19th C Technology and Architecture

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Technologies: Architecture

Sir Joseph Paxton, The Crystal Palace 1850-51Originally in 
Chatsworth, England
Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert, and the Duke of 
Devonshire's gardener, Joseph Paxton.
Most of the following text is "borrowed" from the following website.
Full text and story at

Form: This structure is based primarily on an earlier greenhouse design Paxton used to house the giant Victoria Regia lily in Chatsworth England and incorporates iron, wood and glass.  Paxton's design won the commission primarily because the  materials were benefitial: the fact that they were lighter and cheaper.

The dimensions of the building based on 24 foot intervals were a result of the maximum size of a sheet of glass that could be manufactured at a reasonable cost (49 inches was the cheapest for reliable 16 oz glass).  Mostly site construction using pre fabricated componets, some of which were cast less than 24 hours earlier. The cast iron columns were tested on site, and on site milling and machine painting included miles of wood glazing bars.

Even temporary fencing material was designed to be used in the final building so little was wasted. The transept was strategically placed to preserve and temporarily cover the large elm trees on the site. When the building was torn down and moved to Sydenham, broken glass was remelted providing some of the replacements.

Iconography: The Crystal palace was built to showcase the achievements of Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution. The British were very secure in their belief that they were the ideal of Industrialization that they felt it neccesary to show the rest of the "less civilized" world by staging this enormous exhibition. "The prevailing attitude in England at the time was ripe for the somewhat arrogant parading of accomplishments. Many felt secure, economically and politically, and Queen Victoria was eager to reinforce the feeling of contentment with her reign. It was during the mid-1850s that the word "Victorian" began to be employed to express a new self-consciousness, both in relation to the nation and to the period through which it was passing.

Context: "Despite outbursts of opposition to Albert by the press the family life of the Victorian court began to be considered increasingly as a model for the whole country. Albert had appreciated the achievements of Prime Minister Robert Peel's political and military advances and publicly advocated the advancement of industry and science. These facts began to sway opinion in his favor as respectable foundations of family life and industrial supremacy were becoming rapidly acquainted with the monarchy of Victoria and Albert.  Conceived by prince Albert, the Great Exhibition was held in Hyde Park in London in the specially constructed Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace was originally designed by Sir Joseph Paxton in only 10 days and was a huge iron goliath with over a million feet of glass. It was important that the building used to showcase these achievements be grandiose and innovative.  Over 13,000 exhibits were displayed and viewed by over 6,200,000 visitors to the exhibition. The millions of visitors that journeyed to the Great Exhibition of 1851 marveled at the industrial revolution that was propelling Britain into the greatest power of the time. Among the 13,000 exhibits from all around the world were the Jacquard loom, an envelope machine, tools, kitchen appliances, steel-making displays and a reaping machine from the United States.The objects on display came from all parts of the world, including India and the countries with recent white settlements, such as Australia and New Zealand, that constituted the new empire. Many of the visitors who flocked to London came from European cities. The profits from the event allowed for the foundation of public works such as the Albert Hall, the Science Museum, the National History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum."


Gustave Eiffel 1887-1889 Eiffel Tower Paris, 
France 984-foot (300-metre)
International Exposition of 1889 
to celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution
Form: Huge tower built of steel beams and girders." obtain the 300 meters, the Tower is basically composed of two elements : - a base, which is a sort of bar stool, very sturdy, standing on 4 main pillars that are bonded and extended with a much lighter batter at the smaller level that constitutes the second floor, - a tower firmly attached atop. The value of the pillar base is directly related to the swaying caused by wind forces."
" The parts used to construct the Tower:
All of the iron came from the factories of Mr. Dupont and Mr. Fould, blacksmiths located in Pompey (Meurthe-et-Moselle), who were represented in Paris by their director Mr. A. Prègre and who kept us informed on iron grades. They were delivered at the following prices:
Equal angles from 40 to 100 ..................................13.25 F per 100 kg 
Standard sections, 1st and 2nd grades..................................13.25 F per 100 kg 
Standard sections, 3rd and 4th grades ..................................13.75 F per 100 kg 
Wide flat bars up to 500..................................15.00 F per 100 kg 
Ordinary sheet iron..................................15.50 F per 100 kg 
Checkered plate ..................................16.50 F per 100 kg 
Special tee-sections (designated in Eiffel's book)..................................16.00 F per 100 kg 
Open and closed angle sections, at made to order angles ..................................20.00 F per 100 kg 
The rivets came from Mr. Letroyeur and Mr. Bouvard in Paris. The quality was that of boiler or locomotive rivets."

Iconography:  " The plan to build a tower 300 metres high was conceived as part of preparations for the World's Fair of 1889.  Emile Nouguier and Maurice Koechlin, the two chief engineers in Eiffel's company, had the idea for a very tall tower in June 1884. It was to be designed like a large pylon with four columns of lattice work girders, separated at the base and coming together at the top, and joined to each other by more metal girders at regular intervals. The company had by this time mastered perfectly the principle of building bridge supports. The tower project was a bold extension of this principle up to a height of 300 metres - equivalent to the symbolic figure of 1000 feet. On September 18 1884 Eiffel registered a patent "for a newconfiguration allowing the construction of metal supports and pylons capable of exceeding a height of 300 metres".  In order to make the project more acceptable to public opinion, Nouguier and Koechlincommissioned the architect Stephen Sauvestre to work on the project's appearance. Sauvestre proposed stonework pedestals to dress the legs, monumental arches to link the columns and the first level, large glass-walled halls on each level, a bulb-shaped design for the top and various other ornamental features to decorate the whole of the structure. In the end the project was simplified, but certain elements such as the large arches at the base were retained, which in part give it its very characteristic appearance. The curvature of the uprights is mathematically determined to offer the most efficient wind resistance possible. As Eiffel himself explains: "All the cutting force of the wind passes into the interior of the leading edge uprights. Lines drawn tangential to each upright with the point of each tangent at the same height, will always intersect at a second point, which is exactly the point through which passes the flow resultant from the action of the wind on that part of the tower support situated above the two points in question. Before coming together at the high pinnacle, the uprights appear to burst out of the ground, and in a way to be shaped by the action of the wind". 

Context:  " An engineer by training, Eiffel founded and developed a company specializing in metal structural work, whose crowning achievement was the Eiffel Tower. He devoted the last thirty years of his life to his experimental research... His outstanding career as a constructor was marked by work on the Porto viaduct over the river Douro in 1876, the Garabit viaduct in 1884, Pest railway station in Hungary, the dome of the Nice observatory, and the ingenious structure of the Statue of Liberty. It culminated in 1889 with the Eiffel Tower. After the end of his career in business, marred by the failure of the Panama Canal, Eiffel began an active life of scientific experimental research in the fields of meteorology, radiotelegraphy and aerodynamics. He died on December 27,1923."

All text and more fun readin about the tower at

John Augustus Roebling Brooklyn Bridge 1867-1883
Form: Length of river span: 1595.5 feet
Total length of bridge: 5989 feet
Width of bridge floor: 85 feet
Suspension cables: four, each 15.75 inches in diameter and 3578.5 feet long,
containing 5434 wires each, for a total length of 3515 miles of wire per cable
Foundation depth below high water, Brooklyn: 44 feet 6 inches
Foundation depth below high water, Manhattan: 78 feet 6 inches
Tower height above high water: 276 feet 6 inches
Roadway height above high water: 119 feet (at towers)
Total weight, not including masonry: 14,680 tons
Source: Blue Guide to New York, 1991, p616. ISBN 0393304868. 

Iconography: "In 1855, John Roebling, the owner of a wire-rope company and a famous bridge designer, proposed a suspension bridge over the East River after becoming impatient with the Atlantic Avenue-Fulton Street Ferry. Roebling worked out every detail of the bridge, from its massive granite towers to its four steel cables. He thought his design entitled the bridge "to be ranked as a national monument… a great work of art."..." Responding to those who doubted the need for the bridge, Roebling responded that projected growth in the cities of New York and Brooklyn would necessitate the construction of additional bridges. Specifically, Roebling suggested future construction of the Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges further north along the East River.Two years later, in June 1869, the New York City Council and the Army Corps of Engineers approved Roebling's design. Later that month, while examining locations for a Brooklyn tower site, Roebling's foot was crushed on a pier by an incoming ferry. Roebling later died of tetanus as a result of the injuries. Immediately following Roebling's death, his son, Washington, took over as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge...The Brooklyn Bridge cost $15.1 million to build, $3.8 million of which was to purchase land for approaches and the remainder going toward construction. This was more than twice the original cost estimate of $7 million.On May 23, 1883, President Chester Arthur and Governor Grover Cleveland officially dedicated the Brooklyn Bridge before more than 14,000 invitees. Emily Roebling was given the first ride over the completed bridge with a rooster, a symbol of victory, in her lap. After the opening ceremony, anyone with a penny for the toll could cross the Brooklyn Bridge. On the first day,the bridge carried trolley lines, horse-drawn vehicles, and even livestock."
Full text at

Context: " is Roebling's 1840 patent for the in-situ spinning of wire rope that has to be recognized as one of the decisive breakthroughs in modern suspension bridge technology. This patent brought John Roebling a commission to build a cable-suspended, wooden aqueduct over the Allegheny River in 1845. Roebling built a number of such aqueducts before receiving two major bridge,commissions in his mid-career: his 821-foot-span Niagara rail bridge of 1841-55 and his 1,000-foot span Cincinnati Bridge of 1856-67; both of which were prototypes for the 1,600 foot Brooklyn Bridge, whose construction ran through two generations of Roeblings between 1869 and its completion in 1883.The twin masonry support towers of this vast span necessitated the building of foundations 78 feet below the water level...
— Kenneth Frampton and Yukio Futagawa. Modern Architecture 1851-1945. p31.


St. Genevieve Library

Bibliotheque St. Genevieve, Labrouste, 1842-1850

Form: This building uses the barrel vault design, supported by the many decorative arches found within.

Iconography: "The  Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve is located in the Quartier Latin in Paris, France.  It is located across from the Pantheon, built in1790, and in former years became the church of Ste.Genevieve.   Labrouste originally invisioned the library having a fore court, which would be planted with big trees and decorated with statues.  Instead he chose to embellish the vestibule to resemble a garden.  The size of the site  was approximately 278' x 69'." ( 

Context:  "One of the greatest cultural buildings of the nineteenth century to use iron in a prominent, visible way was unquestionably the Bibliotheque Ste.-Genevieve in Paris, designed by Henri Labrouste and built in 1842-50. The large (278 by 69 feet) two-storied structure filling a wide, shallow site is deceptively simple in scheme: the lower floor is occupied by stacks to the left, rare-book storage and office space to the right, with a central vestibule and stairway leading to the reading room which fills the entire upper story. The ferrous structure of this reading room—a spine of slender, cast-iron Ionic columns dividing the space into twin aisles and supporting openwork iron arches that carry barrel vaults of plaster reinforced by iron mesh—has always been revered by Modernists for its introduction of high technology into a monumental building."
 —Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman. Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modernism. p478.


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