Influence of Industrialization on the Development of Architecture

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Industrialization has had a profound impact on the world we live in and has positively contributed to the development of architecture since its start in the 17th century. Many consider the invention of the steam engine by James Watt in 1769 to have marked the beginning of the Industrial Revolution as he greatly improved their efficiency and made their usage more widespread. The steam engine provided Britain with an industrial power as factories, fabrics and railroads could be anywhere. Before the industrialization era, many architects claimed fine workmanship to be the most important thing throughout architecture. This essay will first state which architects embraced the industrialization and new technology and who rejected it, then the essay will examine the way industrialization affected the heavy industry and therefore positively contributed to the development of architecture by using prominent buildings as examples. Finally, a counterargument will be made and the negative impacts of industrialization on the development of architecture will be discussed.

Many architects acknowledged the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, some embraced the new technology, and some rejected it. Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the architects that embraced technology and appreciated its positive contributions towards the development of architecture. This is shown as he said: “Wright embraced new materials and technology, viewing the machine not as a threat to the architect’s creativity but rather as a tool to assist him in his task of creating harmonious, integrated and original works” (Wright, 1908, cited in Sykes, 2007, p.95). Wright’s architecture is example of his acceptance of industrialization as he uses bold lines and less ornamentation in his buildings. In addition, Le Corbusier also embraced new technology: “He welcomed the development of new materials in the laboratory, where they could be tested and proved prior to practical adoption and regretted that all traditional materials and construction methods could not be replaced” (Hearn, 1996, cited in Smith, 2012, p.100). This portrays Le Corbusier’s embracement of new technology and the machinery that was created during the Industrial Revolution, as he wants to replace every single one of the traditional materials and constructions methods and instead use the new technology. Although two major architects embraced technology, John Ruskin is one of the few that rejected it. Hearn stated: “Ruskin generally disapproved of machine production of building elements, favoring the minute variations introduced by the human hand”. This view clearly shows that Ruskin is ignorant to the impact the modern machinery would have post industrialization and all throughout it.

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One of the ways in which industrialization has positively contributed to the development of architecture was through the evolution of the heavy industry. This created a lot of new building equipment and materials, such as cast iron, steel, and glass and assisted both architects and engineers in devising and constructing structures that were until then, unimaginable in function, form, and size. The new materials were used by architects in conjunction with the machinery made through heavy industry to create buildings, such as the Crystal Palace (1850) and the Rand McNally (1890).

During the Industrial Revolution, the heavy industry made a multitude of machines that in turn progressively made factory jobs less physically demanding than in previous years. Although the evolution of the heavy industry mass produced many building components faster than man could do by hand, the quality of the materials was not improved as architects hoped. As a result of the mass production, details in components had to be simplified for the machinery to make it and therefore turned out less ornamented than the product made by hand. Ornamentation, in turn became less likeable in architecture, as Loos (1908, cited in Sykes 2007, p.105) said: “Ornament means wasted labor and therefore wasted health. That was always the case”.

The high production of iron and glass during the industrial period was shown to have a profound influence on British architecture. This is shown through the creation of the glass and cast-iron structure, the Crystal Palace by Joseph Paxton (1851). The Crystal Palace, like Gothic Revival and the Arts and Crafts Movement, was seen to be a new type of design for that period and had many breakthroughs regarding construction and overall design. This project is deemed to be a direct result of the great technological advancements in relation to materials and machinery that were made through the heavy industry, during the Industrial Revolution. The structure itself was made off site and then put together on site (Merin, 2013). The use of pre-made materials and the new machinery allowed a fast-paced build time and a lower cost overall. Prior to industrialization, this fast-paced building would have been unimaginable but due to the evolution of the heavy industry, something this large scale was made possible.

The Crystal Palace was a step forward from traditional architecture and highlights how industrialization has positively contributed to the development of architecture. In addition to being an example of a new style of architecture, the structural system of the building can still be seen in buildings today. After the demolition of the Crystal Palace due to a fire in 1936, newer architects and designers acknowledged the problems that caused it and knew to avoid them via experimentation. This building, even after its demolition, positively contributed to architecture as it encouraged people to begin thinking about distinctive design, shapes and forms in regards to architectural construction (‘Impact of the Industrial Revolution on British Architecture’, 2018). The evolution of low-cost structures stemmed from this building and designers began to experiment with materials other than brick and stone. The effectiveness of industrialization is proudly shown through the Crystal Palace as it was a fast-paced build, lightweight in construction, an innovative design and the structural techniques paved the way for the development of architecture, post industrialization.

Prior to industrialization, building materials were restricted to a few man-made materials, along with those available in nature: timber, stone, lime, mortar, concrete. Therefore, structure was limited by the capabilities of natural materials; the Industrial Revolution changed this situation drastically. During the beginning of the industrialization period, worldwide production of iron soared from 825,000 tons to 40 million tons, almost 50 times as much and it was available in 3 different forms: cast iron, wrought iron and the strongest, steel. “Steel is considered as one of the most innovative construction developments in history, allowing architects to create structures with heights, flexibility and freedom never seen before” (Walsh, 2020).

The first ever all-steel framed building was the Rand McNally in Chicago, it was erected in 1890, designed by Burnham and Root. “This revolutionary building featured more than 3,700 tons of steel. The material was used in the form of beams, channels, rails, angles, and the newly introduced Z-bar steel columns” (Finnigan et al., n.d., p.115). The use of steel in this building meant that as the height of the building increased, the increase in base support of it would be a lot lower than what would be required for masonry walls. As a result of this, the intrusion of the structures usable interior space was significantly reduced. This revolutionary building that shows how industrialization positively contributed to the development of architecture as steel steadily rose to prominence after this building was created. It became the go to material for architects and due to industrialization steel began to allow architects to imagine buildings that previously would have been impossible. The Rand McNally Building portrayed a brand-new era of efficiency in building systems and the construction of them, therefore showing how industrialization positively contributed to the development of architecture. However, the labor hours associated with the extra making of these pieces of steel used in the construction of the building drove up the overall cost of the buildings making.

Although industrialization has positively contributed to the development of architecture, it has also had negative impacts. Due to the increase in industrial workers, a common feature in industrial towns and cities was the construction of very poorly built and low-cost housing, which was intended for the working-class people. The wealthy factory owners built inexpensive homes for their workers but also used the homes as a way to make more profit. These homes were commonly called back-to-back terraces due to the fact that they were built side-by-side and connected to each other; the only part of the house that was not connected to another was the front. Made with the cheapest material possible and they lacked the basic features every house need, such as windows and proper ventilation. Most of the homes that were live din by these working-class people were also built without running water or basic sanitation. Because of all this, many of the people were unable to properly bather and therefore were very unhygienic.

Overall, industrialization has positively contributed to the development of architecture as shown through the impact it had on well renowned architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. Additionally, industrialization has been shown to positively affect the evolution of the heavy industry and assist in the mass production of materials such as cast iron, glass, and steel. The production of these materials positively contributed to the development of architecture through the iron and glass building, the Crystal Palace by Joseph Paxton, and the steel Rand McNally, designed by Burnham and Root. Although there are some negative impacts of industrialization that affected architecture, overall, industrialization has positively contributed to the development of architecture.

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Influence of Industrialization on the Development of Architecture. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 18, 2024, from
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