Technical Transformations in Architecture | Impact of Industrial Revolution





Architectural transformations were the main focus since the beginning of industrial revolution.
Three major types of architectural transformations were brought about:

  1. Cultural transformations that we discussed in the earlier article
  2. Technical transformations
  3. Terrotorial transformations

In this article, we will deal with “Technical transformations in Architecture”.

Kew Gardens - Cast iron house at the Botanical garden

Kew Gardens - Cast iron house at the Botanical garden

Industrial revolution brought about in the development of machines working on steam power which brought about the development of railways.

Rotary steam power and the iron frame came into being at around the same time through the interdependent efforts of three men:

  1. James Watt
  2. Abraham Darby
  3. John Wilkinson

Of these three men, John Wilkinson was the iron master of his days, whose invention of cylinder boring machine in1775 was essential to the perfection of watts steam engine.

John Wilkinson - The Iron Master (Inventor of boring machines)

John Wilkinson - The Iron Master (Inventor of boring machines)

Because his cylinders were so accurately bored, he became the main supplier of these for Boulton and Watt, and also licensed steam engines from them to assist in his ironworks. He also encouraged them to provide steam engines to operate forges, and rotary engines for driving mills, the first rotary engine being installed at Bradley in 1783.

He suggested the use of cast iron for many roles where other materials had been used for ages.

He was profoundly known as the “Iron Mad Wilkinson”

The first cast-iron bridge was built which was 30.5m (100ft) span over the severn near Coalbrookdale in 1779.

The area around Ironbridge is described by those promoting it as a tourist destination as the “Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution”

Coalbrookdale Bridge 1779 - first cast-iron bridge

Coalbrookdale Bridge 1779 - first cast-iron bridge

  • IN 1796, a 71m (236ft) cast-iron bridge was built across the wear of Sunderlands to the designs of Thomas Wilson who adopted ‘Paine’s voussoir’ method of assembly.
  • Telford pioneering career was brought to a close with his brick encased, iron-framed warehouses at St. Katherine dock in London designed by Philip Hardwick and erected in 1789. They were based on the system of fireproof multistory mill construction in the Midlands during the last decade of 18th century.
  • Main structural antecedants for St. Katherine were William Struts’s 6-storey Calico mill, built at Derby in 1792, Charles Bage’s spinning mill erected at Shrewsbage’s in 1796.
  • Both of these structures has cast-iron columns, the pressing need to perfect the fireproof system for mill buildings. It replaced the timber beams. T-section iron beams were being used.
  • The beams carried shallow brick vaults, the whole assembly being stiffened by an outer shell and by wrought-iron, the rods retaining the structure in lateral direction.

For example: Theatre Francais has a wrought-iron roof.

Theatre Francais - wrought iron roof

Theatre Francais - wrought iron roof

  • An iron roof with a hollow-pot, fire proof, fire proof floor structure, which was derived from the Roussillon vault.
  • First Rondelet and then Durand codified a technique and a design method whereby a rationalized classicism could be brought to accommodate not only social demands but also new techniques.
  • Brown’s wrought-iron flat bar links were patented in 1817 and applied with lasting success to his 115m span of Union Bridge built over the Tweed in 1820. The Collaboration no doubt informed Telford’s design for his 177m span.
  • Menai Straits bridge, which after 8 years of arduous work was finally opened in 1825.
  • The strait varies in width from 400 metres from Fort Belan to Aber Menai Point to 1,100 metres from Traeth Gwyllt to Caernarfon Castle. It then narrows to about 500 metres in the middle reaches (Port Dinorwic and Menai Bridge) and then it broadens again. At Bangor Pier it is 900 metres wide. It then widens out, and the distance from Puffin Island to Penmaenmawr is about 7.5 km.
Menai Strait Bridge - cast iron bridge

Menai Strait Bridge - cast iron bridge

  • Originally this carried rail traffic in two wrought-iron rectangular box spans, but after a disastrous fire in 1970, which left only the limestone pillars remaining, it was rebuilt as a steel box girder bridge. Between the two bridge crossings there is a small island in the middle of the strait, Ynys Gored Goch on which is built a house and outbuildings and around which are the significant remains of medieval fish traps – now no longer used.


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  1. #1 by The Hopkins Company on February 26, 2010 - 8:29 pm

    Great Post. The industrial revolution was definitely the beginning of the modern age. The heavy use of iron created more stability in a building’s structure. Great ideas that I havent thought about since I studied the industrial revolution in grade school. Thanks

  2. #2 by Ant on June 14, 2010 - 4:30 am

    I think you should add something about Joseph Paxton and The Crystal Palace which probably had more affect on modernist architecture than any other building.

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