A guide to industrial architecture in era of reindustrialization.
Updated: Feb 15
Industrial architecture is the design and construction of buildings serving industry. Such buildings rose in importance with the Industrial Revolution, and were some of the pioneering structures of modern architecture.
The beauty of nature never ceases to amaze human beings. Mountains, rivers, beaches, and flowers are some of the most beautiful views that some people will encounter. However, there is a significant value to how far humankind and civilization have managed to create beautiful structures, including buildings, bridges, and churches. All of which reflect their style and inspiration of the architect behind them.
Industrial architecture is a field that has also evolved to combine functionality and design and reveal impressive construction worthy of admiration and recognition. Buildings from around the world are focusing not only on its primary goal of housing a production line also garnered attention because of their design.
Since then, exceptional industrial architects have created impressive works of art. Banks, train stations, factories, and retail stores are now valuable not only for their financial contribution concerning commercialized products but also for enriching the architectural landscape.
Reviewing the most recognized beacons of industrial architecture is a study in daring the imagination to run wild while allowing productivity, culture, and the environment to influence the final designs. Even though many buildings and structures are not particularly unique, others challenge the human eye to envision something grander that will leave a footprint in humanity’s architectural history.
THE HISTORY OF INDUSTRIAL ARCHITECTURE
To many of us outside the design and architecture business, industrial buildings rarely receive a second glance. Industrial buildings today are constructed purely out of purpose. That is to store grain and shelter livestock or protect sand and salt from the weather, among other pragmatic intents. Typically vast and lifeless, they are situated in areas disregarding the design elements, natural or otherwise of their surroundings. It is this very brashness that makes industrial buildings so uninteresting yet so utterly fascinating at the same time. Has industrial architecture always been so boldly bland, and are industrial buildings doomed to remain this way forever?
Advances in technology have sought to modify the human experience during our existence drastically. The most recent industrial revolution, which occurred in the late 19th and early 20th century, has undoubtedly transformed the look and feel of architecture alongside every other aspect of the Western lifestyle. Specific developments in technology and organization, like steam and coal-powered machines as well as precise factory lines, made the urban industry dramatically more profitable for industry leaders and laborers alike. Large industry-devoted buildings became necessary.
Before the 1800s, ornate, permanent architecture was primarily devoted to religious, military, and public use. Imagine grand cathedrals, massive fortresses, and austere city halls. However, with the rise of large-scale industrial efforts, architects were faced with a new challenge. Thus, the Industrial Revolution brought about an increase in impressive industrial architecture.
Industrial buildings of the late 18th and 19th centuries merely served to fulfill the fundamental need for manufactured housing. These buildings rectangular, built of brick or stone, with wooden roofs and bare plaster interior walls reminiscent of the Derby Silk Mill in Derby shire, England built-in 1974. Decorative elements were rarely included, and even then, they were simple and classic.
The 19th century ushered in new construction materials, like metal and concrete. Architects began experimenting with layout and exterior design that not only improved the look and feel of the buildings but also welcomed more natural light due to the larger windows. This, in turn, increased production significantly. Some architects were inspired to attempt artistic, industrial buildings, like the Meier Chocolate Works in Noisiel, France, which boasts a bare metal frame for a decorative facade.
Industrial buildings grew to become more complex and intriguing until the 20th century, when industrial architecture came to a halt.
MODERN INDUSTRIAL DESIGN
As artistry infiltrated the architecture industry, architects began pushing the boundaries of building design. Modernism in the early 20th century was borne out of the importance of industrial architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright and other prominent modernists began employing the motto form follow function by integrating the necessities of industrial buildings with simple decorations inherent in the modern style.
The modern design will go on to lead industrial design for decades, morphing into other architectural styles, including international style and brutalism in the process.
Numerous architecture historians argue that industrial buildings of the early and middle 20th century strongly influenced the direction of overall architecture trends for the modern era. They are not wrong. Industrial buildings became the architectural highlights of urban centers and continued to alter the look of neighboring residential streets.
Architects were often contracted to design not only the factory itself but also the dwellings for the factory workers. This meant that entire city blocks were developed into cohesive housing development, replete with recreational spaces, public
buildings, and more. Thus, industrial architecture came to dominate architecture as a whole for much of the 1900s.
THE FUTURE OF INDUSTRIAL STRUCTURES
While many notable industrial buildings of the 20th century still stand, many of them no longer serve as functional spaces for the industry. The demand for technical industrial architecture became less lucrative, prompting architects to draw inspiration from other phenomena and aspects of culture. As manufacturing becomes increasingly mechanized, companies have done away with costly aesthetics like windows in favor of cheap, quick structures that will protect machines from the natural elements.
Another shift in industrial building design is on the horizon as our culture begins to become more conscious of architecture’s impact on the natural environment. Progressive architects are looking to create buildings of all types that are environmentally friendly, and industrial buildings that do not always have the best environmental track record are at the forefront of this change. Sustainable structure options, like fabric buildings, are springing up throughout the industrial sector, and some architects are also challenging how we view industrial architecture in this day and age.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT INDUSTRIAL ARCHITECTURE
Stylized industrial-style architecture and interior design has become trendy in recent years as the world's derelict warehouses are converted into hip, pricey lofts, office spaces, cafes, restaurants, and hotels. Today you don't have to look far to see the influence of industrial architecture and design in even the least industrial settings, with the go-to use of raw materials, exposed building elements, and other hallmarks of the style increasingly mainstream and not simply reserved for urban loft conversions.
Considered a masterpiece of industrial architecture, the 1931 Ford Assembly Building car factory in Richmond, California was designed by renowned industrial architect Albert Kahn. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, but earthquake damage the next year jeopardized its future before it was successfully rehabilitated into a solar-powered mixed use office space and cultural center.
INDUSTRIAL DESIGN FOR COMMUNITIES
Industrial space can quickly be transformed into cost-effective residential housing. Leaving exposed ventilation, pipes, bricks, and concrete is less costly than covering the features with drywall. The practical and minimal look is attractive in its own right and is especially trendy among the younger generation.
With a dwindling manufacturing industry, cities and urban areas are looking to new development opportunities. Many creative architects have managed to reinvent and preserve existing industrial spaces via existing industrial infrastructures. Transforming an area’s industrial buildings and old spaces into new housing, businesses, and other vibrant spaces can breathe life into a decaying community. Urban revitalization is becoming more and more prevalent in cities throughout the world.
INNOVATIVE INDUSTRIAL DESIGN
Here are some innovative features of industrial design that you may want to incorporate into your living space.
Open space is increasingly popular within private residential homes. Industrial space is highly sought after for their open interiors, high ceilings, and access to natural light. Skylights and large windows shower the interior of your home with abundant light as the high ceilings and spacious rooms further perpetuate the style’s expansive nature. Often, industrial interiors have fewer walls. The large, open rooms allow more flexibility for you to make creative yet practical use of the space.
Dividers within large industrial spaces can be used to split the space into smaller areas. Individual spaces can accommodate multiple functions. If you are working with a time-frame and tight budget, this is a simple solution to a costly remodel. The use of dividers or movable walls lets you partition your home easily such that it meets your growing and changing needs.
Garage doors used as large industrial doors can be incorporated into an industrial design efficiently. Imagine large automatic doors opening up to the interior of your home and extending your living space into an outer area. This provides an illusion of a more extensive living space than what you have. Both indoor and outdoor living areas are favorite features of dwellings with industrial, minimal, and modern designs.
Green Housing is one of the industrial architectures most apparent benefits due to its reduction in waste and easy conversion to green housing. This method is perfect for you if you happen to be an environmentally conscious individual. Many of these industrial spaces are conveniently located within urban centers in proximity to public transportation or bike access. You no longer have to drive or take a taxi everywhere so you can be sure to reduce your carbon footprint. At the same time, many of the building materials used in the development are recycled from the former space, making this one of the most sustainable architectural styles.
BEYOND THE CITY
Industrial architecture is one of the most notable residential styles in cities throughout the world today. In fact, the form has become so popular that it has seeped into facets of interior design as well as residential suburban architecture.
If you are keen on living in a space with a distinctive industrial style yet but do not fancy the city life, then you may very well be able to find your ideal industrial-style loft in a less urban space. Industrial style spaces exist within many buildings and homes in smaller towns and suburbs. These spaces are often converted from old factories and manufacturing plants.
However, the historic charm can add to the beauty of the home’s interior. That being said, industrial-style spaces in smaller cities, towns, and suburbs so you need to take care of that area remains anchored in the character of the region where it is located.
Kanika Raina is a designer at ANP Atelier & Associates. She believes that new industrial architecture is emerging as a re-birthed phenomenon in architectural practice.