“Along the lost highways of the post-industrial landscape, the digital age has thus found its architectural expression as a routinized amalgam of historical pastiche and technological triumphalism.”
– Reinhold Martin
There is no denying the influence of the industrial revolution on architecture. In many ways, the history of industrial architecture is also the history of the first towns. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, architects commissioned for projects which would house industry also had to design nearby living quarters for the workers. One of the most important developments in architecture was the mass production of steel. The strength and weight of steel made it possible for engineers to design spacious, well-ventilated and light-filled manufacturing facilities to replace the often dark, cramped and crowded facilities of the past.
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Many of the most impressive industrial sites have been marked for historical preservation by UNESCO. 45 industrial sites from around the world have been added to their “Industrial Heritage” list since 1978. These buildings are regarded as historically significant, in that they mark one of the “important milestones in the history of humanity, marking humanity’s dual power of destruction and creation that engenders both nuisances and progress.”
One of those nuisances was the number of abandoned warehouses and other manufacturing sites after the decline in manufacturing. However, a number of imaginative architects have accepted the challenge of not only preserving them, but transforming them into spaces that are as beautiful as they are useful. These transformations also help address the issue of a lack of open community space in many urban environments.
Abandoned manufacturing sites and industrial buildings have been transformed into community centers, playgrounds, skating rinks, libraries and even night clubs. One example of how these buildings have contributed to urban revitalization is the C-Mine Plaza in Genk, Belgium, which transformed an old mine into a major tourist attraction.
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Erik Ghenoiu, a modern architect, has written extensively about the “New Brooklyn Economy”, in which buildings are repurposed to accommodate the changing needs of surrounding communities. One of those needs is living space, which has contributed to the increasing number of transformations of formerly industrial spaces to highly desirable residential spaces. Part of their desirability lies in their proximity to public transportation and local goods and services.
Private residential industrial architecture is increasing in popularity for many of the same reasons it achieved popularity in world of manufacturing. The transformation of industrial sites into community spaces demonstrated and highlighted many of the benefits that industrial architecture could have in residential buildings. High ceilings and skylights provide much-welcomed spaciousness in the midst of crowded cities. Additionally, since industrial residential architecture utilizes fewer walls and more open space, people are able to utilize the space more flexibly and effectively.
For example, with the use of dividers, a single space can be used for multiple purposes over time without the costly expense of remodeling. Space that serves as a sewing room during one year can be easily transformed into a library space or a music room the next. In this way, the open floor design of the home accommodates the continual organic growth and change of its inhabitants. Rather than the space being filled with manufacturing machinery, it might be filled with musical instruments.
image credit: www.rjgaragedoors.com.au
There are many stunning examples of residential architecture that utilize many of the concepts once reserved for industry. Some of those concepts include steel infrastructure, clean lines, open spaces, and the use of glass and skylights to provide natural lighting. Industrial residential architecture utilizes the best features of many of the grand edifices, such as the Crystal Palace in London, which continue to inspire it.
While many still prefer more traditional home styles, for an increasing number of people, this style symbolizes human progress towards modernization, prosperity, and the improved working and living conditions made possible by the industrial age. It looks as though the trend once known as “Industrial Chic” that began with repurposing abandoned manufacturing facilities is no longer just a trend, but here to stay. As society continues its journey through the electronic age, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, these modern styles that reflect the history of the industrial age may one day be considered traditional.
Philip Piletic – Originally from Europe, currently situated in Brisbane where I work & live. I have a strong interest in home improvement and design and I’m currently researching about contemporary architecture styles. I’d like to thank RJ Garage Doors for their resources which influenced this article.