). It was however not until 1869 that steel arches replaced the original laminated timber arches. Nevertheless, subsequent station designers and engineers eagerly took up the principle construction techniques presented.

Although ‘Cubitt’s frank impression of the shed as a monumental arch [11]’ and Scott’s use of Gothic, borrowed from medieval town halls differ somewhat aesthetically, their principle intention of creating new city gates was the same. ‘Covering an area far greater than the medieval cathedral, the urban railroad station was a conspicuous working symbol of the dramatic changes brought by the Industrial Revolution,’ [12] to the French poet Théophile Gautier they were the ‘cathedrals of the new humanity’ [13].

[edit] Factory building

The birth of the railway revolutionized the production of raw materials, directly transforming the British factory and changing England’s status to a dominant manufacturing force. Fueling the Industrial Revolution and the reformation of the factory building was the textile industry. Nowhere was this better illustrated than the mills and associated industries of cities in northern Britain, Manchester for instance was nicknamed "Cottonopolis". Feeding the cities commodities and offering employment, people came to benefit from its growth both as producers and consumers, a building type at the ‘heart’ of the revolution.

‘The factory building was an integral element in mechanisation as it organised the distribution of both mechanical power to the machines, and of a workforce whose efficiencies depended on rational spatial layout and surveillance’ [14]. Form following function is key when analysing the nineteenth-century British factory; ‘...although historical references occasionally gifted these buildings of unprecedented scale with an air of dignity, they assumed characteristic internal layouts and would be little affected by exterior expression’ [15], for after all the importance was the manufactured product.

Over the course of the nineteenth-century, factory buildings changed little in aesthetical value, but evolved dramatically in structure and materiality. The principle cause for this transformation was the need for the factory to become fireproof. A requirement influenced ‘ a spectacular fire on 2 March 1791 in London’s Albion Grain Mills, which unleashed public debate and resulted in attempts to reform factory buildings’ [16].

Belper North Mill, Derbyshire, built in 1804 by William Strutt, exemplifies such remodelling of factory construction. Jedadiah Strutt built the original North Mill at Belper in 1786, but in 1803 the building suffered the same fate as many other early timber-framed cotton mills, and was destroyed by a fire. His eldest son, William Strutt then constructed the building to its present form.

Having a precedent in mind (the first iron-framed mill at Shrewsbury built by Charles Bage) Strutt took it a step further. The North Mill, ‘became the first multi-storeyed fireproof metal-framed building to be erected, thus constituting a major advance in the history of building construction [17]’. The brick arch floors are supported on an iron frame and contribute to making the mill fireproof. A warm air heating system was built in, as was a hoist between floors – known as the crane. Designed by Strutt, the crane ‘...represents one of the first attempts to provide a comprehensive mechanized solution to the problem of the passenger/ freight elevator’ [18] serving ‘ the direct predecessor and probable prototype for American freight hoists [19]’. Strutt’s mill ‘demonstrated the extent to which the factory system was destined to transform the physical and social landscape [20]’. Surrounding the mill ‘laid out the earliest versions of the factory-based community, with row upon row of brick housing for workers.

A factory building was seen as a working building, productivity was the key. There were however exceptions to this rule. When designing Temple Mill, Leeds, in 1842, a flax-spinning factory, Joseph Bonomi Junior employed his knowledge of Egyptian temples to create monumental facades. ‘The single-storey building covers almost two acres and has iron columns supporting a network of brick vaults and glass domes. To help maintain the humidity required for the spinning process, the roof was covered with turf on which sheep reputedly were allowed to graze’ [22]. Built at the height of the British Industrial Revolution, this glamorous factory illustrates the connection between Egypt and cotton.

[edit] Banks

The rise of industrial capitalism produced a new middle-class, a bourgeois group. Their income grew, as did the need to store their money somewhere safe. Banks became the main source of business financing, they were ‘...the veritable fulcrum between the government’s insatiable hunger for credit and the growing class who made their living investing’ [23]. Unlike the factory building it was important that as ‘the bank grew in scale and complexity, it also sponsored an architecture ever more innovative in its application of the latest perceptions of the effects of space and forms on the emotions and beliefs of its audience’ [24], effectively the bank needed to convey security and strength, yet needed to attract investors.

Appointed architect to the Bank of England in succession to Sir John Soane, Charles Robert Cockerell was to have the most profound effect on nineteenth-century bank architecture. ‘His position as architect to the mother of all banks naturally led to further commissions. The first of these was for the London and Westminster Bank in 1837. [25]’ Here Cockerell was commissioned alongside William Tite to design the new bank. This was a collaboration said to have suited ‘...Cockerell’s theory that there should be “the art architect to design, and the practical architect to carry out the superintend. [26]”’ ‘The three storeys with attics and the seven-bay frontage with a central door was a disposition quickly settled. [27]’ The executed building boosted ‘...a trabeated framework logically satisfying both to the eye and to the mind as a visual paraphrase of construction method. [28]’ Cockerell, keen to bring this building together with light, ‘...filled the interstices on the ground floor between his great rusticated piers with glass. [29]’

The large ground floor windows were divided with ‘....slender cast-iron mullions and transoms [30]’. ‘On the first floor, the windows were narrower and consequently gave space for carved panels on either side suggestive of the wall plane behind that of the rusticated piers. [31]’ These panels ‘...contained carved fasces alternating with the caduceus, emblem of the God of traders, Mercury. There was more sculpture in the front of the attic storey, though it was confined to two female figures surmounting the projecting end piers of the façade, representing London and Westminster [32]’.

Similar to the architecture of Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Cockerell employed a grid-like reduction of the classical language. Creating a localised ‘scene’ with his design, which expressed grandeur, and clarity, customers would immediately enter sensing wealth and prosperity. Psychologically Cockerell’s building would seduce the new customer into opening an account, while securing the existing customer. In March 1840 The Civil Engineer and Architect’s Journal welcomed Cockerell’s building, stating that it was ‘ hundredth edition of an approved portico, but . . . a perfect expression of purpose. [33]’

[edit] The shopping arcade

‘Where the patronage of architecture in the eighteenth-century Europe had relied principally on the church, the state, and the aristocracy, it came increasingly to rely on the wealth, purposes and aspirations of the new middle classes’ [34].

In Victorian Britain, reliance upon middle class consumerism led to the creation of ‘the shopping arcade’. A building type which typifies the architect and engineer conforming to modernity. ‘Offering socially segregated and relatively warm avenues for shopping or “lèche vitrine” (shop window gazing)’ [35], ‘...the arcades represented the glorification of the street as public and communal space’ [36]. The pioneer behind the glazed shopping arcade was Lord Cavendish who, having inherited Burlington House in London wanted to connect Piccadilly and Burlington Gardens with a covered route ‘...for the sale of jewellery and fancy articles of fashionable demand’. [37] His architect was Samuel Ware. ‘Burlington Arcade opened in 1819 and consisted of a straight, top-lit walkway lined with 72 small, two-storey units. [38]’ ­­

The nineteenth-century was indeed a turning point in architectural style and function. Industrialisation led to the proliferation of new building tasks, certain building types called for a reformation, while others called for invention. Reformation manifested structurally and visually. In the case of the factory building, a substantial construction reassessment was required, however a remoulding of the traditional façade was not necessary. Bank architecture did however call upon a complete redesign both structurally and aesthetically.

Where a building type called for invention, or entire reformation, the nineteenth-century architect was urged to not copy past styles, for with imitation comes the threat that one may copy the externals without reproducing the core qualities, and so end up with pastiche. To deal with this dilemma came eclecticism. This enabled the architect to derive stylistic values from a wide range of historical periods. At its best it could lead to works of dense meaning, represented marvellously at St Pancras Station, where classical disciplines in plan, gothic clarity in structure and silhouette, and inventive use of modern materials combine.

[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings

[edit] External references



  • [1] Karl Marx (1859) Preface – A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy[2] (Curtis, 1996) (Page 22)
  • [3] (Curtis, 1996) (Page 21)
  • [4] (Hollingsworth, 2008) (Page 437)
  • [5] (Bergdoll, 2000) (Page 208)
  • [6] (Hollingsworth, 2008) (Page 437)
  • [7] (Fletcher, 1996) (Page 1120)
  • [8] (Hollingsworth, 2008) (Page 437)
  • [9] (Curtis, 1996) (Page 35)
  • [10] (Fletcher, 1996) (Page 1105)
  • [11] (Bergdoll, 2000) (Page 208)
  • [12] (Hollingsworth, 2008) (Page 437)
  • [13] (Parissien, 1997). (Page 7)
  • [14] (Bergdoll, 2000) (Page 118)
  • [15] (Bergdoll, 2000) (Page 118)
  • [16] (Bergdoll, 2000) (Page 119)
  • [17] (Pevsner, 1978) (Page 49)
  • [18] (Gray, 2002) (Page 3)
  • [19] (Gray, 2002) (Page 3)
  • [20] (Bergdoll, 2000) (Page 119)
  • [21] (Bergdoll, 2000) (Page 119)
  • [22] (Fletcher, 1996) (Page 1105)
  • [23] (Bergdoll, 2000)(Page 120)
  • [24] (Bergdoll, 2000) (Page 121)
  • [25] (Watkin, 1974) (Page 221)
  • [26] (Watkin, 1974) (Page 222)
  • [27] (Watkin, 1974) (Page 222)
  • [28] (Watkin, 1974) (Page 222)
  • [29] (Watkin, 1974) (Page 222)
  • [30] (Watkin, 1974) (Page 223)
  • [31] (Watkin, 1974) (Page 223)
  • [32] (Watkin, 1974) (Page 223)
  • [33] (Watkin, 1974) (Page 222)
  • [34] (Curtis, 1996) (Page 16)
  • [35] (Buse, 2005) (Page 17)
  • [36] (Buse, 2005) (Page 26)
  • [37] (Weston, 2011) (Page 33)
  • [38] (Weston, 2011) (Page 33)

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