miércoles, 19 de marzo de 2008

Contemporary Architecture: The New Materials

19th century architecture had its highest examples in greenhouses and exhibition pavilions, among them that of London of 1851, built by Paxton. The structures of iron and glass developed a taste that derived from the first Romanticism. They wanted to exalt the virtues of progress. The resistant elements of forged iron produced in series and of easy assemblage allowed to built higher buildings and to elongate the central naves in an almost unlimited way, with regular modules.

The Century of Industrialization

The 19th century bear witness to a new society and a new industrial culture and it needed an answer to the new needs. In this century different trends crossed, with a certain degree of confusion. The period is marked by the confrontation between the architectonic tradition and the new techniques, materials, and needs created by the Industrial Revolution. This provoked the apparition of the two styles that developed along the century: historicism and iron architecture.

The 19th Century Architecture

The use of new materials and new building techniques, adapted to new needs of the new society is characteristic of this moment. At the beginning Neo-Classical forms were common in the main European cities, in a bourgeois aim at remembering the glories and virtues of the Classical time. The Romanticism led the architects to revive the Gothic or Islamic forms. This style is known as Historicism or revival of different historical styles. Its development was deterrent for the evolution of the architecture and decorative arts. It was born in opposition to the official art of the academies and under the influence of the romanticism. It aimed at recovering the genuine roots of the nationalities, present during the medieval period, and to distance from the Italian influence.

The architects used the new building techniques allowed by the use of iron and other materials. It is a moment of high impulse for great public buildings, the renaissance of several old styles: Greek, Classical, Romanesque, Gothic, and the interest for exotic styles such as the Moorish, Hindi, and Chinese.

The Architecture of Iron and Glass

But the contemporary architecture really comes up with the needs due to the expansion of the cities that were created by the Industrial Revolution. The railway contributed to the city expanding out of its boundaries and spreading on the surroundings. This contributed to change the image of the cities and the countryside with the station, bridges, viaducts, which ended by becoming part and parcel of the landscape. This kind of building, essentially practical, adopted the new materials such as iron and glass that, with their infinite possibilities paved the way for the following architectonical revolution.

At the end of the 18th century the first structures in iron were created, a fact that underlined the importance of the engineer labour, collaborating or even substituting the architect.

The former function of the wall, which formerly sustained the building, was exerted by the iron structure. Glass, industrially elaborated, allowed increasing the light of the building because it can cover enormous spaces eliminating walls in the new constructions, solving in this way the problem of the lightening of interiors, at the same time that electricity allowed the creation of buildings of great height doted with elevators and solved problems of ventilation. The internal and external communications of the building was possible thanks to these new materials.

The new building techniques and the pre-elaborated elements made in series allowed the massive construction of public buildings: galleries, greenhouse-train stations, libraries, markets; and private buildings: stores, factories. The constructive monopoly of Church, aristocracy and Crown was broken. As a result, free, lighten and functional spaces were designed, perfectly adapted to the needs of the industrial society.

All these possibilities were observed in the Crystal Palace designed by Paxton for the London Universal Exhibition of 1851. This was an enormous building that was built in a record time and at good price because it used pre-fabricated elements. It was essentially a gigantic greenhouse that allowed the creation of a wide and clear space perfectly adapted to its purpose.

Other building built with the same materials was the Eiffel Tower, designed by Eiffel for the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889. Similar to Paxton project is that of the Crystal Palace of the Madrid Retiro Park, work of Velázquez Bosco. These new materials were also used in the Atocha station in Madrid.

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