The history of the factory as a building type in the 20th century parallels that of
architecture in general. However, as a new typology, it has had a fluctuating status in the
profession between that of “building” and that of “architecture.” For early modern
architects, the factory became the epitome of modernism both as a building type that
signified the modern era and in the technological innovations that were necessary to
create these buildings for the production of goods. This was the building type in which
form truly necessitated following function because the buildings are directed by the
manufacturing processes inside, from automobiles to wartime machinery and computers.
The increasing dominance and changes in methodologies for mass production influenced
the spatial and structural needs of the factories. These developments were translated into
innovations in building technologies with new uses for reinforced concrete, steel, large
glass and metal curtain walls, open floor space, lightweight suspension systems, tent
structures, and prefabricated kits of parts.
In terms of form, early 20th-century factories sustained the look of the previous
century’s multistory buildings as a result of the high cost of land that was often near the
water’s edge for easy shipping of products. In addition, before the advent of the conveyor
belt, moving goods vertically by cranes and gravity was still easier than pulling them
horizontally. This is seen in the multistory factory that Albert Kahn designed for Henry
Ford in Highland Park near Detroit in 1909, a factory that then influenced Giaccomo
Matte-Trucco’s design of the Lingotto Fiat Factory in Turin, Italy, in 1913.
Advances in the strength of concrete influenced factory design, such as in the Larkin
Plant (1907) in Buffalo, New York, built over 10 years by R.J.Reidpath & Son. This
factory could withstand larger window spans to increase natural light in the building
compared with 19th-century brick-pier construction with small windows. Concrete
improved fireproofing and allowed for faster construction, especially when it could be
prefabricated in pieces. Engineers played extremely important roles in the development
of new building systems for factories, such as Ernest Ransome’s reinforced-concrete
system, the Ransome Bar. Ransome simplified the systems of the French engineer
Francois Hennebique so that the floor slab continued to the face of the building and
became a stringcourse, with vertical pieces forming lintels and sills. Precast structural
wall units could be set in place and then cast as the floor in an early prefabricated system
with in-fill in brick. Later, prefabricated systems were developed in concrete, metals, and
glass curtain wall systems, emphasizing the use of the factory building as a testing
ground for new technologies.
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In Berlin Peter Behrens designed the AEG Turbine Factory (1908–09) with Mies van
der Rohe and developed a new curtain wall system of glass and steel that allowed light
into the vast open space. Unusual at the time, the steel pier is exposed and the skeleton
revealed, creating a monumentality and a heroic metaphor for industry. The recessed
glass facade influenced the later curtain wall systems.
Factories were experimental not only in terms of structure and form but also in terms
of the management of the workers inside. Ford, who adopted the ideas of Frederick
Taylor on employee performance, believed that by providing a decent workplace,
workers would be more productive. Paternalistic in his attitude, Ford desired light and air
in the factories, encouraging Albert Kahn to use skylight monitors for daylighting.
Throughout the Great Depression, Ford influenced other factory owners to consider the
well-being of the workers because it affected their morale. Ford eventually paid workers
well enough for them to be able to afford his own product, which gave rise to a working
class with expendable income.
These American industrial buildings and the work of Behrens influenced the designs
of numerous European modern architects of the early 1920s and 1930s, such as Le
Corbusier, Gropius, and Mendelsohn. Walter Gropius, with Hannes Meyer, designed a
new building in 1913 for the Fagus Shoe Last company in Alfeld an-der-Liene, Germany.
The primary feature, the glazed workshop block, was a departure from the heavier, piered
structures and was based on the Bauhaus ideology in its lightness and transparency.
During World War II, Kahn and others designed primarily factories with one story,
which had many advantages. They were faster to build, distributed power horizontally,
and allowed more light into the building. The one-story shed-type building allowed for
larger machines and more flexible and open floor plans for the new horizontal assemblyline
production, which could then be shifted easily to the truck- and train-based
transportation systems, with train lines running close to or even through a manufacturing
The placement of the administration buildings was also a focus in the layout of a
factory complex. Early in the century, the administration buildings were usually in a
separate head house away from the plant. Alvar Aalto designed two paper mills in
Finland; one, the Toppila Pulp Mill (1930–33) in Oulu, was a design primarily for the
director’s buildings and outbuildings, whereas the Sunila Pulp Mill (1936–38) at Lotka
also included housing. Aalto also influenced the placement of the mill on the existing
bedrock and incorporated the forms of technology in his design.
In the 1950s postwar era, steel was still in high demand, so factories had to be built in
concrete. One of these was the Brynmawr Rubber Ltd. South Wales, Architects’ Co-
Partnership, which achieved the largest shell dome structure at its time in order to have
huge open floor. The increasing automation and mass production dictated open floors,
wide bays, and daylighting to reach the inner factory. The single story continued to solve
this problem best. Both Richard Rogers’ factory for Inmos in England and Nicholas
Grimshaw’s factory for Igus in Germany exemplify the high-tech prefabricated kit of
parts and repetitive modules that became widely used in the 1980s. The Financial Times
Printing Plant in London, designed by Grimshaw, with large windows into the processing
area, brought printing into the public view.
In the 1950s workers’ satisfaction and their motivation became a focus of corporate
executives, so that architects improved the quality of places for socialization, such as
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workers’ lounges, cafeterias, and athletic facilities, and the Japanese influenced the
concept of teamwork, leading to different spatial arrangements. The head offices became
a part of the main building structure, so that the entire factory was under one roof for easy
communication between research teams and the production-line workers. With the advent
of computer-directed manufacturing, the need for flexible, adaptable, and expandable
spaces became increasingly dominant. Factory buildings throughout the 20th century
have become an innovative system in which architects to explore new aesthetic issues,
combined with practical building function, technological systems, and rapid construction,
that are profitable for the client while attending to the worker.

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