Dictionary of Art and Artists



History of

Architecture and Sculpture


















SCULPTURE - Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
ARCHITECTURE - Part 1, 2, 3




For more than a century, from the mid-eighteenth to the late nineteenth, architecture had been dominated by a succession of "revival styles". This term, we will recall, does not imply that earlier forms were slavish copies; the best work of the time has both individuality and high distinction. Yet the architectural wisdom of the past, however freely interpreted, proved in the long run to be inadequate for the practical demands of the Industrial Age: the factories, warehouses, stores, and city apartments that formed the bulk of building construction. After about 1800, in the world of commercial architecture, we find the gradual introduction of new materials and techniques that were to have a profound effect on architectural style by the end of the century. The most important was iron, never before used as an actual structural member. Within a few decades of their first appearance, cast-iron columns and arches had become the standard means of supporting roofs over the large spaces required by railroad stations, exhibition halls, and public libraries.


The nineteenth century was the age of great engineering feats and technical inventions. Art historian Alfred Gotthold Meyer, in his book "Eisenbauten", came to the conclusion in 1907 that iron architecture had brought with it a new quality of building. The aesthetic development was still in "the process of fermentation", a metaphor which Meyer elaborated on further: "Enzymes are Library of Congress causative agents in the fermentation process which bring about, or accelerate, the decomposition of relatively large quantities of other organic substances. The enzymes responsible for the status of the nineteenth century in the history of style are the achievements of modern technology. They come to the fore. Their most important contributions can be grouped within three main material spheres: firstly iron, secondly machinery and thirdly light and fire. These are the mightiest powers having stylistic influence over the present and which, as far as we can see today, must also be reckoned with in the future. Those other organic substances upon which enzymes exert their powers of decomposition are stylistic forms handed down by history." While architects spoke of the search for a new style appropriate to the machine age, civil engineering works attained a previously unknown clarity. These works, however, such as the large exhibition halls frequently intended for only temporary use, were assigned no artistic value. Their overwhelming impact was dismissed as fleeting fascination. Thus the roots of modern architecture are indeed hidden, since the nineteenth century was only good, as Sigfried Giedion once wrote, when "it felt unnoticed".

Numerous fire disasters in English spinning mills led in the 1890s to the construction of factory buildings of cast iron pillars. Iron had previously only been used as a construction material for small auxiliary components, tension rods and connections between ashlars in lintels and cornices. It emerged as an autonomous material with the construction of the first iron bridge in 1777-1779 near Coalbrookdale. On the European continent, iron production and, with it, industrial development lagged behind their English counterparts. This was compensated by a myriad of new ideas, especially in France. In 1837 Polonceau introduced a new light-weight truss, soon to be named after him. The engineer Joly introduced an I-beam of riveted angle iron. Finally, civil engineering adapted a discovery from the world of the railway - the rolled steel sections of railway tracks. The glass industry boomed at the same time as the iron industry, and glass panes overtook cheap oil paper in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.

Greenhouse construction had reached technical maturity in as early as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The use of iron long remained a matter of controversy, since it is a good conductor of heat and hence brings with it the problem of dripping condensation. Construction with iron only became popular around  1830 due to its light weight and the narrow struts it made possible. The easier methods of wood processing led Joseph Paxton to employ a new type of arched truss made of glued laminated wood. Successful solutions were applied to other areas, such as the glass roofing of shopping malls. The gap to be spanned in such arcades was usually small, posing little challenge to the engineer.

The development of large-area covered halls was furthered in England in the Royal Navy dockyards. Since a warship took up to 13 years to build, it was necessary to protect the unfinished hull from the weather and - as the Venetians had long been doing - to build a hall to house the ship during construction. Wooden versions of such covered berths were built in Portsmouth in 1814 and in Chatham in 1817. The first corrugated-plated iron constructions were introduced in 1845.


Decimus Burton and Richard Turner
Palm House in the Royal Botanical Gardens
in Kew/Surrey, England, 1844-1848

Decimus Burton and Richard Turner
Palm House in the Royal Botanical Gardens. Interior viev

The exotic plants or the Royal Botanical Gardens were housed within a miracle of iron and glass 110 metres in length. Twelve boilers supplied warm water for the heating pipes and guaranteed an indoor temperature of 27 degrees even in winter. Rain water was channelled to an underground reservoir via hollow cast-iron pillars and collecting pipes in the stone base. A spoil car for transporting coal, the smoke outlet and the feed pipes for the sprinkler system were housed in a tunnel, which surfaced into a smokestack and campanile style water tower at a visually acceptable distance.

Galerie Vivienne in Paris, 1823-1826

Initiated by the chairman of the Bar Council, this shopping mall was built after merging various plots of land behind the Bibliotheque Nationale. By merging these inner courtyards, it was possible to gain land in the expensive inner city area. A glass roof covered the public area, which, due to the floor and the display window design, had a more intimate character than the street, and was both drier and also cleaner. The first gas lamps were installed here. With the onset of such malls, a new type of city dweller, the flaneur, emerged, who floated through the artificial world of products and passers-by.


Exhibition halls had other specifications and design criteria. Emphasis lay not so much on large spans and robust durability, but on rapid construction and low costs. Joseph Paxton used vast numbers of serially-combined single components to create his now famous Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition held in London's Hyde Park in 1851. The grid principle, using a 24 x 24 foot module, allowed rational prefabrication and easy assembly. Construction technology was for the most part mechanized; Paxton's transom machine produced building components using industrial methods. Seemingly endless rows of identical parts lent the building an unusual character, in particular since Owen Jones had directed them to be painted so that similar parts had the same colour. The pillars were yellow, the joists blue and the roof trusses red, while the primary colours red, yellow and blue were deployed in a ratio of five to three to eight as suggested in 1825 by G. Field in his "Chromatography".

The construction was not particularly safe, despite modifications introduced during its reconstruction in Sydenham, a wing later caved in. Neither were the connections between individual components rendered sufficiently non-positive, nor was there effective crossbracing. Questions relating to the statics of the actual frame remained entirely unresolved at the time. The engineer Robert Mallet offered some unsettling observations: "We ourselves had the opportunity, one early afternoon on one of the hottest days of the summer of 1851, to examine the effects on the skeleton of the building of thermal expansion. We can attest to the fact that, at the furthermost west end and in the front parts of the galleries in the nave - in other words, at those points where the columns are tallest and were most heated -, they deviated by approximately two inches from the vertical even at the level of the first floor. Without the help of measuring instruments we were unable to observe whether any change had taken place in the twin columns in the corners of the nave and the transept. Thanks to their rigidity, and probably to other factors, too, they appeared to have withstood the entire pressure and transferred it to the outermost corners of the frame. As we looked up to the west galleries, full of people, and across the whole width of the nave, egually densely populated, and reflected upon the immense lateral forces which were at that very moment invisibly burdening the brittle frame of the cast-iron structure, we were very aware that 'ignorance is bliss'."

Joseph Paxton
Large Greenhouse at Chatsworth/
Derbyshire, England, 1836-1841

The Duke of Devonshire's greenhouse comprised a half-barrel on cast-iron pillars with side naves totalling 85 metres in length, 38 metres in width and 20 metres in height. With the exception of the pillars and a peripheral gallery, the building employed a wooden framework with large, laminated trusses. The profiles of the countless slender transoms were milled with the aid of a steam-driven machine which Paxton had specially built for the purpose. The glazed surfaces of the greenhouse all employed the ridge-and-furrow principle of small cable roofs. Poxton chose this solution, which he subsequently also used in his Crystal Palace in London, for its lighting advantages: it captured the sunlight more easily in the mornings and evenings and partly refracted it at midday. As later in Kew, coal trucks reached the heating plant via a funnel.


Within a year of the completion of the Bibliotheque Ste.-Genevieve, the Crystal Palace (fig.
977) was built in London. A pioneering achievement far bolder in conception than Labrouste's library, the Crystal Palace was designed to house the first of the great international expositions that continue in our day. Its designer, Sir Joseph Paxton (1801- 1865), was an engineer and builder of greenhouses. The Crystal Palace was, in fact, a gigantic greenhouseso large that it enclosed some old trees growing on the sitewith its iron skeleton freely on display. Paxton's design was such a success that it set off a wave of similar buildings for commercial

purposes, such as public markets. Still, the notion that there might be beauty, and not merely utility, in the products of engineering made headway very slowly, even though the doctrine "form follows function" found advocates from the mid-nineteenth century on. Hence most such edifices were adorned with decorations that follow the eclectic taste of the period.

977. Joseph Paxton. The Crystal Palace, London (interior view looking north). 1851;
reerected in Sydenham 1852; destroyed 1936. Lithograph by JOSEPH NASH.
Albert Museum, London (Crown copyright reserved)

The exhibition committee of the "Great Exhibition" wanted a building that could be dissembled and that was made out of reusable elements, and thus accepted different offers by various construction companies. Joseph Paxton was awarded the contract together with Fox & Henderson Co. The "Crystal Palace" was retd out of serially manufactured, prefabricated parts assembled on the building site. The central cross-aisle was given a wooden barrel vault in order to accommodate a number of large elms. The nave was also given a barrel-vaulted roof during its reconstruction in Sydenham in 1854.

Joseph Paxton

The "Foreign Exhibits" section of the exhibition

1. View of the moving machinery hall at the "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations"
2. Compilation of various supports used throughout the building to adjust the appropriate wall strength.
From: Dowres and Cowper, The Building Erected in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition, 1852

Charles Rohault de Fleury
Conservatories in the "Jardin des Plantes", Paris, 1833-1836
Roger-Viollet, Paris

In Rohault's plans, the complex was divided by a ramp into two symmetrical wings; these were not to be fully realized, however. In the ntr lie the Australian and Mexican greenhouses, their rear sections abutted a wall. The roofs were modified during repair work in 1874.


August von Voit (arch.), Ludwig Werder (eng.) Industrial Exhibition Building In Munich, 1853-1854

Munich's Glass Palace featured an iron skeleton with cast-iron supports and truss girders with wrought iron on its tensile stressed members. The square grid was based on an edge length of almost six metres. The building proved to be extraordinarily durable and was only destroyed in 1931 as the result of arson.

Inferior view


Friedrich Hitzig
Covered Market in Berlin, 1865-1868
Perspective drawing

Cast-iron columns support the six-aisled building with its total surface area of 5,300 square metres. From the point of hygiene, this market hall representec significant progress: it had running water for the fish vendors' sinks, toilet facilities and gas lighting. Yet the private enterprise was not a success. After the early bankruptcy of its operators, the halls stood empty until being rebuilt into a circus in 1874. It was finally redesigned by Hans Poelzig to become Max Reinhardt's Grobes Schauspielhaus in 1919.


Victor Baltard and Felix Callet
Central Market Halls in Paris, 1854-1857, extended 1860-1866
Interior view

A half begun in 1851, an unhap combination of stone and iron, was abandoned in mid-construction, probably or the instructions of Napoleon III. The new City Prefect Georges-Eugene Houssmann then also announced that he wanted Parisian covered markets to be made of glass and iron. Baltard, who affer Hittorf was Haussmann's most important architectural colleague, therefore proposed a new design which was subsequently executed.

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