NYC SoHo Green Street

NYC SoHo Green Street

Fire burned down architect Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace. It was built in London’s Hyde Park to house The Great Exhibition of 1851, the first all glass and iron modular structure built at the time of the Industrial Revolution.

U Tube Crystal Palace fire: http://yhoo.it/1Sup13R

Crystal Palace Lithograph

Crystal Palace Lithograph

In the 1850s, the cheapness and availability of cast iron led James Bogardus of New York City to advocate and design buildings using cast iron components. Cast iron could be cast into a wide array of shapes and designs, allowing elaborate facades that were far cheaper than traditional stone carved ones. These facades could also be painted in desirable colors. If you’ve been to New York City, you’ve seen and know the elaborate neo-classical and Romanesque designs.

The designs were used pervasively on commercial and industrial buildings. Surviving examples in SoHo and Tribeca areas of New York are vast. One of the most intact ensembles in the American West can be seen in the Skidmore/Old Town Historic District, a National Historic Landmark, in Portland, Oregon. In the old cities of the southern United States, the use of cast-iron in architecture was popular in the 1800s. Cast iron columns had the advantage of being slender compared with masonry columns but capable of supporting similar weight. That saved space in factories and other kinds of buildings like theaters, churches and synagogues.

However, cast iron has some architectural weaknesses. It is strong in compression, but weak in tension and bending. Its strength and stiffness deteriorate when subjected to high heat, such as in a fire. In the early era of the industrial revolution cast iron was often used in factory construction, in part owing to the misconception that such structures would be fireproof. Inventor William Strutt pioneered this innovation, building a number of industrial buildings using cast iron supports. Cast iron was strong enough to support the heavy machinery but was vulnerable to the frequent fires that would occur in such factories.

Dee Bridge Tragedy

Dee Bridge Tragedy

Cast iron was also used in bridge construction for the new railway system, sometimes with horrific results, especially when cast iron girders were used instead of arches. Engineer Robert Stephenson (not the author) built a bridge over the river Dee, mistakenly adding wrought iron trusses to strengthen the structure. This led to the Dee bridge disaster of 1847, which killed five when the bridge collapsed.

Tay Bridge disaster

Tay Bridge disaster

Following the disaster, such trussed bridges were demolished and cast-iron was replaced with wrought iron composite beams formed by riveting sheets together, and then steel rolled beams when steel became available in the late 1860s and 1870s. Cast iron continued to be used in railway under bridges, and there were a number of serious failures involving loss of life. The most serious accident occurred in 1879 with the Tay Bridge disaster when the center part of the bridge collapsed in a storm as an express train was passing over. The whole train was lost with more than 75 passengers and crew. The weakest parts of the bridge were cast iron lugs holding tie bars in place, and cast iron in new bridges was effectively abandoned after the disaster.

In the late 19th century modern steel was developed, and it proved more suitable than cast iron for structural and support purposes. Many of the innovations of the cast iron period were carried over to the new steel frame buildings, and were essential to the development of the modern skyscraper. But in 2001, the disasters of the World Trade Center proved that structural steel melts under intense heat and fire. We are reinventing the wheel over and over.

Thank you to Wikipedia for components of this blog.

Are you familiar with those 19th century architectural Victorian works in your hometown?

 

 

 

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