Section 2. Structure and the search for light; taking the factory into a new century.

 Technological developments in factory design of the nineteenth century (ref.1) provided the foundation for the new century in factory building. On reflection, even though such significant technological advances as the introduction of iron framing and reinforced concrete became readily available, as yet, builders were reluctant, with the exception perhaps of Sheerness boathouse (ref.2), to celebrate this material in an outward form. The majority of mill buildings still displayed what we may now call traditional large multi fenestrated look with a brick or stone exterior sometimes of “fortress” proportions as in the “A” Bond warehouse (1905) Bristol (figure2.1) The windows may have got bigger, as buildings became deeper and longer with larger machinery, culminating in the “Mons” mill (1914) (ref.3) (figure2.2) at Todmorden where only thin brick mullions divided the windows, but as yet there were no glass sheet walls.

fig 2.1 A Bond warehouse Bristol

fig 2.1 A Bond warehouse Bristol

fig 2.2 Mons Mill

fig 2.2 Mons Mill

In such warehouse buildings the iron structure was contained within and remained partially supported by an outer load bearing wall. At Sheerness (figure 2.3) the frame became a self supporting structure leaving the outer wall to be free of such load bearing constraints and allow the use of lightweight corrugated iron panels and large areas of glazing.

fig2.3 Sheerness Boathouse

fig2.3 Sheerness Boathouse

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the modern factory was seen as the perfect functional building, with improved materials, building technology, and designed to work with the organisation of the industrial process.  Their core may have been built of the latest reinforced concrete system, have up to date iron beam technology, enjoy open spans of up to 16feet (1900) (ref.4), even lit by the latest carbon arc electric light (ref.5). However, there was no rush to express the theory of rationalism (ref.6) and still outwardly, they could have the appearance of an Italianate Villa (ref.7), a Baroque mansion, (ref.8) (figure 2.4), or sport a Byzantine tower (ref.9) as displayed in John A Campbell’s Northern Insurance building in Glasgow ( ref.10)(figure 2.5) where the display of innovative construction methods are demoted to the rear of the building behind a traditional Scottish façade.

fig2.4 India House

fig2.4 India House


fig 2.5 Northern Insurance Building Glasgow

fig 2.5 Northern Insurance Building Glasgow

The common factor here is the perceived recalcitrance to consider functionalist construction methods to be an important part of architectural design. Buildings that perhaps stand as good examples of forward looking design, such as the Uniroyal Tyre factory in Dumfries (ref.11), (figure 2.6) with its pure rationalism in construction and obvious use of new building methods does not even have a recorded architect.

fig 2.6 Uniroyal Tyre factory

fig 2.6 Uniroyal Tyre factory

This potential of a design approach to the new methods and materials was not as yet openly recognised in Britain. However, events and influences from elsewhere were about to change this with the forming of the “Modern” factory movement in Europe and the forming of the “Model” factory idea in the USA which we will consider next.

1. Main developments were the introduction of fire proofing materials, and the development of the use of structural metals.

2. Sheerness Boathouse, located Inside the Port of Sheerness, is a Grade 2 listed. It was the first of its type of industrial building being a prototype of the multi-storey iron framed building, eschewing the heavily ornate decorative ironwork and elaborate features of the Victorian period. Constructed in 1866 it had operating rails so that they could be moved up and down the length of the building as would a travelling crane. There are plans for this building to be replaced outside the docks as a permanent historical centre for the Island.

 3 . Mons Mill, John Winter. Industrial Architecture, London, 1970, page61

 4 .Span of 16feet, John Winter. Industrial Architecture, London, 1970, page83

 5.  Carbon arc light (1900). John Winter. Industrial Architecture, London, 1970, page61

 6. ref to follow

7.  Bank Mill, Failsworth near Oldham (1906). Edgar Jones, Industrial Architecture in Britain 1750-1939, London 1985, page 161.

 8.  India House, Whitworth Street, Manchester (1905-6), Edgar Jones, Industrial Architecture in Britain 1750-1939, London 1985, page 180.

 9. Broadstone mill near Chorley Lancashire (1910), Edgar Jones, Industrial Architecture in Britain 1750-1939, London, 1985, page 188.

 10. John A Campbell, John Archibald Campbell was born at 20 Park Circus, Anderston, Glasgow, on 26 January 1859. The Northern Insurance building was John Archibald Campbell’s last building – he died during its construction. The Imperial Union Club at 94 St Vincent Street was part of the project. Dictionary of Scottish Architects – DSA Building/Design Report


11. Uniroyal factory, Aka Heathhall Uniroyal Factory, was originally built to manufacture car and aeronautical engines, later being well known for the manufacture of “Hunter” Wellington boots. It became Uniroyal in 1966.Dictionary of Scottish Architects – DSA Building/Design Report

Welcome to Industryinform blog your gateway to industrial architectural history and contexts

Welcome everybody to Industryinform, your gateway to study and news of industrial architecture and history.

 This blog is also a record of my personal study of the industrial architectural scene and its influence upon my furniture design practice. Most of the research stems from contextual content from my recent M.A  furniture design study which is refered to throughout the text.

The record is of a journey, the design journey of Kevin Hallsworth contemporary furniture designer and I use the metaphor of this journey throughout my writings and observations.

The following passages are an introduction to the text……

“The record of a journey of this kind may be more important if it chronicles a succession of moods than if it captures a succession of scenes”(ref.1)

 I refer back to the quote by J B Priestley (ref.2) in his Book English Journey written some 80 years ago, as he describes his journeys approach to the English Black Country (ref 3), which I used in an earlier unit where I allude to the metaphor of a journey in respect to my research studies. I also quote from my own text (ref.4).

 “Whenever I read this, it transports me back to the time, around 20 years ago, that I would be on a journey through this very same area. Most likely, I would have been driving; working with my father, Frank, in our family heating business (ref.5). One of a multitude of journeys like this, travelling to or from one of many of our jobs, where all around were the sights of industry old and new, the factories, the machinery, the people who worked there, and to accompany them, the associated colours, smells and ambience. Within our van, weighed down with the tools and spares of our industrial heating trade, the smells of industrial oils were there and still resonate now along with my own succession of remembered scenes and moods.”

 The mood of this passage has remained with me for the remainder of my study and in this further study I would like to carry this metaphor on to some extent to illustrate my thought processes. The next passage, also quoted from my own earlier texts (ref.6)  is pertinent to the prevailing ethos of my study.

 “I have a deep-rooted interest in industrial buildings, most likely stemming from the time working with my father in and around the West Midlands industrial conurbation. This time has left an impression, physically with my attained skills and mentally with the wish to synthesize the memories and ambience of this time into a tangible form through the medium of furniture design. The majority of the buildings with which I became familiar could be described perhaps as  “basic boxes” or “sheds” with arguably little architectural merit, although even amongst these there were often details remembered, structures, colours , machines etc. that now I shall venture to use as keys to open up ideas for my theme of “industry”. What these buildings were, their design, humble or otherwise, grows out of a chain of events from the past, such as developments in architectural styles, materials innovation and practical need. Conceivably this type of architecture has not been at the forefront of study, it has been put back in favour of much grander buildings.  I wish to engage with these buildings and express my interest in them by the use of the theme of industry in my designs.”

 With these two passages taken in mind the ethos of my design practice has been created and will, I hope become clear to the reader during the following work.

 To briefly recap, the first part of the journey was to explore and evaluate the various research methods available to me to complete my task, my journey. This collected knowledge, was used to build the foundation of the future design units by the creation of a study into the historical contexts of factory design and by the accumulation of a database of images to support this. This collected baggage, became the basis of the design units that followed. Selection and further evaluation from the following units provided the material, the fuel perhaps for the major project designs and the creation of tangible objects.

 The journey is almost over now, but before it is completed, I again need to reflect upon the contexts by means of a more insightful look at what the journey produced, created, and what I gained from it. How I interpreted the signs along the way and chose which route to carry on the metaphor. This is the purpose of the following written study.

To accomplish this task I intend to do the following. In the first main major section I shall again research and reflect upon the contexts surrounding the industrial building in an essay that outlines the architectural scene from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day. This first section will illustrate the factory’s architectural development, through styles and materials and designers, with primary focus on British factories and warehouse type buildings but including pertinent reference to influences from Europe and the USA.

The second main major section will, with reference to the first sections information, describe and evaluate my design processes and illustrate how this physical architectural context has been converted into my design portfolio. Examples images where relevant will be shown.

In the third major section I will refer to the work of other architects and designers not necessarily mentioned in the previous work and compare examples of their practice with mine with reference to how their ethos has influenced my personal design direction.


1. Priestley. J.B. English Journey, Jubilee edition, London, Heinemann, 1984, p.85.

2.J. B. Priestley. Born, Sept. 13, 1894, Bradford, Yorkshire, Eng. died Aug. 14, 1984, Alveston, near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. British novelist, playwright, and essayist, noted for his varied output and his ability for shrewd characterization.

 3. “The Black Country” Predominantly an industrial area of the West midlands north west of the city of Birmingham, encompassing the towns of Wolverhampton and Walsall in the north, down through Dudley and West Bromwich to Stourbridge in the south.

 4. M.A Design Research and enterprise unit , introduction

 5.G.T.I Heating services, specialising in the service and repair of industrial heating and ventilating equipment.

 6. M.A Design Negotiated unit 1, introduction to essay.