The industrial revolution started around 1760 in Britain which led to tremendous changes in every level of civilization throughout the world. Due to the impact of the revolution, heavy industrial materials like cast iron, steel, and glass experienced tremendous growth during the 18th century. With these materials, architects and engineers experimented with the idea of function, size, and form. The disenchantment with Baroque, Rococo, and with neo-Palladianism turned late 18th-century designers towards the original Roman and Greek prototypes. 

The industrial revolution started with the mechanization of the textile industries, the development of iron-making techniques and the increased use of refined coal. It was due to the rise in the production of iron that it made its way into the building industry in the late 1700s which gave a lot of flexibility by providing efficient structural elements, wider beam spans, better lateral stability as well as fire hazardous structure as metal being non-combustible.

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Smokestacks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1890s_©Bettmann

Materials | Industrial revolution

The major impact of the industrial revolution on 19th-century architecture was the mass production of iron and steel in quantities which became economically plausible building materials. The introduction of steel changed the perspective of architecture majorly and impacted it in a lot of ways. It became famous due to its tremendous strength-to-weight ratio and allowed the engineers to design increasingly bigger, lighter, more open spaces while the traditional architecture style came with limitations that range from complexity to perfectionism. The major application of steel occurred in public works, namely in railroads and bridges which quickly made the best use of the steel. 

The primary prerequisite to large-scale modern architecture was the development of metal framing, making masonry walls load-free, eventually becoming a cosmetic skin over an iron skeleton of columns and arches. It caused major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation and architecture. The quest for neoclassical aesthetics turned into a search for an architecture that made use of the new industrial processes and materials. Architecture became affordable and prefabrication became common. The Industrial Revolution laid the foundation for modern architecture and further high-rise buildings and skyscrapers. 

Function Follow Framing 

The modernist architecture emphasizes function. It attempts to provide for specific needs rather than imitate nature. The revolution introduced a type of architecture with little to no ornamentation, thus eliminating unnecessary details and promoting simplicity and clarity of form. Industrial materials such as metal and concrete became the major attraction to designers. Therefore, the concept of “truth of materials” became affable, encouraging the true nature or natural appearance of the materials to be presented without concealing or altering the existing. 

Few architects and critics rebelled against the notion of creating a conflict, meanwhile, the adversary continued creating emphasis on clean horizontal and vertical lines as an expression.

Change in perspective

With the advent of new manufacturing techniques brought about by the industrial revolution, the hand approach gave way to the machine. Solid structures turned to skeleton structures providing unrestricted height along with reduced human effort. Iron was one of the biggest takeaways from the revolution which helped in the construction of eminent structures such as bridges, railroad stations, commercial buildings, cultural and religious buildings and exhibition buildings to name a few. 

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Iron bridge©Designing Buildings

The taxes on windows, glass, and bricks were eliminated, which appears to be novel and intriguing in the use of these building materials. Glass factories had elaborate and intricate designs that were a common adornment in classical and gothic buildings on iron grillwork. In light of the impact of the industrial revolution, some additional materials, such as terracotta manufacturing advancements, were also made available for greater construction. Steel skeletons were utilised to be covered with masonry, and a massive glass skylight became the focal point.

Early modern architecture

Iron-frame architecture, which flourished primarily in England, France, and (eventually) the United States, occupies the transitional zone between traditional and modern architecture. Utilitarian structures demonstrated the importance of non-clustered buildings and revealed the aesthetic potential of unfussy design along with mass-produced materials. The notion behind such structure remained lacking traditional ornamentation due to a lack of concern for appearance. 

As the nineteenth century progressed, many architects began to recognize these elements as visually appealing. As a dramatic demonstration of the French ability to use emerging construction technology, the Eiffel tower was constructed in 1889 for the Paris Exposition. The new advanced and decorative art, which consisted of iron corners and ornamental bolts extending beyond the mainline and was inspired by a Gothic lacework of iron, attracted the attention of the architects and engineers. The fierce controversy provoked by the tower’s modern aesthetic illustrates the era’s lack of mainstream acceptance for plain, unornamented construction.

Eiffel tower

The Eiffel Tower is an open-lattice iron construction with four enormous arching legs that are supported by masonry piers and curve inward before coming together to form a single, tapered tower. Each leg is supported by 6-metre-thick concrete slabs that required foundations that could reach a depth of 22 m (72 feet). Bolts that were 10 centimetres (4 inches) in diameter and 7.5 metres (25 feet) in length held the tower’s iron base to the stonework. The tower was constructed with 18,000 pieces joined by 2.5 million thermally assembled rivets. The elevator system was a key feature of the Eiffel Tower. The glass-cage machines chosen by Eiffel were manufactured in the United States by the Otis Elevator Company.

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Construction of Eiffel tower_©Collection Tour Eiffel

Crystal palace | Industrial revolution

Iron-and-glass architecture culminated in the mid-nineteenth century, with London’s Crystal Palace(destroyed), designed by Joseph Paxton as the main pavilion of the first World’s Fair. The Crystal Palace was a cast iron and plate glass structure built in Hyde Park, London, England in 1851 to house the Great Exhibition. More than 14000 exhibitors from all over the world gathered in the Palace’s 9,90,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space to show off the latest technology developed during the Industrial Revolution.

The Great Exhibition building was 1,851 feet (564m) long, with an interior height of 128 feet (39m). The geometry of Crystal Palace was a classical example of the concept of form following the manufacturer’s limitation-the shape and size of the whole building were directly based on the size of the panes of glass. Joseph Paxton, during that time extensively experimented with glass house construction. Because of the relatively recent invention of the cast plate glass method in 1848, which allowed for large sheets of inexpensive but sturdy glass, it was at the time the largest amount of glass ever seen in a building and astounded visitors with its clear walls and ceilings that did not require interior lights, thus a “Crystal Palace”.

The Crystal Palace at Sydenham Hill, 1854_©Philip Henry Delamotte

The industrial revolution brought about the needed changes to break the monotony and look forward to the ocean of ideas. It made critics think and added a new chapter to the variety of architectural expression. It certainly transformed the way we think and live forever. 

Reference List:

Johngaber (2017) History of architecture – industrial revolution (18th century) & revival (1880 – 1940), John Gaber’s Blog. Available at: (Accessed: November 3, 2022).

Ltd, A.A. (2022) Development of architecture during the Industrial Revolution, UK Essays. UK Essays. Available at: (Accessed: November 3, 2022).

Yeah, A.T.C., Chauhan, A.T. and Yeah (2022) What is the impact of Industrial Revolution on architecture? – RTF: Rethinking the future, RTF | Rethinking The Future. Available at: (Accessed: November 3, 2022). 

(2015) YouTube. YouTube. Available at: (Accessed: November 3, 2022).


An architecture student, always looking for something new by being a part of everything creative to express herself in every form. Being heard and able to deliver a great word has always been her bent. An old soul who believes that a conversation about changing for the better can accomplish a lot.