Architectural styles - Table of Contents

The Transition From 19th to 20th Century in Industrial Design
An excerpt from
National Register of Historic Place - Nomination, pp. 6-7  (online July 2013)
By Thomas Yots and Daniel McEneny

In 19th Century America, industrial buildings were built similarly to their residential counterparts: a post and beam structural system in brick and timber generally enveloped by brick or stone cladding. These buildings were characterized by pitched roofs, with gabled ends and windows that occur as openings in the walls which were topped by segmental arched lintels and seated on flat sills.  The industrial appearance of these buildings came from their height and lack of ornamentation rather than from any real structural distinction. However, this structural system eventually limited the size of the industrial buildings so that in many respects industrial and residential architecture from that period hardly differed.

In the last quarter of the 19th Century, the influence of engineering upon architecture resulted in a new approach to traditional and historic materiality. Roebling's American bridges and those in France by Eiffel, were not only truly elegant in style but they employed the use of iron and steel to solve structural problems. As the century ended, the use of concrete would take on a new form and was being used by being reinforced with steel. By the beginning of the 20th Century, reinforced concrete was being used in European residential commercial structures.

American architect Albert Kahn played a significant role in expanding the applications for reinforced concrete after 1903. Some have argued that Kahn was more of an engineer than an architect, but it is this disciplinary marriage that produced the reinforced concrete frame that Kahn employed to allow broad, clear spaces for the operation of production lines in American automobile factories. This form reached a high point in Kahn's Building #10 done for the Packard Motor Car Company on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit. There the reinforced concrete frame held the loads so that the perimeter walls of the factory could be filled with glass to allow natural light to penetrate into the interior workspaces, thus giving birth to the "Daylight Factory."

This building type was particularly suited to manufacturing because of its open floor space, with fewer and less obtrusive support columns allowed for the reconfiguration of assembly lines.  Additionally, the floor to ceiling window walls that were a consequence of the concrete framing system allowed these workspaces to be light and air filled. Banham, in A Concrete Atlantis, refers to Packard #10 as an "innovative structure [that would] bridge the gap between the older tradition and the stunningly new type of factory (Banham 237)."

There were additional benefits to the reinforced concrete frame that also made it suitable for warehouse use.  Not only were the columns of reinforced concrete, but so were the floor and roof plates, producing a highly rigid structure that could carry extreme weight loads.  Add to this the inherent fireproofing produced by the concrete itself, and there appears the ideal form for the storage of combustible materials. Thus, the Daylight Factory could be used where light and air were not necessary or desirable for the building's use, and the spans between the piers along the exterior walls would be filled with brick or other opaque materials produced by minimal festration.

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