Without prior technical innovations the building of the many new and large structures of the late 19th century/early 20th century would not have been possible.
From the latter part of the 18th century a series of innovations and inventions reshaped architecture.
Iron was used in industrial buildings throughout Britain, however these were primarily for fireproofing reasons with the odd columns being structural. This advanced to more extensive structural systems with partial frames being introduced. Many innovations saw their birth or early development in Liverpool partly due to:
1. The city's meteoric commercial expansion attracting entrepreneurs that experimented architecturally in a more liberal climate than found in London.
2. Having iron foundries geared towards the local shipbuildings industry. These inventive iron workers, were at the leading edge of technology and innovation filling the need for more advanced and larger ships to trade the world cheaper and quicker. They built some of the world's first iron ships and were eager to expand their markets into other fields.
These two points merged to advance building innovation. The key building blocks of the modern multi-floor building were developed primarily in the city of Liverpool. Key developments are listed below.
Iron to Hold Up buildings:
This began with the idea of using thin iron columns to support encircling galleries in churches in order to minimise obstruction to view the preacher. The earliest examples in Liverpool were St Anne's church in Liverpool, built in 1772 but now demolished, and the now unused church of St James' in 1774. The thin iron columns supporting the balcony can be seen and the clear spacious interior created:
Below: The disused St. James' Church:
"The Iron Church", St. George's Church, Everton, Liverpool, 1814, by Rickman. Built on the highest point in Liverpool, this church uses an iron frame although some walls are structural. The roof window frames and tracery are iron.
The first building using prefabricated iron on a large scale for building frames and windows with a view to re-using the moulds for subsequent buildings to lower costs and give large uninterrupted interior spaces. Many of the casts were reused for St. Michael's church.
Below: St. George's Church:
Below: The ornamented structural ironwork inside "The Iron Church":
Below: St Michael's Church, Liverpool, 1815, also by Rickman, has a complete iron frame using many of the iron casting moulds of St. George's Church. The building was intended as a prototype for churches which could be easily erected on difficult terrain. A part of the design accommodated easily added extensions, as was the case with St. Michaels. The church was built on an iron plinth with slate covering. Even the parapets and pinnacles are cast iron with the pink colours a coating of rustproofing paint. These experimental structures were promoted by the Mersey Forge, who made cannons and other ironwork mainly associated with shipbuilding. In 1845 the Forge constructed an unnamed 'huge gun', 13 feet long, for the American frigate 'Princetown'.
Below: the interior of St. Micheal's Church:
From these small beginnings sprang the great iron and steel structures of the 19th century. Cast iron was also used, as in Rickman's churches, in prefabricated sections. This had advantages in that buildings using iron and prefabrication were fireproof, quick to erect, had the potential to be mass produced and, unlike brick and stone buildings that took about a year to dry out, they were dry and ready for use on completion. A number of iron kit churches were made and exported to various parts of the British Empire.
There was even a move to display cast iron from ever larger castings, as can be seen in the front piece of the classical Tuscan portico of the Dock Traffic Office at Liverpool's Albert Dock.
The pediment and portico of giant Tuscan columns is built entirely of cast iron:
Fireproof construction was developed in the factories of the North West of England and in the great warehouses of Liverpool. The Albert Dock Warehouses are a fine example being built entirely of stone, brick and hollow cast-iron columns. There are no flammable materials in the whole complex.
Light Cladding to Keep The Weather Out - The Glass Curtain Wall
In the past, the walls of building had had been part of its structural strength. The idea of cladding a building with a thin waterproof membrane seems to have been thought out by Peter Ellis, a local Liverpool architect, and first used in his design for the Oriel Chambers office building in 1864. This had an iron frame clad with thin panels of glass and decorative stone. The result is one of the first examples of modern architecture and the mother of present day glass curtain wall office buildings.
Large Steel and Concrete Frames To Construct Multi-Storey Buildings:
To build the skyscrapers needed to house the great offices required by commerce, it was necessary to devise a frame of steel or reinforced concrete. New York and Chicago started to building taller buildings after the elevator was invented. Many example were built with many of the initial buildings swaying far too much entailing quick frame re-designs. The first really large office building in the world of reinforced concrete frame was the Royal Liver Building at Liverpool. The construction method was used in many of the early to mid 20th century New York and Chicago Towers.
The Liver Buildings under construction with the Lusitania in front:
The Liver Buildings today:
Building With Large Prefabricated Panels
Finally, the idea of omitting a frame and using a series of prefabricated reinforced concrete panels for support was introduced. Buildings like a pack of cards. This was pioneered by John Brodie, Liverpool's City Engineer from 1898 to 1925, who invented and used such a system on the apartments at Eldon Street, Liverpool, in 1905 and on the tram stables at Walton in 1906. The idea was not taken up extensively in Britain, however was adopted all over the world, particularly in Eastern Europe.
Below: Eldon Street Apartments, Liverpool. Sadly, now demolished:
Below: Eldon Street Apartments under construction. A frame was built around the site to crane the panels in:
The Milestone Steel Framed Buildings:
1. Ditherington Flax Mill at Shrewsbury, England. 1796. This was a partial iron framed building with some outer walls being structural. The building extended the use of iron in industrial buildings which had been used in lesser forms for fireproofing and structural use, mainly around Derbyshire. The building was used until 1987, and was in danger of demolition, however English Heritage have saved the building.
2. Greene's Boat House, Sheerness, Kent, England. 1858. The first building with a true rigid iron frame, with no load bearing masonry, at the naval dockyard. This building was a four storey, three bay frame 64 metres by 41 metres by 16 metres high.
3. Oriel Chambers, Liverpool, England. 1864 The first glass curtain walled building. An office building with an iron frame and a glass curtain wall - the complete and final model of the modern skyscraper.
4. Other Buildings Worthy of Mention
John Root, the architect who designed many of the early Chicago skyscrapers was studying in Liverpool at the time Oriel Chambers was constructed. He built the Reliance Building in Chicago in 1895, reputed to be the first skyscraper. Buildings were restricted to five floors in height as most people would not walk up more than this height. The invention of the elevator and piped heating systems, meant Root could build upwards in a steel frame. The outer cladding of the Reliance Building was structural in stiffening the frame, unlike the cladding of Oriel Chambers, which was merely to keep the weather out and allow light to project deep into the building. Even the oriel windows echo Oriel Chambers in Liverpool.
The Reliance Building is 14 floors which is not so remarkable. A number of late 1700/early1800s Liverpool warehouses were 13 floors, however built of brick. It was the construction technique of the Reliance Building that was so remarkable.
The remarkable massive Crystal Palace of 1851, in London, was iron framed and glass walls, but not multi-floor, so not so influential in promoting the multi-floor skyscraper. However it pointed the way forwards. It was unbolted and moved from Hyde Park in central London to a park in South London, being destroyed by fire in 1939: