Without technical innovations the building of the many new and large structures of the 19th century would not have been possible.
From the latter part of the 18th century a series of innovations and inventions reshaped architecture.
Many saw their birth or early development in Liverpool due, in part, to the city’s stupendous commercial expansion that attracted entrepreneurs experiment architecturally in a less oppressive climate than found in London. Five key developments are listed below.
The use of 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 the view of the preacher. The earliest examples in Liverpool were St Anne's Church (built in 1772 but now demolished) and the Church of St James (1774). From these small beginnings sprang the great iron structures of the 19th century. There was even something of craze to display cast iron from ever larger castings, as can be seen in the frontispiece of the classical Tuscan portico of the Dock Traffic Office at the Albert Dock. 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.
The ability to make buildings fireproof:
Fireproof construction was developed in the factories of the North West and in the great warehouses of Liverpool. The Albert Dock Warehouses are a fine example being built entirely of stone, brick and iron. There was no inflammable timber in the whole building.
The use of a thin cladding to keep out the weather:
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 (1804-1884) 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 stone. The result is one of the first examples of modern architecture and an ancestor of present day glass-clad office buildings.
The use of 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. The Americans began to do this in New York and Chicago. The earliest example of steel framed building in Britain was probably the Ritz Hotel in London and Liverpool soon followed with the White Star Offices (1897, James Street) and the Royal Insurance Company Building (1897 – 1903, North John Street). The first really large office building in the world reinforced concrete frame was the Royal Liver Building.
The idea of making buildings out of large prefabricated panels:
Finally, came the idea of omitting a frame and using a series of prefabricated reinforced concrete panels for support. This was pioneered by Alexander Brodie (1858-19341), Liverpool’s City Engineer from 1898 to 1925, who invented and used such a system on the flats at Eldon Street (1905) and on the tram stables at Walton (1906, Queens Drive/Rice Lane). The idea did not really catch on in England 1909 but was taken up all over the world, particularly in the countries of Eastern Europe.