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

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  1. Good article, good looking website, added it to my favs.

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