Ferro em Mumford (1938)

One must of course equally set aside the charming tapestry of the Middle Ages, composed by Pugin, Ruskin, Morris, and similar writers: they often treated intentions as if they were facts and ideals [14] as if they were realizations. Above all, this version forgets that if the Middle Ages were governed by bold warriors and patient craftsmen, it was likewise a period of embryonic capitalist enterprise and audacious technical improvements: eager merchants, adventurous entrepreneurs, canny inventors: a period that invented the mechanical clock, made radical improvements in mining, sailing, and military attack, and learned to cast iron and manufacture glass spectacles and utilize physical energy on a scale never before achieved by any other civilization (Mumford 1938:13-4)

Beneath the revival of industry that took place between the eleventh and the thirteenth century was a fact of more fundamental economic importance: the immense extension of arable land and the application to the land of more adequate methods of husbandry. Wooded areas in Germany, a wilderness in the ninth century, gave way to plowland; the Low Countries, which had supported only a handful of dejected fishermen, were taken over and transformed into one of the richest productive soils in Europe. As early as 1150 the first polders, land reclaimed from marsh or sea by means of dykes, were created in Flanders. (Agricultural irrigation was practiced in Milan as early as 1179.) The breeding of horses, the invention of an improved harness and the use of the iron horseshoe, the spread of querns, water mills, and windmills-these improvements endowed the new communities with relatively vast sources of power. This not merely transformed mining and metallurgy: it removed the need for servile labor and added to the surplus of human energies that had always existed in the more favored regions. (Mumford 1938:22)

The fact that the burgher house served as workshop, store, and counting house prevented any zoning between these functions. The competition for space between the domestic and the working quarters, as business grew and the scale of production expanded, was also perhaps responsible for encroachment over the original back gardens by sheds, storage bins, and special workshops. Mass production and the concentration of looms in great sheds was known in [40] Flanders in the: fourteenth century, and operations like fulling, milling, glassmaking, and iron-making required a more isolated type of workshop: in these industries came the earliest break between living and working. But at first the family pattern dominated industry, just as it dominated the organization of the Benedictine monastery. Survivals of this regime lingered on in every European city: the habit of “living in” long retained by London drapers, with the men and the women divided into dormitories, was a typical holdover from the Middle Ages. (Mumford 1938:39-40)

Down to the fifteenth century, defense had the upper hand over assault. Alberti’s advanced treatise on city planning, published posthumously, did not reckon with cannon, and the new art of fortification played but a minor role. Indeed, artillery was so imperfect and was used with so little skill at first that, as Guicciardini remarks, the besieging of towns was slow and uncertain; and until the French invasion of Italy under Charles VIII, with an unprecedented number of troops, 60,000, and with iron cannonballs instead of stone, all moving at a hitherto unheard-of speed – until this happened cities were on equal terms, or rather more than equal terms, with the attacking parties. Thereafter, conditions were reversed: while a non-explosive stone or iron ball, which the defender’s cannon could employ, did but little harm when dropped among companies of men, it could do great damage when used in assault for breaking open a wall or dropping through a roof. The new artillery of the late fifteenth century made cities vulnerable. (Mumford 1938:83)

City building, in the formal sense, was an embodiment of the prevalent drama and thema that shaped itself in the court: it was, in effect, a collective embellishment of the life and gestures of the palace. The palace faced two ways. From the urban side came rent, tribute, taxes, control of the army and control of the organs of the state; from the countryside came the well-built, well-exercised, wellfed, well-sexed men and women who formed the body of the court and who received honors, emoluments, and the perquisites the king magnanimously bestowed. Power and pleasure, a dry abstract order and an effulgent sensuality, were the two poles of this life. Mars and Venus were the presiding deities, until Vulcan finally cast his cunning iron net of utilitarianism over their concupiscent forms. (Mumford 1938:108)

These practical common-sense advances in city development were burked by the prevailing ideology; for “progressive” ideas gave authority and economic power to the big city. The ruin of the balanced region, with a multitude of small cities and villages connected by a network of canals and roads, and amply supplied with water and wind power, has been little noted in political history. I have pointed out in Technics and Civilization how the earlier invention of a more efficient prime mover, Fourneyron’s water turbine and the turbine windmill, might perhaps have provided the coal mine and the iron mine with serious technical competitors, based on a further development of eotechnic methods. With the co-ordinate development of science, this might easily have led directly into the present neotechnic phase of industry. While it is useless to linger over these vanished possibilities, one would be blind to ignore the fact that they once existed. For no one can know this period and its urban culture who is not conscious of the strange eddies and counter currents that ruffie the stream of actual events. (Mumford 1938:142)

Yet the triumph of the iron discipline of the machine was not complete. The repressive regimentation that entered the new factories was counterbalanced by the tremendous release from restrictive regulations of all kinds that attended the free movements of peoples over the face of the earth. Within the state there were similar contradictions. The French Revolution looked like a triumph of popular democracy over aristocratic privilege: at least a victory of the middle classes. But it was this revolution that created that hitherto unheard of engine of destruction, the National Army, and introduced recruitment by popular conscription: it gave the rulers of the state a power that the most absolute princes had rarely dared to exercise. (Mumford 1938:144)

From the eighteen-thirties on, the environment of the mine, once restricted to the original site, was universalized by the railroad. Wherever the iron rails went, the mine and its debris went with them. Whereas the canals of the eotechnic phase, with their locks and bridges and toll-houses, with their trim banks and their gliding barges, had brought a new element of beauty into the rural landscape, the railroads of the paleotechnic phase made huge gashes: the cuts and embankments for the greater part long remained unplanted, and the wound in the earth was unhealed. The rushing locomotives brought noise, smoke, grit, into the hearts of the towns: more than one superb urban site, like Prince’s Gardens in Edinburgh, was desecrated by the invasion of the railroad. And the factories that grew up alongside the railroad sidings mirrored the slatternly environment of the railroad itself. If it was in the mining town that the characteristic process of Abbau – mining or un-building – was seen at its purest, it was by means of the railroad that this process was extended by the third quarter of the nineteenth century to almost every industrial community. (Mumford 1938:150)

If the steam factory, producing for the world market, was the first factor that tended to increase the area of urban congestion, the new railroad transportation system, after 1830, greatly abetted it. Power was concentrated on the coal fields. Where coal could be mined or stored or obtained by cheap means of transportation, industry could produce regularly throughout the year without stoppages through seasonal failure of power. In a business system based upon time contracts and time-payments, this regularity was highly important. Coal and iron exercised a gravitational pull on many subsidiary and accessory industries: first by means of the canal, and after 1830, through the new railroads. A direct connection with the mining areas was a prime condition of urban concentration: to this day the chief commodity carried by railroads is coal for heat and power. (Mumford 1938:159)

Population growth, then, during the paleotechnic regime, showed two characteristic patterns: a general massing on the coal areas, where the new heavy industries, iron and coal mining, smelting, cutlery, hardware production, glass manufacture, and machine building flourished. And in addition a partly derivative thickening of population along the new railroad lines, with a definite clotting in the new industrial centers along the great trunk lines and a further massing in the greater junction towns and export terminals. Along with this went a thinning out of population and a running down of activities in the backcountry: the falling off of local mines, quarries, and furnaces, and the diminishing use of highways, canals, small factories, local mills. (Mumford 1938:160)

The factory usually claimed the best sites: mainly, in the cotton industry, the chemical industries, and the iron industries, the sites near a waterfront; for large quantities of water were needed now in the processes of production, supplying the steam boilers, cooling hot surfaces, making the necessary chemical solutions and dyes. Above all, the river or canal had still another important function: it was the cheapest and most convenient dumping ground for all soluble or semi-soluble forms of waste. The transformation of the rivers into open sewers was a characteristic feat of the paleotechnic economy. Result: poisoning of the aquatic life: destruction of food: befouling of water so it was unfit to bathe in. (Mumford 1938:161)

For generations, the members of every “progressive” urban community were forced to pay for the sordid convenience of the manufacturer, who often, it happened, consigned precious by-products to the river, for lack of the scientific knowledge or the empirical skill to use them. If the river was a liquid dumpheap, great mounds of [162] ashes, slag, rubbish, rusty iron, and even garbage blocked the horizon with their vision of misplaced and unusable matter. The rapidity of production was in part matched by the rapidity of consumption, and before a conservative policy of scrap utilization became profitable, the formless or deteriorated end-products were cast back over the surface of the landscape. One might almost measure the “prosperity” of the paleotechnic community by the size of its scrapheaps and junkpiles. (Mumford 1938:161-2)

If the absence of plumbing and municipal sanitation created frightful stenches in these new urban quarters, and if the spread of exposed excrement, together with seepage into local wells, meant a corresponding spread of typhoid, the lack of water was even more sinister. It removed the very possibility of domestic cleanliness or personal hygiene. Even in the big capital cities, where some of the old municipal traditions still lingered, no adequate provision for water was made in the new areas. In 1809, when London’s population was about a million, water was available over the greater part of the city only in the basements of houses. In some quarters, water could be turned on for only three days in a week. And though iron pipes made their appearance in 1746, they were not extensively used until a special act in England in 1817 required that all new mains be built of iron after ten years. (Mumford 1938:166)

The age of invention and mass production scarcely touched the worker’s house or its utilities. Iron piping came in; likewise the improved water closet; eventually the gas light and the gas stove, the stationary bathtub with attached water pipes and fixed outlets; a collective water system with running water available for every house, and a collective sewage system. All these improvements slowly became available to the middle and upper economic groups after 1830; within a generation of their introduction they indeed became middle class necessities. But at no point during the paleotechnic phase were these improvements made available to the mass of the population. The problem for the builder was to achieve a modicum of decency without these new expensive utilities. This problem remained soluble only in terms of a primitive rural environment. Thus the original division of Muncie, Indiana, the Middletown of Robert Lynd’s survey, had houses eight to a block, each on a lot sixty-two and a half feet wide and a hundred and twenty-five feet deep. This certainly provided better conditions for the poorer workers than what followed when rising land values crowded the houses and narrowed the garden space and the play space, and one out of four houses still lacked running water. In general, the congestion of the industrial town increased the difficulties in the way of good housing, and added to the cost of overcoming these difficulties. (Mumford 1938:169)

Night spread over the coal-town: its prevailing color was black. Black clouds of smoke rolled out of the factory chimneys, and the railroad yards, which often cut clean into the town, mangling the very organism, spread soot and cinders everywhere. The invention of artificial illuminating gas was an indispensable aid to this spread: Murdock’s invention dates back to the end of the eighteenth century, [192] and during the next generation its use widened, first in factories, then in homes, first in big cities, later in small centers; for without its aid work would frequently have been stopped by smoke and fog. The manufacture of illuminating gas within the confines of the towns became a characteristic new feature: the huge gas tanks reared their bulk over the urban landscape, great structures, on the scale of a cathedral: indeed, their tracery of iron, against an occasional clear lemon-green sky at sunrise, was one of the most pleasant esthetic elements in the new order. (Mumford 1938:191-2)

[TOP RIGHT] London market: continuation of the busy huckstering of the medieval town. Like the Halles in Paris, this building shows current technical innovations: slender iron posts, sheet iron and glass roof. Growth and concentration of the food market was an inevitable accompaniment of paleotechnic city agglomeration: but only a few cities, like Baltimore, continued the tradition of the large, centralized neighborhood market. (See Zola’s Le Ventre de Paris.) (Mumford 1938:197)

The age demanded new forms, for new functions had come into life, and a multitude of new associations and organizations, a new kind of civic ritual, had grown up in the city-along with a new attitude toward the universe and a new feeling for nature. None of these demands could be framed or satisfied in the old forms: none of these new feelings could be symbolized in a Roman column or in a gothic vault. When the architects of the period resurrected old symbols, they felt the plutonian touch of this new society: in spirit, if not in material, they turned to iron. Only in their plans – as Dr. Behrendt has shown in relation to Persius – did they advance to [201] contemporary ground. Byzantine cottages and Swiss chalets, Italian villas and Moorish palaces, began to fill the Victorian landscape in the villa quarters around the British and the American cities. Germany, more insulated before 1870, attempted with sentimental clumsiness to recapture architectural “Bilder aus der deutschen Vergangenheit.” (Mumford 1938:200-1)

Meanwhile, the only contemporary style that manifested vitality, that of the mechanical age itself, was carefully kept out of the architect’s training. Even the engineer, seeking confirmation from the esthete, bashfully hid his clean forms under melancholy iron foliage. And as if the architectural picture itself was not sufficiently chaotic, a crisscross of telegraph wires, trolley poles, railroad bridges, [202] elevated structures, and competitive advertisements completed the visual disorder. (Mumford 1938:201-2)

There was however one department of building that occasionally showed something better than picturesque sprawl or dead standardized ugliness: that which was based upon the use of iron. Here, if anywhere, the paleotechnic period excelled; and here it found its first approach to a coherent form, in the planning and building of its great iron structures. (Mumford 1938:205)

Inevitably, when the utilitarians thought of forms for their new [206] industrial fabrics, they thought either of converting iron into natural materials, or natural materials into iron. The first impulse was silly: the imitations in cheap woods and metals of the grain of a fine natural wood was a typical triumph of cheap romantic decoration, like the translation of stucco into marble in the baroque period: Schinkel actually brought this perversity back to Germany from England. But the other impulse was honest enough, given the new necessities of life and the new powers of the machine. In discussing the architecture of the new Smithsonian Institution, Robert Dale Owen predicted that the time would come when iron would be commonly used in all sorts of buildings. Long before, Faustus Verantius in the sixteenth century had suggested that iron might be used for walls and for the roofs of big buildings, like churches. (Mumford 1938:205-6)

At last these predictions and hopes were fulfilled. Toward the end of the eighteenth century the first iron bridge in the Western World – China had long known them – was built over the Severn. And early in the nineteenth century iron was used to frame the roof of the Central Markets in Paris; for iron‘s great quality in spanning space, its strength in cross section both under compression and tension, gave it a special place in such structures. The first original step in the application of iron to building, however, came toward the end of the eighteenth century in England: the erection of glass and iron conservatories. Such hot-houses were an eotechnic invention: Albertus Magnus, who had a reputation in the thirteenth century for being a magician, showed flowers growing in mid-winter to one of his visitors – presumably in a glass hot-house. And these conservatories, either as an annex to the house or a special feature of the garden, had become common in the great country houses of France and England. (Mumford 1938:206)

This effort finally crystallized – and the symbolism is appropriate in every respect – in the design of the Crystal Palace in London by Joseph Paxton, the engineer, who had achieved his reputation as a builder of hot-houses. The great Crystal Palace in Hyde Park sheltered the Industrial Exhibition of 1851, the first such exhibition to be conducted on an international scale. Both as a technical feat and as an imaginative application of modern design to modern materials, the Crystal Palace was perhaps the foremost contribution to [207] building that had been made since the development of the ogive and the flying buttress. For the heavy forms of masonry it substituted the relative lightness of the iron skeleton; for the solid masses and enclosures of the old-fashioned supporting walls, the new design substituted open space bounded by mere filaments of glass. What was spacious became more spacious by interposing only the lines of construction between the eye and the landscape or sky without. (Mumford 1938:206-7)

In the thirteenth century cathedrals, in the sixteenth century mansions and townhouses, in the early nineteenth century dwellings in England, people had not been afraid of such broad surfaces of glass. Now, however, they cowered a little before the possibilities that their mechanical triumphs had opened up to them. When the time came to translate Paxton’s daring initiatives into other buildings in the city, the result was a disappointment. James Buckingham, most energetic of Victorian utopian writers, might imagine a new city whose avenues would be covered by iron and glass arcades: such arcades might even be built here and there as an annex to the shopping parade, from Naples to Westminster. But there was no real congruence between this imaginative architectural form and the new environment. (Mumford 1938:207)

Need I stress the reason? Glass is of all possible building materials the one that most requires a clean atmosphere. Its smooth surface does not absorb dirt and grime, but permits it visibly to accumulate, and in the act of accumulation it loses its own best qualities. Glass could be at its best in the eotechnic Dutch town, woven around canals, with plenty of water and little smoke: but in the paleotechnic town it was in downright contradiction to the rest of the environment: however cheap its original cost, the upkeep in cleaning was prohibitive. Even the brightest of iron and glass department stores, such as the Bon Marche in Paris, speedily looked a little dingy. (Mumford 1938:207)

Ironically enough, the Victorian blindness to the visible environment exhibited its opacities most profoundly in the use of glass. For the only type of building in which Paxton’s construction was repeatedly used was the dirtiest spot in town; the railroad station: the last place where glass could be used with profit. Most of the trainhalls of the new stations were great sheds of glass and iron. From the St. Pancras Station in London, built as early as 1866, to the later [208] stations like that at Frankfort-am-Main or Hamburg, these structures were often, in the abstract, very handsome-especially those built after the great Hall of Machines in the Paris Exposition of 1889 had achieved something like a perfect engineering and architectural solution of the problem of spanning the space. (Mumford 1938:207-8)

But the actual effect of the glass sheds was to keep the smoke and effluvia of the locomotives from being dissipated at once into the surrounding air: hence they produced the maximum concentration of choking gases and dust, to welcome the stranger or speed the parting guest. Meanwhile the glass covering became almost as opaque to the sun’s rays as it would have been if solid iron or brick had been used instead. In short, the misuse was ludicrous. Small wonder that these new types of construction awaited for fuller use the technological improvements that produced the neotechnic phase: electricity, the distillation of coal, smokeless cities. (Mumford 1938:208)

In the eighteen-forties a New York engineer, James Bogardus, had introduced iron members as supporting columns and had greatly opened the face of commercial buildings. Now iron was added for the horizontal beams; and since iron rapidly loses strength under heat, the metal members were surrounded by a fire-resistant material. When these various parts were articulated together, as was first done theoretically by Leroy Buffington and practically by Major Jenney in Chicago, first in the Home Insurance Building (1885) and [209] completely in the Leiter Building (1889), an entirely new type of construction appeared: the iron cage and the curtain wall. This translated into colossal paleotechnic forms the vernacular frame and clapboard construction of the old American farmhouse. The outer wall became a mere boundary of the interior space, as in the Crystal Palace itself; instead of the building’s being a shell, it became essentially a skeleton – a skeleton with internal organs for equalizing the temperature and for circulation, with a tough external skin. (Mumford 1938:208-9)

[MIDDLE] Crystal Palace: the design of a hot-house builder, Joseph Paxton. This glass and iron structure heralded an epoch. (Photograph: Ewing Galloway) (Mumford 1938:213)

But after allowance is made for these lapses, the fact remains that the suburb served as an experimental seedbed for the new domestic architecture. It was in the suburban house that Richardson made his decisive advance toward a new architecture, and after him, Frank Lloyd Wright; it was in the suburb that Sitte effectively applied his post-baroque doctrines of the discontinuous street, and thus made one of the first systematic efforts to insulate the new domestic quarters from through-traffic. By economizing on paving, curbing, wide roadways, and similar extravagant utilities, the suburb often created a far better residential scheme than the city: the money thus saved could go directly into trees, gardens, open spaces. Simple natural forms were less expensive than mechanical substitutes: no small discovery in an age that believed that iron piping was cheaper than privet hedges, or paper flowers, made in sweatshops, more commendable than those grown in the earth. (Mumford 1938:214)

Two points should be noted about this new type of community. First it was a segregated community, not merely set apart topographically from the central areas of a city: but its occupants were laterally segregated from other economic classes. Except for a small detail of tradesmen and handymen, the suburb was a one-class community: it boasted, in fact, of its “exclusiveness” – which means, sociologically speaking, of the fact that it was not and could not become a city. Further, suburban living encouraged a complete segregation of consumption from production: there was no visible connecting link, except the iron rails that led to the city, between the barbarous industries that manufactured the goods and the romantic suburban homes, remote from the grime and the sweat, where these things were consumed. (Mumford 1938:215)

In creating a better biological environment, however, the builders of the suburb failed to take account of the need for a more adequate social environment. On the contrary, the suburb usually fell off from even the low standards of Coketown: it started a depoliticizing process that has been steadily spreading as the suburb itself has been spreading throughout our civilization. The suburb was a “Teilstadt,” a specialized urban fragment: just as much so as the meanest coal town, iron town, cotton town. Hence it lacked the necessary elements for extensive social cooperation, for creative intercourse, for an expansion of the social heritage as a whole. Consuming much, it produced little, created less. The stimulus of variety, the shock and jostle and challenge of different groups, were largely absent from its life. For the inhabitants of the suburb lived divided lives. Their purses were in the central city; their domestic affections were concentrated one or two hours away, in the villa. Neither side of their lives could be wholly active, wholly efficient. The necessary routine, with its daily shuttling between home and workplace, between nest and market, undermined life at both extremes. Spatial concentration has an essential part to play in psychological focus – and that above all was lacking in this new regime. (Mumford 1938:217)

But when blight sets in the opposite process happens. The inhabitants or the owners of buildings can no longer pay their share of municipal taxes; the street-cleaning department tends to overlook the more run-down neighborhoods, where the need for public hygiene is often worst, and even the fire inspectors and sanitary inspectors become lax: the repairs needed to keep blighted properties up to standard would do away with what little profits may remain in the investment, and so, by indifference or collusion or bribery, the city officials permit the blight to deepen. Roofs leak; plaster cracks on the walls; toilets fall into disrepair; pools of water gather in the cellar; the little patches of green, that once served as playgrounds disappear, covered over with cinders, torn paper, discarded boxes, twisted bedsprings and broken iron. What may have been once a street of fine mansions – such as Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, or parts of the South Side in Chicago – is converted into low quarters, boarding houses and tenements, usually crowded, often filthy. The last stage is depopulation: deserted houses, in ruins: no rents: no taxes: a vast economic and civic liability (Mumford 1938:246)

If the vitality of an institution may be gauged by its architecture, the department store was one of the most vital institutions in this metropolitan regime. One of the first large buildings to employ iron columns instead of a masonry wall was the A. T. Stewart department store in New York; while Schinkel’s design for a Berlin department [262] store in the eighteen-thirties, though never executed, was far ahead of the labored traditionalism of Messel’s overpraised Wertheim store in Berlin. Finally, one of the best utilitarian buildings of the early twentieth century, a radical departure in design, was the Schlesinger and Meyer Building (now Carson, Pirie, and Scott) in Chicago. (Mumford 1938:259/62)

[TOP LEFT] Beginning of the typical metropolitan day: descent into Hades: in this instance the Paris Metro, with Art Nouveau decoration in iron that marks the neotechnic phase of subway building: the first underground being a coal-smudged inferno built in London in 1860. Underground quarters become part of the normal environment of the metropolis: repeated in effect even above ground. (Photograph: Ewing Galloway) (Mumford 1938:261)

From the eighties onward there was no lack of vigorous and intelligently conceived individual buildings; but at first the esthetic conception prevailed over the more comprehensive social conception, which includes the esthetic as but one of its ingredients. One sees the danger of a purely esthetic formulation of the problem in the rise of the new style toward the end of the nineteenth century: the style called Art Nouveau in France and Jugendstil in Germany. The two main technical examples of this form were embodied in printing and in jewelry; and in the latter department, indeed, one is conscious of the benign influence of woman, never wholly at ease in the powerworld of the machine, turning instinctively to the symbols of life: flowers and fruit and her own naked body. L’Art Nouveau was an early attempt to incorporate biological symbolism in the arts. In architecture, it disdained straight lines and rigid geometric surfaces: it cultivated wavy lines, lines of growth and free movement: the designer turned electroliers into sprays of metallic flowers, and a simple balustrade railing into a descending foam of metallic waves. The first marks of this type of floral ornament were to be found in the old iron bridges, and before its expression in the furniture of Bing at the Paris Fair of 1900 it had left its marks on the base of the Eiffel Tower. (Mumford 1938:411)

Let us begin with the most elementary statement of economy: modern means of construction. Under past systems of architecture the actual strength and mass of a structure was determined by empiric practice: if a tower fell down, its foundations were too feeble or its top too heavy: a bad guess. Not merely is there a considerable range of difference between the strength of various natural materials; but there existed no reliable means for working out the tensile and compression strengths of various types of members: indeed, in some of their temples the Greeks, eager to reinforce their stones, carved channels for iron rods that actually weakened the structure. (Mumford 1938:416)

MUMFORD, Lewis. 1938. The Culture of Cities. San Diego: Harvest/HBJ.