Factories, so often inscrutable envelopes of human activity, are intriguing on many levels. Dante was galvanized by the demonic turmoil he found inside the Arsenal in Venice, where 'the gluey pitch they boil in winter/to smear on their leaking boats'1 made unseaworthy vessels sound again, while alongside in the blackness continued a manufacturing process that, even in Longfellow's fruity Victorian translation of 1867, conveys the orderliness of the medieval mass production line: 'One hammers at the prow, one at the stern, /This one makes oars, and that one cordage twists, /Another mends the mainsail and the mizzen.' As far as I am aware, Canto XXI of the Inferno is the first time that a factory enters literature.
My reason for diverting the editors of the new Objekt series from the topic that they originally proposed to me towards this one was its links to two areas that have long interested me and on which I have written widely - utopian and industrial model settlements and functional vernacular buildings. Also, as an architectural assessor and critic, over the years I've visited a fair number of new factories and been struck by how apparently quite modest design or planning decisions can positively transform a complex working environment. A factory can be a dull hut or an inspiring structure - in the widest possible sense.
Factory is built around a series of interconnected essays. I begin by looking at the powerful imagery of factories, an apt metaphor for progress and change, a picture both sublime and romantic. The following two chapters trace, chronologically, the potential of the factory as a model - social, organizational, architectural or a combination of all three. Industrial buildings should, logically, be innovators in materials and systems: from the eighteenth century onwards they have been places where practical solutions have been sought - and reached - and technologies exchanged. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the pull of mass production and a new fascination with the machine and all its works required potent architectural icons, a few of which were factories - functionally explicit and extending the apparent possibilities of materials and construction. Some factories, on the other hand, were designed to be advertisements. The relatively short history of the building as sales vehicle - part of a larger exercise that is now known as branding - runs from such flights of fancy as the tobacco factory designed like a mosque (for exoticism) to contemporary notions of modernity and chic conveyed in buildings designed by fashionable 'big name' architects. Finally, what of the new factory in the postindustrial age? As manufacturing cities reinvent themselves and transform the remnants of their industrial fabric into magnets for leisure, sport, international conferences, even as places to live, the new campuses of industry have moved to the countryside, often within reach of the nearest university, where the contemporary version of the factory, quiet and self-contained, has become a laboratory more likely to be dealing with ideas than heavy metals, places where women and men work on equal terms.
From the eighteenth century onwards, factories have been markers: of revolution, technical and social, of innovation, in design and in process, of their moment, politically and economically.
As such, factories are essentially short-lived, reflecting the exact circumstances of time and place with some precision. In the optimistic heyday of the Industrial Revolution the factory could be seen to stand for British mercantile strength and activity, or alternatively for the dark forces of wage-slavery. Friedrich Engels's eye-witness reports from Manchester were the material of Karl Marx's Das Kapital. The epitome of change, in itself both threatening and energizing, the factory has provided images as black or
Industry in the 1780s. The porcelain works is shoehorned into the centre of Worcester.
Preston, Lancashire, seen from the outlying countryside in 1831. Industrialization remains confined to the city, and wind and steam power are still in competition. 9
as white as the argument required. Nor has any single building type better supplied the always evanescent notions of modernity, its radical potential exaggerated far beyond the realizable.
The new factory is a heavy expense on the wrong side of the balance sheet; directors and shareholders will not necessarily see the point of it. Yet, as an architectural commission the factory is a particular kind of challenge - in one observer's words, offering 'leaner meat for architectural thought'. It requires enormous experience and expertise to design successfully a high quality, low-cost building, one that is both flexible and practical for the industrial process as well as being a sympathetic environment for the workforce. By definition, those that appear on these pages carry with them higher than usual aspirations.
An early morning stroll on the Fiat Lingotto test track, looking out over the rooftops of Turin towards the Italian Alps, is as good
The blighted industrial landscape around Charleroi, Belgium, painted by Constantin Meunier in the early 1880s.
a place as any to ponder the unpredictable fate and form of the factory. As a building Lingotto has roots in common with hundreds of Soviet industrial plants built in the 1930s, themselves parented by the massive assembly-line factories built for the automobile manufacturers of Detroit. Until now, Fiat has remained an Italian-owned company, producing cars in the area around Turin, but the Lingotto plant itself became redundant in the mid-1980s and narrowly escaped becoming builders' rubble.
The modern conference delegate, jet-lagged after a lengthy journey across time zones, is probably unaware that his or her smart hotel not far from the piazzas and elegant streets of Turin was once a car factory. The open production floors are now subdivided into hundreds of comfortable hotel rooms, self-contained offices, shops and art facilities, while the internal courtyards have become thickly planted exotic groves.
The executive office 'bubble' and helipad added to the rooftop at Fiat Lingotto, Turin, by the Renzo Piano Workshop in 1999.
Yet, up on the roof, the lengthy test track with its two dizzily cambered turns announces that this building was dedicated to movement, and was celebrated by the architectural avant-garde of the 1920s as no other single building in Europe. The rooftop roadway is now a jogging track for international business folk, shaking off the tensions of the day's meetings with a kilometre or two run at a pace which better suits the tight corners of this odd circuit.
No motor vehicles come this way any more, except from the air. Above the track and balanced like a saucer placed carelessly on the outer edge of a table are the helipad and blue-glass executive office bubble that Renzo Piano, the Italian-born international architect who masterminded this transformation, has added to translate the image of the building and its roots in the Machine Age into the twenty-first century.2 Today in Turin, industrialists, whose interests probably touch many countries and continents, can alight on the rooftop, stopping just long enough to confer with their fellow directors in the glazed globe teetering above the helipad, before dodging back under the blades and taking off into a wider world.
Then, in the early weeks of 2003, the end of the great automobile oligarchies was epitomized by the death and lying-in-state of Giovanni Agnelli. At Fiat Lingotto an endless file of black-clad mourners packed the spiral ramps and wound out onto the rooftop track to pay their last respects. His stylish, post-industrial resting place was in Renzo Piano's just-completed pavilion, a sleek, angled marker for the art gallery below, itself the latest phase of the transformation of Lingotto.
Change is the only certainty in manufacturing and the fast forward button is permanently engaged. Even in the brief gestation of this book, Dyson has moved its manufacturing base to Asia while General Motors hovers over Fiat. In Britain alone, it has been calculated that 150,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in a single year, 2001-2. No commodity is too commonplace or too luxurious to be made more cheaply elsewhere.
Michigan, the heart of the American 'rust-belt', is currently grafting 'its auto industry roots . . . onto the electronic age'. What the State's Economic Development Corporation calls advanced manufacturing technology is permitting 'a combination of manufacturing, information technology, design and engineering', replacing the serried ranks of heavy manufacturing premises with the lush campuses of biotech and electronics companies. Meanwhile, production of the Rolls-Royce, the last reminder of the days of handmade carriage building, has left Crewe in the industrial north-west of England for a state-of-the-art factory and headquarters built by its new German owners, BMW, in private parkland on the Goodwood estate in West Sussex. A manufacturing history which began in a green and pleasant land has turned full circle. The changes and chances, opportunities and misadventures of the capitalist system make up a continual, unpredictable flux, out of which has emerged an intriguing programme, one that is still very much work in progress.
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