The Skyscraper Museum is devoted to the study of high-rise building, past, present, and future. The Museum explores tall buildings as objects of design, products of technology, sites of construction, investments in real estate, and places of work and residence. This site will look better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.


Nina Rappaport and Sarah Gephart, MGMT Design

Technology, culture, social issues, and economics influence architectural design and production. This timeline presents a broader context for the vertical urban factory by relating innovations in industrial buildings (blue), with technology (yellow), management techniques (green), and culture (brown) from the Industrial Revolution to the present. The vertical urban factories featured in the exhibition are noted with an asterisk.

Why build tall factories? From the first sugar houses of colonial New York and the textile mills of the early 19th century, factories were often the tallest buildings in a town. They were tall to harness the energy from water- or steam-powered machinery and concentrated to maximize their use of space on expensive city land located near markets, water transport, rail lines, and workers. Traditional masonry construction, with windows as large as the material allowed, was the norm. Most often engineers, builders, or owners designed factories, not architects.

From the mid-19th century, innovations in materials and construction techniques using iron, steel, and concrete began to transform factory design, making the structure and interiors lighter and more open, as well as less expensive to build. New machinery and methods of manufacturing such as gravity-flow systems and assembly lines also brought greater productivity and economies of scale, thereby expanding consumer markets. By the early 20th century, the new "daylight factory"-- a simple frame structure of reinforced concrete with large expanses of window and open floors-- had become standard. As architectural historian Reyner Banham observed of these engineering advances ". . . the dynamic of building in a market economy at the time of rapid technological advance would produce every aspect of an architectural revolution except revolutionary intent."

The "factory aesthetic" of Modernism developed in the 1910s and '20s in the work of avant-garde Europeans such as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and other Bauhaus designers who embraced industrial materials and radical simplicity as the expressive vocabulary of the new Machine Age. Modernists designed important factory commissions and elevated the idea and image of the factory into the realm of Architecture, influencing other building types. As factories proliferated, they changed the shape of cities. The negative effects of their pollution triggered the first zoning codes in history, which segregated factories from other uses and created industrial clusters often set apart from city life. With cheaper land, labor, ease of truck transit, and networked logistics hubs, most American and European manufacturing moved to the suburbs or industrial parks. The de-industrialization of Western cities continued, as globalized workflows brought factories to foreign cities, which offered even cheaper land and labor costs. The outsourcing, off-shoring, and supply-chaining that characterize today's "flat" economy have placed factories in new urban contexts, raising new environmental and ethical concerns.

If architects can design factories to incorporate the new technologies, common spaces, and amenities reflected in new worker-friendly environments, why not rethink their place within the urban context? In the future, cleaner and greener production methods could make vertical factories the new engines of urban revitalization, encouraging both economic growth and urban vitality.

The efficient, profitable, and fluid factory process is a longstanding goal of manufacturers. In 1782, Virginia inventor Oliver Evans designed the first vertically integrated machine for processing flour; raw materials flowed in, and the finished product flowed out. In subsequent manufacturing systems-- from 19th century innovations in interchangeable parts and Ford's 1913 assembly lines, to Just-in-Time production of the 1960s and more recent robotic automation and mass customization-- factory spaces and worker organization were reconfigured. Now, with the advent of Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing (CAD/CAM), product design can flow from computer to production line, stimulating flexible networked manufacturing systems.

In the 19th century, while some entrepreneurs established their own "utopian" company towns to house workers, a crisis in urban working conditions inspired numerous analytic studies aimed at labor reform. Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, and Max Weber analyzed the workplace to improve unsafe and unsanitary conditions. On the company side, efforts to improve performance and profit led to efficiency research by sociologists such as Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and Frederick W. Taylor, who developed the field of Scientific Management, publishing an influential book in 1911 on time-motion studies that calibrated the most efficient production of workers on the assembly line. From the late 19th century, workers rallied for fundamental human rights through collective actions such as the Haymarket Riots in Chicago (1886), the Pullman Strike (1894); the general strike in Britain (1926); and sit-down strikes in Flint, Michigan (1937). The rise of unions around the world sparked movements to abolish child labor, establish a minimum wage, eliminate unpaid overtime, and increase workplace safety. Unionization segregated trained and untrained labor, allowing skilled workers to make innovations on the production line but ignoring unskilled laborers. Further labor issues developed as industry computerized in the 1960s, transforming the factory into a machine.