I envy the architects of purposeful industrial buildings.
By the turn of the century, a new model was in place that sought to make industry a better neighbour than it had proved to be so far. Ebenezer Howard's idea of the Garden City began life as a polemic, the ideas culled from his familiarity with the USA, where he had gone in the early 1870s as a settler in rural Nebraska -quickly defeated by hand-to-mouth rural subsistence - before going to Chicago, where he became a shorthand writer. While there, he read widely and freely 'undisturbed by party feeling, class, religious or professional bias' while observing the explosion in property values in a city amidst the throes of post-fire rebuilding. Before he returned to London in 1876, intent on social reform as well as on his invention of an improved typewriter mechanism, he had already begun to gather ideas for 'an intelligently arranged town, a sort of marriage between town and country, whereby the workers would be assured the advantages of fresh air and recreation and nearness to their work.'1
The eventual outcome was a slim tract, published in 1898, entitled Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform. Howard revised and reissued it in 1902 as Garden Cities of Tomorrow with a number of diagrams that clarified his ideas of a central city (population 58,000) with a circle of roughly half-size satellite settlements.
He could not imagine reforming the existing industrial chaos and so chose to make a fresh start. Despite his own naivety, his ideas appealed to an idealistic and interventionist generation and rapidly led to the establishment of the First Garden City, Letchworth in Hertfordshire, in which strict zoning, communal land holding and a full provision of amenities were central to its development. The new century was a moment for pipe dreams of novel urban forms, such as Tony Garnier's infinitely expandable iron-and-concrete zoned Cité industrielle, first exhibited in Paris in 1904 (but not published until 1917). The international acclaim that followed the modest conventionality and traditional allusions of the Garden City suggested that it was a workable model.
Ebenezer Howard's schematic plan for his projected garden city, with the industrial ring last but one. From Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1902).
Howard's work was translated into many languages, including Russian in 1904, and in 1913 the Russian Garden City Society was founded. In the vast spaces to the east of Europe, new patterns could be drawn on a clean sheet of paper, the open countryside.
In his publication, Howard suggested that the Garden City should be a wheel, with the railway station and the industrial quarter as the outer rim, intermediaries between the city and the countryside. The boot and jam factories, the works for the manufacture of bicycles, clothing and furniture, as well as those for printing and engineering, would neatly encircle the town, before it dissolved into the pleasant greenery of allotments and dairy farms. In Howard's clean subdivision of home, work and leisure, light industrial activity was the preamble to the countryside. In his pages, the problem of where to put the modern factory was solved.
Letchworth Garden City provided a practical test for the idea even if it did not follow Howard's perfect diagrammatic sequence of concentric circles. Barry Parker's and Raymond Unwin's plan of 1904 delineated a generous factory zone to the east of the site, near the railway and the recreation ground. Energetic efforts were made to attract businesses and the first lease was signed in 1905. Early arrivals were printing and specialist engineering works and the emphasis on skilled, light manufacture enabled the factories to affect an almost domestic image. When the Phoenix Car company relocated from north London in 1910, it conscientiously built a works that looked as little like a factory as possible, with a neat white-rendered office building as its public face. The vehicles were hand-crafted, made from metal sheeting nailed on to a wooden framework. Each radiator was ornamented by a phoenix.
For Spirella, an American corset company seeking a toehold in Europe, Letchworth, with its ample cottages, neatly hedged gardens,
integrated facilities and liberal credentials, was clearly a perfect setting for the 'efficient contented progressive workmen and women' who would prosper and improve themselves in such a setting. Spirella had grown successful on the introduction of metal, rather than whalebone, springs within the elaborate engineering of women's stays and was a fast-growing company, despite the threat posed to their product by rational dress and independently minded women. Eager that their employees should have 'right thoughts, right methods of living, right methods of work, an appreciation of the vital needs of sunlight, of wholesome food for health, and of congenial employment for happiness', the company considered Letchworth an ideal location for its new venture.
Having set up in temporary premises in 1910, Spirella quickly commissioned their own factory from Cecil Hignett, who had worked in the office of the architect planners of the Garden City, Parker and Unwin. The factory was built in three phases between
An early postcard depicting the 'Factory of Beauty', the Spirella Company corset factory, 1912-22, Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire, architect Cecil Hignett.
1912 and 1920, a process much extended by the First World War. Hignett's building was fronted by a pair of handsome tiled hipped-roofed buildings, an Arts and Crafts image that was designed to belie the fact that much of the structure behind was of reinforced concrete. Creeper-clad and set in well-maintained gardens, the setting was almost arcadian. Inside the corsetieres worked at benches that were flooded with light, pouring down through leaded windows, set between mullions and transoms of cast concrete. With so many backward glances the building was inevitably, but affectionately, nicknamed Castle Corset, though the company preferred to call it 'the Factory of Beauty'. Spirella's harmonious dress and architectural good manners showed that the new model factory could sit down in any company.
By the time that the much admired and functionally purposeful Shredded Wheat factory, probably the single most faithful homage to the aesthetic of the North American grain silo to be built in Britain, appeared by the railway tracks in Welwyn Garden City in 1925, it could be claimed that 'a factory belt has no terrors, since the absence of smoke gives an industrial building the chance of being a feature in the landscape'. Designed by Louis de Soissons, the joint master-planner of Ebenezer Howard's second Garden
Arts & Crafts detail expanded to appropriate scale in the Spirella corset factory, one of the earliest to be built in Ebenezer Howard's first Garden City.
City, it was self-evidently a factory for a new era. Electricity and the internal combustion engine allowed reassuring new models to replace the dark mills and the faux-palaces of nineteenth-century industrialization.
By 1930 there were almost 7,000 manufacturing jobs in Letchworth.2 The Garden Cities became exemplars of low-density planning and conscientious zoning, but also of a fresh architectural outlook that was at times surprisingly progressive - setting the scene for the ambitious New Town programme that developed in post-war Britain.
Trafford Park, close to the Manchester Ship Canal, dated from 1896. Like Letchworth, it was a harbinger of a new breed, in its case the trading estate that stood at a distance from the expanding centres of heavy industry at major ports and, for that matter, from the degraded fabric of recently industrialized cities. The greenfield industrial estate, with work and home only a short train or tram ride apart, was the pointer to planning orthodoxies to come.3 Trafford Park, which had once been a country estate, became the western gateway to the United Kingdom for dozens of American companies breaking into the European market, beginning with Westinghouse in 1902. In 1911 came Ford, soon to be joined by the Trussed Concrete Steel Company (Truscon), marketing a system of concrete reinforcement patented by Julius Kahn in 1903.
It was oddly appropriate that this company should set up at Trafford Park. A business that was spearheading the introduction of industrialized construction, best suited to factory buildings, had located in a trading estate that represented the very vanguard of new ideas. The conjunction of American industrial innovation with European planning and organization was to be a highly significant moment.
First Gropius and then, some years later, Le Corbusier published images of North American grain stores and elevators, citing them as impeccably functional buildings. These plates are from Vers une architecture (1923).
The silos of the Shredded Wheat factory, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, c. 1925, architect Louis de Soissons. American companies were among the first to move to the new Garden Cities.
In 1917 Moritz Kahn, Julius Kahn's brother, who had already established Truscon in London in 1907, published The Design and Construction of Industrial Buildings in order, he wrote, to answer the question that architects so often asked their structural engineers: how to build 'efficient factories'. He also had a product to sell, the so-called Kahn Daylight System, soon to be known simply as 'The Model Factory', the prototype of which was the new Ford plant at Highland Park, Detroit, designed by yet another brother, the architect Albert Kahn.
Kahn advised manufacturers to spend time visiting the best and most representative plants, interviewing owners and consulting architects, but factories 'should look like what they are - factories and nothing else'. It was essential to look ten years ahead and use standardized units for possible expansion. 'The ideal plant is like an expanding library made up of sectional bookcases', he wrote. The example of flexibility that he chose to illustrate was Albert Kahn's building of 1905 for Packard in Detroit, Building No. 10, the first to use the Kahn reinforced concrete system successfully, which had been effortlessly extended by an additional two storeys in 1911.
Flexibility quickly became the objective of much twentieth-century architecture, but nowhere more so than in the workplace. Changing working practices were continually affecting the factory. The industrial-building envelope had already been transformed by the huge spinning frames and steam engines of second-generation textile mills, a web of overhead shafts conveying the power to the machines below. In America, standardization of parts, borrowed from small-arms manufacture, had become common. Now working procedure was also to be subject to rational rearrangement. Increased efficiency, higher productivity and lower prices followed.
The Ford magneto plant, set up in 1913 at Highland Park, was the first in the world to be arranged around a continuous moving assembly line. As a result, the time spent putting together the chassis of the Model T Ford fell from twelve-and-a-half hours to well under three. Each group of operatives performed a familiar and specific task or tasks. Systems of scientific management as advocated by the mechanical engineer Frederick 'Speedy' Taylor, and the study of action (time and motion) that had been recorded photographically by his followers Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, led to efficient, if tedious, working patterns that would determine the plan and form of the early twentieth-century factory.4 The changes at Highland Park also led to the introduction of the eight-hour day and the $5 daily wage, with profit-sharing.
To house these reorganized activities, Moritz Kahn identified three types of industrial building: a single-storeyed roof-lit model (he showed a Rhode Island weaving shed with a sawtoothed roof); a variant with long-span roof trusses and overhead travelling cranes; and the multi-storeyed factory, the cheapest option, which was suitable for light products or wherever land was expensive or restricted. He cautioned against the use of stone, which gave 'an
Main frontage of the Highland Park factory. An early and highly influential example of the 'daylight factory' (1910s), and the birthplace of new and efficient working practices.
effect of dreariness and general depression within the building', and suggested a skeleton of structural steelwork and fireproof floors, with metal windows and infill panels of brick or concrete. Yet Kahn was surprisingly downbeat about the material he championed. 'One should not ... be carried away by those reinforced concrete enthusiasts who believe that this material is equally well suited to all forms of building'. It had its limitations and could be ugly. A pleasing elevation, be it just an ornamental cornice, would, he considered, affect the employees' mental attitude to their work and offer 'great advertising value' - for every image of the factory in a newspaper, catalogue or advertisement makes an impression.
The prefabricated factories that left the Victorian foundries of Manchester and Millwall to be shipped out to India, Turkey or Sweden were the foot-soldiers in this march of standardization, an international style that followed in the steps of world trade. From all over the industrialized world, manufacturers came to observe Henry Ford's empire and copy its working practices. The earliest visitors to Detroit were the big men of the infant European car industry, but after the war any and every enterprising industrialist took the trail to Michigan. As late as 1950 the Japanese engineer Eiji Toyota headed for Ford's River Rouge plant, but now in order to learn from the deficiencies of the old approach. As a result, Japanese cars were soon being assembled in half the time, at higher quality and in half the space.5 Two more decades would see executives from the leading European and American car manufacturers making the pilgrimage to Japan, to learn the lessons offered there.
In Europe, the Fiat Lingotto factory in Turin was the earliest and most faithful architectural rendering of Highland Park, designed from 1915 onwards by the company engineer Giacomo Matte' Trucco in stated admiration of Albert Kahn's work in Detroit.
Neatly contained in the form of two massive courtyards, corralled at rooftop level by a cambered loop of test track a full kilometre in length, the Fiat Lingotto itself rapidly achieved fame as an apparently entirely functional work of architecture. The gradually assembled car body journeyed through and up the building - the Model Ts at Highland Park were assembled conversely, top to bottom - until the completed vehicle drove its test lap, victoriously, on the roof. Triumphantly, the Italians heralded their successful reinterpretation of the American model: such a 'bold Italian design will henceforth be an example to American industry'.6 From widely different political viewpoints, national pride was felt to be extremely well served by the dynamic symbolism of the Lingotto rooftop.
By the 1920s Albert Kahn's Detroit practice had become the largest in the world, employing around 400 people. Affected by the models of manufacturing organization, technical innovation and building procurement with which Kahn and his colleagues were by now so familiar, the office was a place for technicians, not designers. Kahn avoided hiring architectural graduates, believing that
The Fiat Lingotto roof with its testing track in action, as published by Le Corbusier in Vers une architecture to illustrate the fusion of engineering, speed and clean structure.
they would tend to 'place self-expression over team co-operation'.7 His competition came from the Austin Company in Cleveland, Ohio, which since 1914 had been offering standardized steel-framed sheds for all eventualities, a design and build package that was dignified as 'The Austin Method of Undivided Responsibility'. Austin provided ten versions of the shed, with interchangeable
An aerial view of the rooftop of the Fiat factory, Lingotto, Turin, completed c. 1919, engineer Giacomo Matte' Trucco. The steeply cambered turns were challenging to negotiate at speed.
roofs, spans and fenestration, which were, demonstrably, the economic and practical answer to many manufacturers' needs.
At the Ford works at River Rouge, Dearborn, Michigan, which was now competing with Highland Park as the nerve centre of the Ford operation, ideas of scientific management and of manufacturing self-sufficiency were sweeping all before them. Albert Kahn's expertise lay both in the master-planning of a complex chain of interconnected processes on a quite massive scale, starting with the iron ore and finishing with the vehicles, and in the design of numerous highly specialist key buildings. The Glass Plant of 1922 and the Open Hearth steel mill of 1925 were both structures determined by the need to generate and disperse extremes of temperature, architecturally expressed in cigarette-thin chimneys and the tough and repetitive forms of horizontal louvres. The new plant and the new Model A Ford were celebrated in an energetic publicity campaign that included a photographic commission for the painter and photographer Charles Sheeler. His six weeks at the Rouge plant in late 1927 resulted in a series of heroic architectural images that were widely published, ensuring that the latest phase of collaboration between Ford and Kahn was soon as internationally well known as the earlier work.8
Henry Ford's pursuit of overseas trade soon led him to the Soviet Union and to the coining of a new term, 'Fordismus', for his approach. 'Fordism is a system the principles of which have been known for long, [having been] laid down by Marx' was the surprising conclusion of the editors of a Russian translation of Henry Ford's My Life and Works in the early 1920s, while Stalin quite simply considered Ford the 'greatest industrialist in the world'. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) would paint a futuristic world in which Ford was the deity and 'By Ford' the appropriate profanity. In the real word Stalinism met Fordism, to extraordinary effect.
By 1928, the year of the inauguration of the USSR's first Five Year Plan ('the Great Leap Forward'), a Ford Tractor plant was commissioned as the key element within the industrial zone at Stalin's new city on the Volga, Stalingrad. Soviet planners visited Detroit, and once the deal was settled it was obvious to Ford that Kahn's firm would be the people for a project on this scale. Moritz Kahn travelled to Russia with a team from the Detroit office to train a design bureau of some 4,500 architects, engineers, designers and technicians. Between 1928 and early 1932 construction of more than 500 industrial plants was set in motion - steelworks, aeronautical and automobile factories, chemical plants and more. With the Depression, these projects were invaluable for Kahn's office. Not surprisingly, the Austin
The power house of the Ford Motor Company's River Rouge plant, Dearborn, Michigan, 1941, architect Albert Kahn. The stacks were the most visible element of the factory in the landscape, a lean and gleaming image of industry.
company was also actively involved in the Soviet Union over these years.
The early Soviet factories were prefabricated from materials imported from the USA. Difficulties with skills and supply meant continual frustration in the completion of the programme in a half-forgotten, paradoxical episode of confluence between capitalism and communism. At home in the USA, public opinion turned against the experiment, fearful that these buildings might quietly be converted into munitions factories, but Intourist still offered the readers of Fortune magazine tours of Soviet industrial developments alongside the Kremlin and other, more traditional, monuments. In March 1932 Kahn and his team left, but their designs and technical expertise remained behind. Ironically enough, many of the factories were indeed put to new uses for
Interior of Kahn's tool and die building, Ford River Rouge plant, Dearborn, 1941, the scale of which reduces workers to ants.
The Stalinsk steel plant, USSR, c. 1936, a heroic image of Soviet industrialization, much of it (typically) brought into being by American building professionals.
armament manufacture, but in a war that found the Americans and the Soviets on the same side.
Fordismus, as expressed by Kahn's system-built factories, offered replicable forms and procedures and was highly appropriate to centralized rational planning and central authority. It seemed a mirror of technology itself, against which the painstaking efforts of any purpose-built design were bound to founder, as the difficulties that attended the building of Erich Mendelsohn's non-standardized Red Flag Textile plant at Leningrad, and which caused him to distance himself from the whole enterprise, amply illustrate.
At the same time, the Depression in the American economy left many of the most vociferous European admirers of Ford and Taylor deeply disillusioned. Their new systems had offered almost utopian promise, but were now revealed, equally simplistically, to lie at the root of the collapse of capitalism. Le Corbusier turned virulently on what he had formerly viewed as a liberating mechanistic model.
Blithely regardless of shifts of opinion among intellectuals and artists, Albert Kahn and Henry Ford continued to expand their operations, as circumstances demanded. The zenith, in terms of scale at least, was the Ford works at Willow Run, Michigan, where Second World War B-24 bombers were manufactured in 'the most enormous room in the history of man', an immense space that was 'horizontally, what the Empire State Building is, vertically, to American industry and architecture', as a reporter in the Christian Science Monitor described it. The building was a greater success than the planes: production problems led to the plant's being nicknamed 'Will it Run?'. Yet Kahn's Glenn Martin aeroplane plant in Baltimore, which had been constructed in an astounding eleven weeks using bridge-building techniques, achieved even more attention when Ludwig Mies van der Rohe celebrated its immense, clear interior as the setting for his collage Concert Hall of 1942, giving no credit to Kahn (who died that year). In the real world, the only challenge to the supremacy of Albert Kahn Inc. was the development by the Austin Company of the 'windowless factory', fully air conditioned and blacked-out for wartime production. The Consolidated Vultee bomber plant at Fort Worth, Texas, in 1942 boasted an assembly area more than one kilometre in length.
But not all revolutions in working practice and manufacture were carried out on so gigantic a scale. In 1904 Tomás Bata, a small shoe manufacturer with immense ambitions, went with two shoemakers and a machinist to America. With the experience he had gained from working on an assembly line there, and the lessons he had learnt from northern German industrial expansion, Bata rapidly transformed his business in Zlín, Moravia, from an artisan enterprise to a highly productive, mechanized one. At the outbreak of the First World War he was well positioned to fulfil major contracts for military footwear.
With peace, Tomás Bata headed back to the USA, to Michigan, eager to see for himself the latest development at Ford's River Rouge plant, which was already promising to eclipse the Highland Park works, itself operational for little more than a decade. Although Bata was inspired by the way in which the vast new complex was designed around a continuous flow, from raw material to end product, he was not impressed by the company policy towards its workers.
What did strike a chord with Bata was Henry Ford's growing interest in so-called village industries, spreading manufacture across a far-flung network of smaller works. From its roots in remote Moravia, Tomás Bata's own experiment turned rapidly into a global enterprise, assisted by the devaluation of the Czech currency, and based on a far more wholehearted and progressive version of decentralization than Ford would ever achieve.9
Bata instigated an autonomous system that he had borrowed from the optical firm of Carl Zeiss, in which workers were grouped into departmental units, competing with one another towards targets, their success measured in their wage packets. Self-management and self-respect were core values within the company. With the post-war explosion in the market for inexpensive, machinemade footwear, Bata was eager to find a suitable factory building type and a system to build and replicate it. He set himself up as his own contractor and looked carefully at the ideas of Ebenezer Howard and the Garden City experiment, so that his workers could live in pleasant company towns. The 'factory in the garden' would be surrounded by a chessboard of detached houses, each with their own plot of land. The employees at Zlin were country people, and the atmosphere in the company town was based on Tomas Bata's belief in participation and opportunities for all his workers, regardless of status.
For the factories, 50 alone at Zlín, Bata insisted on a replicable system based on what he had observed in the USA. The town architect, Frantisek Gahura, with an architect-engineer colleague, Arnost Sehdal, adopted a standardized system of a modular concrete skeleton, with columns and infill panels of brick, glass or steel. Aerial conveyor belts linked each production unit and measured output. From 1930 the Bata company's international architect-in-chief was Vladimir Karfik, who had worked with both Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier.
Tomás Bata articulated his aspirations. 'It would not be difficult to create a town with 50,000 people huddled in the barracks or tenement houses . . . Our aim is to build a garden town, full of sunshine, water and green grass - a clean town with the highest of wages, prosperous . . . with the best of schools.'10 Women would be freed from 'the last traces of physical labour' and children would grow up in the best available conditions. Moritz Kahn had written that no state could allow (or afford) a factory to be 'an institution without a soul' for 'no trouble is too great and no expense unwarranted, which leads to the perfect result - ie the greatest possible efficiency of output combined with the greatest possible convenience and comfort for the workers'. Eva Jiricna, the distinguished London-based architect, was born in Zlín, where her father, Josef Jiricny, began work in 1938 as architect in charge of exhibitions and shop design - responsible, in effect, for the wider public face of Bata. She recalls the impressive modernity of every aspect of the environment, from her nursery school to the comfortable houses linked by a network of footpaths to the central areas.
Between 1922 and Tomás's tragic death in an air crash in 1932, the company expansion was phenomenal. In Zlín, 36 million pairs of shoes per year were being made, one third for export, in the
'Detroit of Czechoslovakia'.11 After Bata's death, a replica of the plane in which he had died was enshrined in a glass mausoleum in Zlín. Designed as a wholly transparent 'display cabinet', it stood at the heart of the town, a bright reminder of the extraordinary man behind the Bata empire. His half-brother Jan continued the work, and in some locations entire 'mini-Zlíns' were developed.
In 1937 Karfik built a multi-storey administration block in Zlín. At one corner of the tower was an air-conditioned, glass-walled lift, large enough for Jan Bata to use as his office and in which he hovered above the heads of his staff, able to check on their progress or descend to their respective levels for meetings as required. Like the Director's house at Ledoux's Saline de Chaux, the upper chamber of the Panopticon or W. H. Lever's own office-lift at Port Sunlight, it constituted an all-seeing eye.
The Bata experiment, so ambitious and ever-expanding, appealed to the modernists for its potential. In 1935 Karfik had invited Le Corbusier to judge an international competition for workers' housing, and asked him to draw up schemes for two sites, one near Zlín and one in France. Le Corbusier imagined that he had
General view of Zlín, Moravia, with housing and industry developed by Tomás Bata, seen before 1937.
found the perfect test-bed for his ideas of the linear city and the usine verte, but he had reckoned without the enduring legacy of Tomás Bata's ideas, with their emphasis on the family, individuality and the physical model of the Garden City. Nor did Le Corbusier's dirigiste personality attune well with the ethos of the company.12 Only after nationalization, and wartime bombing, did multi-storey housing begin to appear at Zlín, borrowing elements from the pre-war Corbusian plan.13
Bata had expanded globally, stretching from Europe to South Africa, India, Egypt, Singapore and the United States. The company towns wore their identity with pride: there was Bataville in France, Batanagar in India and Batapur in post-partition Pakistan. The company remained family owned, and continued to pursue Bata's ideals about working conditions, until the annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1938. The Bata family split and the company
The 1933 glass-built memorial to Tomás Bata at Zlín (architect F. L. Gahura), which incorporates a piece of the plane in which he had been killed in 1932. Currently under restoration.
became a political football, while Tomás's son, Thomas J. Bata, moved what he could of the business to Batawa in Canada. Now, with the enthusiastic support of the Bata family for the development of the Tomás Bata University at Zlín, Eva Jiricna has been asked to design a multi-purpose auditorium and library. The wheel has come full circle.
In almost every location, the establishment of a Bata factory meant the development of a planned industrial village. The British enterprise began at East Tilbury in Essex, opening the year after Tomás's death, using an adapted version of the module construction system developed at Zlín. The town centred on three five-storey factory buildings, one for leather, one for textiles and the third for administration. This was a very reduced version of the original plan, which envisaged twelve factories, three of which were to be ten storeys high. A hotel and housing followed. Belatedly bringing Czech modernism to Essex soil, the Bata village was an imperfect but intriguing experiment.
Huge enterprises such as Ford or Bata had utter clarity of objective, initially set by the vision of a single autocratic individual, which drove the entire exercise and determined almost every detail of the outcome. Ford had elevated the machine high above the man, but Bata had, extraordinarily, come close to inverting the order. In the immediate post-war years in Britain, factory building suffered the severe repercussions arising, in the view of two experienced practitioners, from the 'lack of philosophy to order and integrate manufacturing, society and the environment as a whole'.14
The story of the Brynmawr Rubber Plant in South Wales demonstrated precisely this weakness, even as its foundation exemplified praiseworthy aspirations. Social concern and progressive architecture were not sufficient to carry out a commercially uncertain project. Lord Forrester's venture was a heroic tragedy of good intentions. As Andrew Saint put it neatly, 'never surely can such a tangle of idealism, effort, sophistication and sheer folly have come together in a building project'.15
Forrester's object was to build a model factory for rubber products in economically depressed South Wales. It would be a highly engineered shed, combining elegance and practicality, offering employment in an area long suffering from the contraction of traditional heavy industries, especially iron working and coal mining, in every respect well distanced from the unattractive scene of Victorian and inter-war industrial Britain. Forrester derided 'the new industrial hotchpotch of Park Royal, Castle Bromwich, East Moors or Coventry [which] is little more appetising than the old . . . The Lancashire mill, towering above the wretched homes that surround it, is perhaps less blameworthy than the neo-Egyptian colossus flanking some arterial roads on the outskirts of a great city.'16 He could also have cited the grim shadows thrown by the fortified round towers of the Nantyglo ironworks, in the next village to Brynmawr, which had been built between 1816 and 1822 by repressive English iron masters in an effort to bring their desperate and rioting workers under control.17
In marked contrast, the Brynmawr factory, designed by the Architects' Co-operative Partnership (later known as the Architects' Co-Partnership) and planned and built between 1946 and 1951, offered a symbolic vision of modernity and optimism, with its rippling sequence of concrete parabolic vaults seen over the fields and rooftops, a beacon of progressive thinking. It immediately became a point of pilgrimage for architectural students and was published around the world. The model was proudly displayed at the Festival of Britain of 1951.
Initial development had been encouraged by a generous government subsidy, and the site was a newly designated Trading Estate,
but the timing, immediately after the war and in the teeth of continued rationing of materials, was neither auspicious nor practical. Finally completed, it turned out to have cost twice the original estimate and to be fatally inflexible. Nevertheless, Lord Forrester was enormously proud of his factory: 'he would put machines in the windows to encourage passing people to call in. If anybody wanted to see the building he would spend the whole day taking them round'.18 More fatal still, management was haphazard and marketing uncertain. In late 1952, after just one year of production, the enterprise failed. A year later it was rescued by Dunlop. Early in 1982 Dunlop closed down the operation. After years of dereliction, and despite its listing as a pioneering example of the use of shell concrete, underpinned by a strenuous campaign to save it, the factory was finally demolished in the early summer of 2001.
The Brynmawr Rubber Plant, South Wales, interior photograph showing the structural grid, each section marked by a concrete parabolic dome. Natural light and colour were used to enliven the workplace. 1945-51, Architects' Co-Partnership, engineer Ove Arup.
In immediately pre- and post-war Europe, there was a new emphasis on functional precedent, a new kind of model. James Richards's The Functional Tradition (published in 1958, but based on earlier articles in the Architectural Review and investigations by Richards and John Piper in the 1930s) made the case that the prototypal industrial buildings of the early nineteenth century had also prepared modern taste for their successors. Using Eric de Maré's sternly beautiful black and white photographs, the coauthors celebrated the 'pioneer efforts of the engineers' as of the more orthodox builders of their time, who served the needs of farmers, millers, brewers, mariners and nautical men, textiles manufacturers and the rest with quiet effectiveness. The celebrated early iron structures, Richards argued, had become 'reflected in the mirror of our own interest in history. What their contemporaries saw as objects, we saw as images, with the result that their merits sometimes became distorted'. Now seeking consolidation after innovation, he felt that the latest generation of architects might with advantage aim at the perfection of 'such a vernacular'.
In reality, the favoured vernacular was imported. 'Prestige pancakes', as the Architects' Journal later termed them, were built on greenfield sites, elegant slivers of building set down into well-designed landscape, following the much admired American pattern set by Eliel Saarinen and his son Eero for General Motors at Warren, Michigan, immediately after the war.19 Often the companies were themselves American and sometimes the architects too.
From the 1950s the Cummins Diesel Engine Company, encouraged by a board member, J. Irwin Miller, had made a notable commitment to architectural patronage in its home town, Columbus, Indiana. The firm, and later the Foundation in its name, subsidized an astonishing range of public buildings by noted architects in the town, with the view that 'it is expensive to be mediocre in this world',20 and ensured that their own facilities matched this high standard. Harry Weese remodelled the manufacturing plant in 1961 and added a Technical Centre a few years later. In 1973 Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo built the Components Plant. Tens of thousands of visitors poured to Columbus to see the results, and overseas the company followed a similar policy of seeking the highest standards and best quality in anything that bore its name.
Thus Cummins' factory of 1966 in Darlington, Co. Durham, was evidence of everything that was best in American industrial architecture. Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo, inheritors of Eero Saarinen's practice, here introduced the UK to Cor-Ten weathering steel and neoprene gaskets (a way of fixing glazed panels), the latter being used internally, too, for the first time anywhere in the world. Physical demarcations between factory floor and offices were dissolved, a transforming example in British factory design. The grassy setting and reflective lake harked back to the high landscape standards set by its American peers. In the late 1970s the British architectural practice of Ahrends Burton and Koralek rose to the challenge of a Cummins commission, this time at Shotts, in Scotland.21
Always with an eye on the USA, clean lines and sleek cladding materials became the face of industrial modernity and provided an elegant corporate identity. In Britain the Horizon cigarette factory designed for John Player and the IBM assembly plant at Havant, Hampshire, both designed by Arup Associates in the early 1970s, were among the best of the British examples of these svelte single-storey complexes or 'cool boxes'. The model began to set the norm, from industrial estate to business park.
Inside much was changing. 'Group technology' meant that teams of workers took full responsibility for the entire process, introduced
The interior of Cummins Engine Co. factory, Darlington, Co. Durham, showing the scale and high degree of mechanization in the huge American-owned and designed factory. 1966, architects Roche, Dinkeloo & Associates.
Cummins Engine Co. factory, Darlington, aptly illustrating how the term 'prestige pancake' fitted the best of a new generation of American-inspired factories.
to combat the numbing boredom of the assembly line. The latter was best left to robot mechanics. Flexibility was the mantra, and the apparent structural adaptability of those industrial sheds that exposed services and major components of the building to view suggested that High Tech, dependent on highly engineered, lightweight structures, might offer the answer. In reality, the key iconic buildings proved to be short-lived or disappointingly inflexible in the face of unforeseen and changing requirements. The new industrial aesthetic was an image, rather than a reality.
By 1980 Design magazine considered that the 'innovatory period of the 'sixties and 'seventies is coming to an end. Today kit-of-parts buildings designed by one-time young lions . . . are, if not commonplace, certainly part of current conventional wisdom'. The attraction of the factory as a formulaic building type meant that 'legions of disciples have adopted the same approach, not always with happy results'.22 From one point of view, the model was already showing all the signs of becoming an architectural cliché, while from a populist point of view it flourished and could be viewed as a legitimate modern vernacular, the 'Big Shed' that combines 'perfect formal simplicity with a wonderful sophistication'.23
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