Archive for December, 2009

2.9. The current scene, a new era?

We have come a long way since the first forays into mill building; mock Palladian mansions have turned into signature architectural icons or bland sheds. The story as far as this essay is concerned lies around structure and physical aspects of factories. There has been fleeting mentions of working practices; social, representational, and political issues are left for another work.

The story has been one of innovation, in materials and technologies, adaptation, of buildings and processes, and reaction to changing architectural styles and influences. Factories have been glittering show pieces, secreted away into the landscape, or just taken for granted as rows of uniform boxes within the local trading estate.

We have also witnessed dereliction, of individual buildings, and complete areas as political, market, or individual business demands change. Posterity shall mourn some, such as Firestone, Brynmawr or Reliance factories; others have a welcome departure from the lives of people who were fated to exist as virtual machines within their walls or lived near their ugly countenance.

Some have learnt to adapt, their basic forms being suitable to a whole range of industrial uses, others, including the giant Lister mills at Bradford[i], have gained a reprieve from destruction, by becoming part of the trend for regeneration and conversion to other uses such as housing, commercial or office space. Others, such as the Magna ex-steel works at Rotherham[ii] (figure 2.54) or the Iron Bridge gorge museum, Shropshire, have become part of the heritage and education industry itself, teaching the latest generations how their fore fathers lived and worked.

Industrial architecture so often the Cinderella of architectural theory writings maybe deserves a closer look. What can we say about the cladded sheds or boxes that we experience on a daily basis; those “inscrutable envelopes of human activity”[iii] as Gillian Darley states. Although whether icon or humble, they all have a story, a feature, an effect upon us in some way.  Tom Dyckhof of the Times has recently discussed newly completed BMW car factory in Leipzig (2005)[iv] (figure 2.55) along with mentions of other earlier factories such as Ford’s Kahn designed works, The AEG building and others such as Roger’s efforts in Swindon.

In the article he mused of the times when people romanticised about mass production, “when the production line was fantasised about as a thing of beauty and liberation, not oppression”, and when the “sight of a well-oiled machine could wring a tear from the eye of the grandest of industrial magnates”. Maybe this iconic factory by Zaha Hadid[v] has finally taken Cinderella to the ball.

[i]Lister Mills dominates the Bradford skyline. It is a glorious reminder of Bradford’s Victorian past and its once legendary industrial prowess. When built The Times proclaimed that the Mills were as “breathtaking as Versailles” – to this day it still manages to take your breath away.” Press release by Urban Splash, property developers who have redeveloped Lister Mills. URBAN SPLASH

[ii] Magna Science and education centre, more details here, Magna Science Adventure Centre

[iii] Gillian Darley, Factory, London, 2002, page7.

[iv] Tom Dyckhof, “Talking about a revolution”, Times T2 magazine, 14,06,2005, pp10-11.

 [v] Zaha Hadid. The first woman to win the Pritzker Prize for Architecture in its 26 year history, has defined a radically new approach to architecture by creating buildings, such as the Rosenthal Centre for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, with multiple perspective points and fragmented geometry to evoke the chaos of modern life. Zaha Hadid / Zaha Hadid Architecture and Design : Architect (1950-) – Design/Designer Information


2.8. End of a century and the Millennium

Moving towards the 21st century, there have been a number of “signature” buildings with overt exterior architectural features following on from the Renault building.  The Vitra[i] building by Frank Gehry[ii] 9 Figure 2.48) started in 1987 as a factory but now a museum displays its disjointed elements as floating blocks, the Igus factory (1992)[iii],(figure 2.49) a slick shed with its demountable office pods and ventilation domes sitting under the two large yellow painted masts as the factory itself lies apparently suspended below. We should also note the Motorola factory, Swindon, (1998)[iv], (figure 2.50), with its cigar shaped roof covering an internal “street” where staff can socialise, infamous for its part in one of the James Bond movies, and also an extreme showpiece such as the Volkswagen “transparent factory” in Dresden (1999-2000)[v].

Other recent factories have taken the route of blending into the surroundings. James Dyson’s[vi]  now defunct Malmesbury vacuum cleaner plant (1998) (figure 2.51), takes a more self-effacing stance, with its undulating roofline rippling through the landscape and its glass walls reflecting the landscape. When David Mellor[vii] built his cutlery factory near Sheffield, (figure 2.52) away from his trade’s traditional industrial setting, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, he used natural materials and trees to blend the conical shaped building in to its surroundings. Ercol[viii], the furniture firm use a similar woodland setting to hide their sliver of a building, and when Nicolas Grimshaw[ix] (ex “Eden”[x] project) chose the site for the new BMW owned Rolls Royce[xi] plant, (figure 2.53) he planted it in old gravel workings, set low, almost invisible with its “living green” roof from the surrounding Downs countryside. The recent Adnams Brewery[xii] distribution centre snuggles just on the outskirts of Southwold in Suffolk, again sporting a natural living roof

Although we could look at the emerging new materials, resins, fibres, metals and plastics, some sandwiched together to insulate, seal, and increase strength, they are for now just adaptations of what has been, their worth is yet to be evaluated. The real innovations are now on the shop floor, with robotics emptying the workspace of people, and the deployment of modern ergonomics and special planning.

Where humans are still part of the process, innovations are shown with the introduction of theory that workers are not there just to perform tasks as part of a well-oiled machine, but are part of a larger integrated social structure. Ideas such as “group technology” where teams of workers take control of processes to help control the boredom of the production line.[xiii] Flexibility is the new mantra and the ability of the workforce to adapt for change could be just as important as merely having a flexible building structure.

[i] Vitra Design company statement, “Vitra designs the places where people work – be in the office, at home, or on the road. The goal: to make the place of work as appealing, productive and healthy as possible. Our furniture is to be found in countless successful companies and organizations, as well as in the homes of many private individuals with a feel for design. Active internationally, we work together with the major designers of the day. For over 50 years now we have been manufacturing the furniture created by the famous US designers, Charles and Ray Eames.” | Vitra the company

[ii]  Frank Gehry “(b. Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1929) Frank Gehry was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1929. He studied at the Universities of Southern California and Harvard, before he established his first practice, Frank O. Gehry and Associates in 1963. In 1979, this practice was succeeded by the firm Gehry & Krueger Inc. Over the years, Gehry has moved away from a conventional commercial practice to an artistically directed atelier. His deconstructed architectural style began to emerge in the late 1970s when Gehry, directed by a personal vision of architecture, created collage-like compositions out of found materials. Instead of creating buildings, Gehry creates ad-hoc pieces of functional sculpture. Gehry’s architecture has undergone a marked evolution from the plywood and corrugated-metal vernacular of his early works to the distorted but pristine concrete of his later works. However, the works retain a deconstructed aesthetic that fits well with the increasingly disjointed culture to which they belong. In the large-scale public commissions he has received since he converted to a deconstructive aesthetic, Gehry has explored the classical architecture themes. In these works, he melds formal compositions with an exploded aesthetic. Most recently, Gehry has combined sensuous curving forms with complex deconstructive massing, achieving significant new results.” Frank Gehry – Great Buildings Online

[iii] Igus, plastics technology company, Günter Blase began Igus® back in 1964 in a double garage in Cologne. For the first 20 years, the company worked as a supplier of complex technical polymer components. Between 1985 and 2006, Igus® has grown from 40 to more than 1,350 employees distributed between the head office in Germany and 26 subsidiary companies around the world. Igus® also has representative partners in more than 21 other countries. Igus® will continue to invest in expansion in the coming years, thanks to the opportunities for growth provided by modern materials. Igus

[iv] Architect Sheppard Robson,”An award winning architectural, planning, urban design and interior design practice which was established in 1938. With 250 people, including 14 partners, based in London and Manchester, “Architect Search: Sheppard Robson: Practice Profile

[v] Henn architects, “Prof. Dr. Gunter Henn (TU Dresden & Henn architects) Gunter Henn was born in 1947 in Dresden, Germany. He studied architecture and engineering in Munich, Berlin, and Zurich. He earned his doctorate at the Technical University, Munich. Since 1978, he has his own offices, Henn Architekten, in Munich and Berlin. He is currently a visiting professor at the MIT Sloan School of MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Professor at the Technical University in Dresden. He has been responsible for many innovative building designs, including the BMW Research and Innovation Centre, the Automobile City in Wolfsburg for Volkswagen, as well as the Transparent Factory in Dresden, a novel auto-assembly plant for Skoda in the Czech Republic and the Faculty for Mechanical Engineering for the Technical University in Munich.” Speakers

[vi] Sir James Dyson (born Cromer, Norfolk, England, 2 May 1947) is a British designer. He is best known as the inventor of the Dual Cyclone bag less vacuum cleaner, which works on the principle of cyclonic separation. His net worth is said to be just over £1 billion James Dyson –

[vii] David Mellor, “David Mellor Cutlery is manufactured in a purpose-designed modern factory in the Peak National Park. The Round Building, designed by Sir Michael Hopkins, has won numerous architectural awards. The David Mellor shop in Sloane Square, London, and the factory at Hathersage in Derbyshire, sells a professional collection of kitchenware and tableware.” David Mellor Cutlery and Kitchenware

[viii] Ercol company heritage statement, “In 1920 a young designer called Lucian Ercolani started his own business in High Wycombe, the chair making capital of England. Here he perfected the technique of steam-bending wood in large quantities to form the famous Windsor Bow, and discovered how to ‘tame’ elm; a beautifully grained hardwood other furniture makers considered impossible to work with.” Ercol – The Company

[ix]Grimshaw, Nicholas, Thomas English architect. His work has developed along distinctly “high tech” lines, for example his Financial Times printing works, London (1988), an uncompromisingly industrial building that exposes machinery to view through a glass outer wall. Later works include the Continental Train Platform at Waterloo Station, London (1993), the Ecological Centre Project (home of the Eden Project) at St Austell, Cornwall (2001), and Folly Bridge in Oxford (2002). Grimshaw’s British Pavilion for Expo ’92 in Seville, created in similar vein to his Financial Times printing works, and addressed problems of climatic control, incorporating a huge wall of water in its facade and sail-like mechanisms on the roof.” Grimshaw, Nicholas Thomas

[x]The Eden Project is one of the UK’s top Landmark Millennium projects created to tell the fascinating story of man’s relationship with plants.  It  is  a non-profit  making  charitable  scientific organisation for the 21st century with a commitment to communicate with  the  public through entertainment,  education and involvement” press release by Eden Project – About

[xi] Rolls Royce plant text and pictures at,  BBC NEWS | Business | Rolls-Royce: Technology and craftsmanship

[xii] Adnams brewery. Located in Southwold Suffolk. The distribution centre lies just outside this sea side town.

 [xiii] Nissan, the Japanese car makers, introduced group working into their factory in Sunderland.

2.7. The “Cool” box, the “functional tradition” and the arrival of “High tech”.

In 1951, Francis Wylie in his published talk entitled “Industrial buildings” stated, “factory building is no longer the Cinderella of the drawing office, it has become industrial architecture. In 1952 two such designed buildings were widely publicised, the handkerchief mill in Blumberg Germany, by Egon Eiermann[i], (figure 2.32) and the Dynamometer building at the General Motors research building in Detroit by Eero Saarinen[ii] (figure 2.33). Both displayed an exposed black painted steel frame with high levels of glazing, their streamlined aesthetic derived from the work of Mies van der Rohe[iii].

 In the USA, the firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill took up this new “cool box” style and demonstrated it with several buildings[iv] in the 1950s including a building for H. J .Heinz[v] &Co Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (figure 2.34) where they used the exposed black steel frame glazed with blue glass framed in aluminium.

This style arrived in Britain with the Processing building for Cooper Taber at Witham, Essex (1955) [vi](figure 2.35). This building too had an exposed steel frame painted black, slender in appearance, with all other space apart from the services on the roof taken up with glass. This exposed, and possibly celebrated the machinery seen within. Was this the natural descendant of the Sheerness boathouse with its early-unrecognised exposure of the structural frame?

This generation of factory buildings and later ones benefited from the cross pollination of technologies from other industries. They could achieve this high level of glazing using new sealants derived from the car industry, and for the frames , the use of corrosion resistant “Cor Ten“[vii] steel developed for  railway freight wagons and heavy plant machinery.  Further developments in reflective glazing and pre-cast concrete elements proved useful for 1960s buildings, and the advances in aluminium cladding profiled steel sections and plastic sealants encouraged these “boxes” to become even lighter.

In 1958, James Richards published “The Functional tradition”[viii]. In it, he expressed the fact that the prototype buildings of the nineteenth century had also prepared modern taste for their successors. He celebrated the efforts of the “pioneer efforts of the engineers” and the more orthodox builders of that time who served the needs of the trades and businesses. Now seeking consolidation after innovation, he felt that the latest generation of architects might aim at “such a vernacular” by perhaps emphasising the functional precedents.

This intended new vernacular turned out to be mainly imported, mostly from the USA. The “Architects’ journal” described them as “prestige pancakes”. These elegant sleek buildings, usually based on the Saarinen ideal were set in green field sites, usually landscaped, as in his original General Motors model. Often the companies were American as in the Cummins Diesel engine Company[ix] who commissioned one of these sleek boxes in Darlington, Co. Durham (1966), (figure 2.36). Architects Kevin Roche and John Dinkledoo, inheritors of the Saarinen practice used a blend of Cor-ten steel and neoprene[x] gaskets (the first time in the world) to create this sleek single storey highly glazed “pancake”. It sat amongst landscaped grounds, and internally physical demarcations were dissolved between factory floor and offices, a pioneering change for British industry. The factory had gone full circle, from country mill, to town and city factory and back to countryside again.

Contemporary with Cummins, building features such as masts, cables, bracing and exposed air-conditioning plant, often painted in bright colours became apparent. This style was to become known as “High tech”. Some architect-designed industrial buildings lent themselves to “architectural engineering”, i.e. structural elements being used more for effect rather than reality. The Reliance Controls building Swindon (1965)[xi] was such a factory (figure 2.37). Designed by Norman Foster’s “Team 4”[xii] architect practice, it was a cheap and flexible “shed” for an American electronics company. It was noted by its exposed crisp cross bracing between the bays of the external steel frame, which sat in front of corrugated cladding or glazing panels. The architects admitted it was “just for visual effect only”.

The late 1960s in Britain also saw two other factories of note. The first one designed by Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardell partnership, (of Sigmund pumps, 1948), was the new factory for The Bath Cabinetmakers Company [xiii](1968) (figure 2.38) in the south west of England. Here they exploited a lightweight tubular steel space frame[xiv] to support the roof, enabling long spans and free floor space without heavy steel members. The other building, also in Bath was a new factory for Rotark controls (1968)[xv] (figure 2.39). Here again use of the space frame enabled uncluttered floor space, but it was taken a step further by being carried through at roof level to give form to the exterior. The inclusion of glazing around the edge gave subtle lighting to the interior (figure 2.40) .The other point of note is that the entire roof frame was at first assembled on the floor and then lifted up into position.

In the 1980s, factories that took the notion of exposed structural members, both for visual and practical effect to further heights include. Firstly, Richard Rogers Fleetguard manufacturing centre at Quimper, Brittany (1979-81) for the Cummins Diesel Company where external masts and bracing rods .painted in bright red, created a structure free interior and gave the image of the structure almost holding the build up in mid air (figure 2.41).

Also by Rogers, the Renault depot at Swindon (1983) (figure 2.42) displayed overt Meccano like external structural members painted in vivid yellow, its cabling and pierced metal web acting out the form of a tent.

In the early 1970s and 1980s, clean lines and lightweight cladding materials became the usual face of industry. Earlier “cool box” examples expressing the face of corporate modernity were the IBM assembly plant (figure 2.43) and the Horizon (John Player) factory; both by Arup associates[xvi] (figure 2.44).  This model became the norm for many industrial estates and business parks.

By now, the sophisticated “shed “was becoming a standardised item. The architects, Michael Hopkins and partners were commissioned to draw up a prototype small factory unit, named “Paterae” (figure 2.44), a steel framed box with standard glazing that potentially could be bought “of the shelf “straight from the assembly line like a car. The Automobile industry that had spawned the dawn of standard factories could now be housed in units that were created like their own product.

Gillian Darley states in her book “factory”[xvii], “By the 1980s Design magazine considered that the innovatory period of the sixties and seventies is coming to an end. Today kits of parts buildings designed by one time young lions …are, if not commonplace, certainly part of current conventional wisdom.” The attraction of an easy building formula meant that as Darley states “legions of disciples have adopted the same approach, not always with happy results.” Was it on the one hand becoming an architectural cliché or a popular modern vernacular? We should have to look to the ranks of industrial estates and business parks around the country to formulate our own opinion.

[i] ‘” Egon Eiermann” (born September 29th Neuendorf Germany, died July 20 1970) was one of Germany’s most prominent architects in the second half of the 20th century. Eiermann studied at the Technical University of Berlin. He worked for the Karlstad building department for a time, and before World War II had an office with fellow architect Fritz Jaenecke. He joined the faculty of the university in Karlsruhe in 1947, working there on developing steel frame construction methods. A functionalist, his major works include: the textile mill at Blumberg (1951); the West German pavilion at the Brussels World Exhibition (with Sep Ruf, 1958); the West German embassy in (1958-1964); a building for the German Parliament (Bundestag) in Bonn (1965-1969); the IBM-Germany Headquarters in Stuttgart (1967-1972); and, the Olivetti building in Frankfurt (1968-1972). By far his most famous work is the new church on the site of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin (1959-1963).In depth – Egon Eiermann

[ii] Eero Saarinen (b. Kirkkonummi, Finland 1910; d. Ann Arbor, Michigan 1961) Eero Saarinen was born in Kirkkonummi, Finland in 1910. He studied in Paris and at Yale University, after which he joined his father’s practice. Eero initially pursued sculpture as his art of choice. After a year in art school, he decided to become an architect instead. Much of his work shows a relation to sculpture. Saarinen developed a remarkable range which depended on colour, form and materials. Saarinen showed a marked dependence on innovative structures and sculptural forms, but not at the cost of pragmatic considerations. He easily moved back and forth between the International Style and Expressionism, utilizing a vocabulary of curves and cantilevered forms. Eero Saarinen died in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1961. Eero Saarinen – Great Buildings Online

[iii] Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (b. Aachen, Germany 1886; d. Chicago, Illinois 1969) Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe was born in Aachen, Germany in 1886. He worked in the family stone-carving business before he joined the office of Bruno Paul in Berlin. He entered the studio of Peter Behrens in 1908 and remained until 1912. Under Behrens’ influence, Mies developed a design approach based on advanced structural techniques and Prussian Classicism. He also developed sympathy for the aesthetic credos of both Russian Constructivism and the Dutch De Stijl group. He borrowed from the post and lintel construction of Karl Friedrich Schinkel for his designs in steel and glass. Mies worked with the magazine G which started in July 1923. He made major contributions to the architectural philosophies of the late 1920s and 1930s as artistic director of the Werkbund-sponsored Weissenhof project and as Director of the Bauhaus. Famous for his dictum ‘Less is More’, Mies attempted to create contemplative, neutral spaces through an architecture based on material honesty and structural integrity. Over the last twenty years of his life, Mies achieved his vision of a monumental ‘skin and bone’ architecture. His later works provide a fitting denouement to a life dedicated to the idea of a universal, simplified architecture Mies died in Chicago, Illinois in 1969. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – Great Buildings Online

[iv] Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM), “(Established Chicago 1936) Louis Skidmore and Nathaniel Owings established an office in Chicago in 1936 and opened a branch in New York in 1937. The practice became Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (SOM) in 1939 when John Merrill joined the partnership. From the beginning, the firm stressed the importance of teamwork and individual responsibility among its employees. The firm’s early years were spent creating a multi-disciplinary office, which could effectively handle corporate and commercial clients. In 1952, Gordon Bunshaft pushed SOM toward a new level of architectural recognition with his design for the Lever House. This curtain-walled office block built in the International Style, demonstrated SOM’s capabilities and led to a series of similar developments. Due to the large scale of the buildings designed by SOM, structural innovation makes up a large part of the office’s design efforts. Skidmore Owings & Merrill operates as a successful large practice, with offices in many cities, although none of its original principals remain with the firm.” Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) – Great Buildings Online

[v] Henry John Heinz first opened Heinz in 1869, his first product was a horseradish packaged in a clear see though bottle. This was so that his customers could see that their horseradish was of good quality and standard. It was popular at the time for producers to use a filler so they got the most of their own horseradish i.e. leaves, wood fibre and turnip filler. Work and History of Companies

[vi] Architects, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon.

[vii] Cor-Ten Steel is a type of steel, which oxidizes naturally over time, giving it an orange-brown colour and a rough texture. It has a very high tensile strength, and in spite of its rusted appearance, it is actually more resistant to damaging corrosion than standard forms of carbon steel. Definition of the facade material Cor-Ten steel

[viii] In 1958 J M Richards published The Functional Tradition in Early Industrial Buildings. It was fully illustrated with Eric de Mare’s photographs (often cropped to focus on the relevant detail). Richards began his foreword: “This is primarily a picture book, and is, therefore, more Eric de Mare’s creation than mine”. The ‘functional tradition’ was defined by Richards and de Mare as that style of design which, though dominated by functional considerations, is remarkable for the wide range and subtlety of its aesthetic effects. It runs through all periods of English architecture, but comes out most strongly in the industrial architecture of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The purpose of Richards’ book was to educate readers to appreciate a range of buildings the architectural merits of which had not at that date been recognised, and also to illustrate a tradition of functional design in English architecture. De Mare was himself keen to demonstrate that functional design was not invented in the 1930s, and had a long and honourable history in English architecture. Although the tradition can be traced back into the medieval period, the book deliberately focused on the early industrial revolution.  image resource for England’s history. Story Introduction

[ix] The incorporation of Cummins Engine Company on February 3, 1919, brought together uncommon resources. William Glanton “W.G.” Irwin a successful Columbus banker-investor who supported several local entrepreneurs—supplied the starting capital. The new company’s namesake, Clessie Lyle Cummins, was a self-taught mechanic-inventor. The Irwins hired him in 1908 to drive and maintain their car, and later set him up in business as an auto mechanic. During World War I, Clessie operated a machine shop that thrived on government contracts. By then, he was convinced that an engine technology invented by Rudolph Diesel in the 1890s—while still unproven commercially—held great promise for its fuel economy and durability. To enter the business, Cummins secured manufacturing rights from a Dutch diesel licensor named Hvid.

[x]  Neoprene: A synthetic material resembling rubber that does not perish as quickly as rubber and is more resistant to oil, used in the manufacture of equipment for which waterproofing is important.

MSN Encarta : Online Encyclopaedia, Dictionary, Atlas, and Homework

[xi] Reliance controls demolished 1991 (replaced by PC world) Rogers associates first entirely prefabricated building was the Reliance Controls Electronic Factory, Swindon, Wilts (1967), a simple rectangular building clad in steel decking with an elegantly detailed, cross-braced external steel structure. Richard Rogers: Biography and Much More from

[xii] Norman Foster initially studied architecture at Manchester but it was winning a scholarship to Yale that provided the most decisive influences. One of his teachers was Paul Rudolph, an architect who found expressive power within a modernist language long after most of America had turned to Post Modernism. Like many other young British architects in the early 1960s, he came under the spell of the Case Study houses in Los Angeles, profound images of a relaxed modern lifestyle, achieved on relatively low budgets with common industrial materials, designed by architects like Charles and Rae Eames. He overlapped with another young Briton, Richard Rogers, with whom he would later found Team 4 . Norman Foster RA – Architects – Royal Academicians – Royal Academy of Arts

[xiii] Now owned by the Herman miller furniture group, Herman Miller – United States – Home Page

[xiv] Space frames:  are simply trusses or other elements deployed three-dimensionally. MSN Encarta – Architecture

[xv] Architects,  Leonard Manasseh and partners,

[xvi] Arup Associates (Arup b. Newcastle upon Tyne 1895; d. 1988) (Established 1963) Sir Ove Arup was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1895. Generally considered the foremost engineer of his era, he created the firm Arup and Partners in 1946 as a team of structural consultants. The complex level of design considerations that the partnership encountered led to the creation of Arup Associates in 1963. Arup Associates originally developed as a partnership between engineer Ove Arup and architect Philip Downson. It existed as a multi-disciplinary office that provided architectural, surveying, and engineering services. The firm’s overall success was mainly due to Ove Arup, who believed in practical architecture, in which design fulfils social and public needs. With Arup Associates and, later, with such research and design groups as the Modern Architecture Research Group (MARS) and the Tecton Group, Arup successfully broke the narrow confines of architecture as a single profession by creating a core organization of several specialties. Arup died in London in 1988. Arup Associates – Great Buildings Online

[xvii] Gillian Darley, Factory , London 2002, page 103

2.6 Clouds of war to regeneration

The autumn of 1939 witnessed the outbreak of the Second World War. As in the previous war, this affected the way industrial buildings were designed. At first buildings were rushed up everywhere to meet the demand of armaments and equipment supply. In the USA, some factories were built of great size such as the steel mills at Fontana, California to make steel for Liberty ships or the ford bomber plant at Willow run[i], in 1940 (figure 2.29). The U.S Navy commissioned Ernest Kump to build the monumental Ordnance and Optical shop in the San Francisco Naval base. Its slender steel frame allowed maximum use of glazing which flooded light in to the interior to aid the delicate operations within.

Many especially in the U.K factories were converted to differing uses, from cars to ambulances[ii], from textiles to mortar bombs[iii], their pre-war flexible designs allowing this change of operations. In The UK, demand for essential materials in the war effort encouraged the use of quickly constructed buildings, using lightweight steel structural elements, asbestos-cement cladding and with north light roofing, often “blacked out” or painted in camouflage. These corrugated asbestos-clad factories set the scene of many industrial estates for decades beyond.

In the USA by mid 1942, stocks of traditional materials had been exhausted by military demands. Economics and necessity meant that lightweight pre-stressed reinforced concrete and the new use of laminated timber for columns and roof structures came in to their own although at first nervously received by the builders. Newly developed resin glues and synthetic materials joined these materials in the goal of finding alternatives to traditional materials. In the USA, also, the blackout gave a boost to the “windowless factory” for a while as electrical lighting and improved ventilation alleviated problems potentially created in this environment.

In some of the wartime buildings quality was not a high priority, but post war standards began to rise and optimism encouraged some new design built factories. One notable example in the U.K is the Sigmund Pump Factory on the Team Valley estate, Gateshead (1948) (figure 2.30). The architects Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardell set out a horizontal emphasised building with a generously glazed office and works block, complete with Kahn style “monitor“[iv]glazing in the roof. Another notable building being the ill-fated[v] Brynmawr Rubber Factory (1951), South Wales, (figure 2.31). This was the brainchild of Lord Verulam, who wished to inject life into a depressed area by creating a building embodying the highest ideals and optimism. He employed a group of recently demobbed architects, “Architects Cooperative Partnership”, and Ove Arup[vi] as engineer to create a building roofed with nine thin shell reinforced concrete domes, leaving the main floor space completely uncluttered and illuminated by its elegant top light glazing set within the parabolic vaults.                           

In The USA post war surplus of capacity meant that some armaments factories were converted for the production of pre fabricated industrial buildings and housing, feeding on the now over supply of aluminium and steel. The firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), used their expertise in improved quality lightweight–steel sections to produce a prefabricated sophisticated exposed grid steel frame shed, which they started to export to Europe.

In mainland Europe, regenerating after the war, notable events include such projects as possibly Le Corbusier’s only foray into factory design. During 1945 in the war battered town of St. Die in the Vosges region of France, he rebuilt a mill for Jacques Duval. Corbusier stated “ Architecture is the correct magnificent play of forms under the light “ and he employed this dictum in the functional problems of a concrete framed five storey mill by the use of “Brise-soliel”[vii] , painted ceilings, a roof garden and  some of the  main production space put workers on a gallery.


[ii] Cars to ambulances, The firm of Charles H. Roe Ltd, at Cross Gates Carriage works in Austhorpe Road, converted the chassis of hundreds of private cars to ambulances and mobile canteens; private individuals in the city and abroad donating many of the cars to the war effort.

[iii] Textiles to Mortar barrels. A company that adapted its production lines for the war effort was Fairbairn, Lawson, Combe, Barbour Ltd. Leeds. Originally, a manufacturer of textile machinery, during the Second World War their predominantly female workforce made mortar barrels and other munitions at the Wellington Street Plant. VE Day 60 Years: Leeds – A Manufacturing City During Wartime – Leeds City Guide local history

[iv] Monitor Lighting Box style roof window light to give diffused illumination to floors below.

[v] Brynmawr Rubber factory demolished 2001. Designed between 1946 and 1951 by the Architects’ Co-Partnership and the engineer Ove Arup, the building was the vision of Lord James Forrester who propagated an idealistic concept, seeking to make a building of both social and architectural significance. The programme involved the regeneration of Brynmawr socially, economically and physically. Measures were taken to ensure the provision of a pleasant yet functional working environment for the local workforce who had suffered terribly following the collapse of the South Wales coal industry in the 1920s and 30s. Described as a ‘masterpiece of the modern age’ the design’s extraordinary structural solution incorporated innovative shell concrete construction first developed in Germany. The completed project featured in European and American journals and was visited by two of the greatest architects of the twentieth century: Le Corbusier was taken to see the project during a short stay in Britain and Frank Lloyd Wright made a special visit when he arrived in Wales on a tour of his ancestral homeland.  Difficulties in securing a sufficient number of production contracts plagued the factory from an early stage and, by January 1982, it was forced to cease production permanently. In May 1986, despite its closure, the scheme became the first post-war building to be listed. Unfortunately the Grade II* listing did not save it and, after a lengthy conservation battle, the factory was demolished in 2001. The design of the Rubber Factory was highly imaginative and its social gestures well-judged but, in the end, the building proved too large and too ill-planned, economically speaking, to adapt to the changing needs of its locality.   The Twentieth Century Society

[vi] Ove Arup/Arup Associates (Established 1963) Sir Ove Arup was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1895. Generally considered the foremost engineer of his era, he created the firm Arup and Partners in 1946 as a team of structural consultants. The complex level of design considerations that the partnership encountered led to the creation of Arup Associates in 1963. Arup Associates originally developed as a partnership between engineer Ove Arup and architect Philip Downson. It existed as a multi-disciplinary office that provided architectural, surveying, and engineering services. The firm’s overall success was mainly due to Ove Arup, who believed in practical architecture, in which design fulfils social and public needs. With Arup Associates and, later, with such research and design groups as the Modern Architecture Research Group (MARS) and the Tecton Group, Arup successfully broke the narrow confines of architecture as a single profession by creating a core organization of several specialties. Arup died in London in 1988.Arup Associates – Great Buildings Online

[vii] Brise soleil. A system of passive solar shading to reduce solar heat gains to buildings whilst maintaining levels of diffused light  Brise Soleil