The Industrial Revolution, which began inEnglandabout 1760, led to radical changes at every level of civilization throughout the world. The growth of heavy industry brought a flood of new building materials—such as cast iron, steel, and glass—with which architects and engineers devised structures hitherto undreamed of in function, size, and form.
Disenchantment with baroque, with rococo, and even with neo-Palladianism turned late 18th-century designers and patrons toward the original Greek and Roman prototypes. Selective borrowing from another time and place became fashionable. Its Greek aspect was particularly strong in the young United States from the early years of the 19th century until about 1850. New settlements were given Greek names—Syracuse, Ithaca, Troy—and Doric and Ionic columns, entablatures, and pediments, mostly transmuted into white-painted wood, were applied to public buildings and important town houses in the style called Greek revival.
In France, the imperial cult of Napoleon steered architecture in a more Roman direction, as seen in the Church of the Madeleine (1807-1842), a huge Roman temple in Paris. French architectural thought had been jolted at the turn of the century by the highly imaginative published projects of Étienne-Louis Boullée and Claude Nicholas Ledoux. These men were inspired by the massive aspects of Egyptian and Roman work, but their monumental (and often impractical) compositions were innovative, and they are admired today as visionary architects.
The most original architect in England at the time was Sir John Soane; the museum he built as his ownLondonhouse (1812-1813) still excites astonishment for its inventive romantic virtuosity. Late English neoclassicism came to be seen as elitist; thus, for the new Houses of Parliament the authorities insisted on Gothic or Tudor Revival. The appointed architect, Sir Charles Barry, was not a Gothic expert, but he called into consultation an architect who was—A. W. N. Pugin, who became responsible for the details of this vast monument (begun 1836). Pugin, in a short and contentious career, made a moral issue out of a return to the Gothic style. Other architects, however, felt free to select whatever elements from past cultures best fitted their programs—Gothic for Protestant churches, baroque for Roman Catholic churches, early Greek for banks, Palladian for institutions, early Renaissance for libraries, and Egyptian for cemeteries.
In the second half of the 19th century dislocations brought about by the Industrial Revolution became overwhelming. Many were shocked by the hideous new urban districts of factories and workers’ housing and by the deterioration of public taste among the newly rich. For the new modes of transportation, canals, tunnels, bridges, and railroad stations, architects were employed only to provide a cultural veneer.
The Crystal Palace (1850-1851; reconstructed 1852-1854) in London, a vast but ephemeral exhibition hall, was the work of Sir Joseph Paxton, a man who had learned how to put iron and glass together in the design of large greenhouses. It demonstrated a hitherto undreamed-of kind of spatial beauty, and in its carefully planned building process, which included prefabricated standard parts, it foreshadowed industrialized building and the widespread use of cast iron and steel.
Also important in its innovative use of metal was the great tower (1887-1889) of Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel in Paris. In general, however, the most gifted architects of the time sought escape from their increasingly industrialized environment by further development of traditional themes and eclectic styles. Two contrasting but equally brilliantly conceived examples are the sumptuous Paris Opera (1861-1875) by Charles Garnier and Boston’s grandiose Trinity Church (1872-1877) by Henry Hobson Richardson .
Taxes against glass, windows and bricks were repealed which saw a new interest in using these building materials. Factory made plate glass was developed and complex designs in iron grillwork were a popular decoration for the classical and Gothic buildings. There were also terracotta manufacturing improvements, which allowed for more of its use in construction. Steel skeletons were covered with masonry and large glass skylights were popular.
Improvements to the iron making process encouraged the building of bridges and other structures. Large indoor open spaces were now made possible with the use of strong iron framed construction; this was ideal for factories, museums and train stations. The Eiffel Tower, built for the 1889 Exhibition in Paris was a dramatic demonstration by the French of their mastery of this new construction technology. “To the architect-engineer belongs a new decorative art, such as ornamental bolts, iron corners extending beyond the main line, a sort of Gothic lacework of iron. We find that to some extent in the Eiffel Tower.”
But it was heavily criticized by some architects and artists who scorned it as an example of the “blackness of industry” and saw it as blight on the city’s skyline.
The Crystal Palace created to enclose the Great Exhibition of 1851 inEnglandwas a glass and iron showpiece, which dazzled the millions of visitors who passed through its doors. Built by Joseph Paxton within six months, its design mimicked the greenhouses that were his customary stock in trade. It was spacious enough to enclose mature existing trees within its walls.
There was some rejection of the new Industrial Revolution architecture and it’s emphasis on classical construction, Palladian styles and Victorian “gingerbread” houses; some impressive Gothic revival architecture was commissioned instead. Notable examples were the British Parliament Buildings with their pointed spires and suggestion of strength and moral values. “Strawberry Hill”, built after the mid-eighteenth century, seems patterned after a Gothic castle and though it combined some novel construction materials which reflected strong spiritual and religious sentiments in its design.
Regarding architecture of this era, John Ruskin, a co-founder of the Arts and Crafts movement toward simplicity argued, “You should not connect the delight which you take in ornament with that which you take in construction or in usefulness. They have no connection, and every effort that you make to reason from one to the other will blunt your sense of beauty…. Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance.”