Posts Tagged ‘ factory images ’

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.