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A factory worker in 1940s Fort Worth, Texas.
A factory (previously manufactory) or manufacturing plant is an industrial building where workers manufacture goods or supervise machines processing one product into another. Most modern factories have large warehouses or warehouse-like facilities that contain heavy equipment used for assembly line production. Archetypally, factories gather and concentrate resources — workers, capital and plant.
History of the factory
In ancient China, imperial and private workshops, mills, and small manufactories had been employed since the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771-221 BC), as noted in the historical text of the Zhou Li. During the medieval Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), independent and government sponsored industries were developed to meet the needs of a growing population that had reached over 100 million. For example, for the printing of paper money alone, the Song court established several government-run factories in the cities of Huizhou, Chengdu, Hangzhou, and Anqi. The size of the workforce employed in these paper money factories were quite large, as it was recorded in 1175 AD that the factory at Hangzhou alone employed more than a thousand workers a day. The Chinese iron industry was also expanded during the Song Dynasty, with a sixfold increase in per capita cast iron output between the years 806 and 1078 AD, meaning an overall weight of 127,000,000 kg (125,000 t) of cast iron product from state-run facilities was forged in the latter year alone.
Although large mills and manufactories were established in ancient Rome, the Venice Arsenal provides one of the first examples of a factory in the modern sense of the word. Founded in 1104 in Venice, Italy, several hundred years before the Industrial Revolution, it mass-produced ships on assembly lines using manufactured parts. The Venice Arsenal apparently produced nearly one ship every day and, at its height, employed 16,000 people.
Many historians regard Matthew Boulton's Soho Manufactory (established in 1761 in Birmingham) as the first modern factory. (Other claims might be made for John Lombe's silk mill in Derby (1721), or Richard Arkwright's Cromford Mill (1771)—purpose built to fit the equipment it held and taking the material through the various manufacturing processes.) One historian, Jack Weatherford, contends that the first factory was in Potosí, for processing silver ingot slugs into coins, because there was so much silver being mined close by. 
British colonies in the late 18th century built factories simply as buildings where a large number of workers gathered to perform hand labor, usually in textile production. This proved more efficient – for administration and for the distribution of raw materials to individual workers – than earlier methods of manufacturing such as cottage industries or the putting-out system.
Cotton mills used inventions such as the steam engine and the power loom to pioneer the industrial factory of the 19th century, where precision machine tools and replaceable parts allowed greater efficiency and less waste.
Between 1820 and 1850, the non-mechanized factories supplanted the traditional artisanal shops as the predominant form of manufacturing institution. Even though the theory on why and how the non-mechanized factories gradually replaced the small artisan shops is still ambiguous, what is apparent is that the larger-scale factories enjoyed technological gains and advance in efficiency over the small artisan shops. In fact, the larger scale forms of factory establishments were more favorable and advantageous over the small artisan shops in terms of competition for survival.
Henry Ford further revolutionized the factory concept in the early 20th century, with the innovation of mass production. Highly specialized workers situated alongside a series of rolling ramps would build up a product such as (in Ford's case) an automobile. This concept dramatically decreased production costs for virtually all manufactured goods and brought about the age of consumerism.
In the mid- to late 20th century, industrialized countries introduced next-generation factories with two improvements:
Advanced statistical methods of quality control, pioneered by the American mathematician William Edwards Deming, whom his home country initially ignored. Quality control turned Japanese factories into world leaders in cost-effectiveness and production quality.
Industrial robots on the factory floor, introduced in the late 1970s. These computer-controlled welding arms and grippers could perform simple tasks such as attaching a car door quickly and flawlessly 24 hours a day. This too cut costs and improved speed.
Some speculation as to the future of the factory includes scenarios with rapid prototyping, nanotechnology, and orbital zero-gravity facilities.
Siting the factory
Before the advent of mass transportation, factories' needs for ever-greater concentrations of workers meant that they typically grew up in an urban setting or fostered their own urbanization. Industrial slums developed, and reinforced their own development through the interactions between factories, as when one factory's output or waste-product became the raw materials of another factory (preferably nearby). Canals and railways grew as factories spread, each clustering around sources of cheap energy, available materials and/or mass markets. The exception proved the rule: even Greenfield's factory sites such as Bournville, founded in a rural setting, developed its own housing and profited from convenient communications networks.
Regulation curbed some of the worst excesses of industrialization's factory-based society, a series of Factory Acts leading the way in Britain. Trams, automobiles and town planning encouraged the separate development ('apartheid') of industrial suburbs and residential suburbs, with workers commuting between them.
Though factories dominated the Industrial Era, the growth in the service sector eventually began to dethrone them: the locus of work in general shifted to central-city office towers or to semi-rural campus-style establishments, and many factories stood deserted in local rust belts.
The next blow to the traditional factories came from globalization. Manufacturing processes (or their logical successors, assembly plants) in the late 20th century re-focussed in many instances on Special Economic Zones in developing countries or on maquiladoras just across the national boundaries of industrialized states. Further re-location to the least industrialized nations appears possible as the benefits of out-sourcing and the lessons of flexible location apply in the future.
Governing the factory
Much of management theory developed in response to the need to control factory processes. Assumption of the hierarchies of unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers and their supervisors and managers linger on.
^ Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 16-17.
^ a b Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 48.
^ Ebrey, 158.
^ Weatherford, Jack (1988). Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World. The Random House Publishing Group. ISBN 0-449-90496-2.
Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5, Part 1. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
|The Factory Architecture
of Albert Kahn
by Louis Bergeron and Maria Teresa Maiullari-Pontois
In the late nineteenth century, the industrial geography of the United States underwent a decisive shift linked to the emergence of the automobile and aeronautics industries. Already, from Pittsburgh to Buffalo to Chicago, and including Cleveland, Akron, and Toledo, a chain of regional metropolises formed that counter balanced the industrial centers of the original thirteen colonies.
In that chain, the primary link for the next half-century was Detroit, where the automobile industry originated. That industry gave rise to a true industrial revolution, which also translated into a new organization of work (Chicago had already provided a model in its meat-processing plants) and a new industrial architecture.
Detroit's glory years were 1910 to 1930. In 1929, 5.3 million automobiles were produced, and half the city's labor force worked in the industry. Spurred by a tremendous immigration movement, the population had swelled from under 300,000 in 1900 to more than 1.5 million in 1929. At that time, Detroit became the foremost industrial center in the United States.
Birth of an Industry
Contrary to a commonly held notion, it was not Henry Ford who created the automobile industry, but rather Ransom Olds. Olds, after selling his first automobile in New York in 1893, moved to Detroit in 1899. He was the inventor of the first inexpensive, mass-produced car.
At the time, automobile workers did no more than assemble the components provided by subcontractors such as Dodge, Timken, and Uniroyal. But it was Ford who adopted the idea of focusing primarily on one mass-produced product with his Model T (a code name assigned by the design department), launched in 1908 and nicknamed the "Tin Lizzie."
Nearly 15 million cars were produced in the twenty years of the Model T's existence (1908-27); following World War I, more than one new car in two produced in the United States was a Ford Model T. In addition, Ford decided to begin manufacturing all the auto parts on a single site.
Henry Ford's well-known quip, "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black," alludes to his extraordinary innovations. Before Ford revolutionized the industry, cars were luxury items, manufactured to order, according to the customer's taste, and produced by hundreds of small artisan brands. Ford inaugurated the single-model car, which was both technologically advanced and inexpensive to buy, thanks to mass production and the economy of scale.
A New Industrial Architecture
This new type of industry gave birth to a new architecture, which arose from the entirely original solutions to Ford's unprecedented demands by the architect and engineer Albert Kahn. A thirty-year intellectual exchange closely united these two self-made men, both born in 1860, even though Ford was an anti-Semite and Kahn, a humble Jewish immigrant.
The Ford Model T was first produced in Highland Park, then a suburb of Detroit. Built in 1909, the concrete factory building was several stories high, and the assembly of the car's components took place from top to bottom, with the car rolling out on the ground floor, ready to be tested.
Fifteen years later, the engineer Matte Trucco built the Fiat factory in Lingotto, Turin, a giant reinforced-concrete building that paid homage to the Highland Park model. Conversely, at the Fiat plant, the fully assembled car rolled out onto the factory roof, which had been designed as a test track. Once tested, the automobile was sent down to the ground via a monumental spiral ramp.
The Ford project was not the first order Albert Kahn had received from the automobile industry. In 1903, he had worked for Henry B. Joy, president of Packard. The construction of Shop No.10 in 1905 had given him the opportunity to use concrete, an inexpensive material that was very solid and noncombustible, guaranteeing great stability as well as rapid construction—a necessary consideration given the growth of the market.
Structure Influencing Process
In addition, the use of concrete made it possible to adapt a factory's layout to the needs of automobile construction by freeing up the floor space with fewer load-bearing supports. In Packard Shop No. 10, the interior columns were spaced 30 feet (9.1 meters) apart, an unusually large span at the time.
A more flexible space made it possible to experiment with new ways to organize the production process and demonstrated that henceforth the architect would be more concerned with the interior function of the space than with a quest for an architectural style for the facades.
The walls were characterized by enormous windows, occupying the large openings that were determined by the grid of the concrete frame. Multi-paned metal-framed windows were the dominant feature of the building's exterior.
"Architecture is 90 percent business and 10 percent art," Albert Kahn was in the habit of saying. As for Ford, he was not looking for an architectural marvel to celebrate the entrepreneur in the form of a new industrial aesthetic, but rather a design able to provide practical solutions to the specific needs of mass production. Thus, it is easy to understand the success of the collaboration between Ford and Kahn.
Rethinking the Assembly Line
The first Ford assembly line was installed on Piquette Avenue, in a building poorly suited to the assembly of the future Model T. Ford ordered a four-story shop, nearly 1000 feet (305 meters) long and only 80 feet (24 meters) wide. The change in scale was radical, compared to Packard Shop No. 10.
The facade had brick stairwells at regular intervals, which also housed elevators and restrooms for the workers. The load-bearing concrete structure rested on framing members only 20 feet (6 meters) wide, with no intermediate supporting wall.
It was in this very open space that the assembly line was perfected and finally became operational in 1913: chassis on the ground floor, auto bodies on the second floor, with the preliminary operations taking place on the third and fourth floors.
Enormous windows occupied almost all the openings in the concrete frame, thus responding to Henry Ford's requirements regarding the optimal conditions for lighting and ventilation.
His concern for cleanliness was no less keen: seven hundred employees were responsible for cleaning the shops, washing the windows, and repainting. This was the expression of his conviction that the quality of the work environment could positively affect the workers' attitudes toward their tasks.
Factory as Evolving Building Type
During a second phase of development in the mid-1910s, Ford abandoned the multistory factory concept in favor of a single-level organization of work. Even though Albert Kahn used the Highland Park model again in 1921 for the Fisher Body Company factory in Cleveland, he followed Ford's programmatic demands in their next collaboration.
Thus, on two occasions, he played an essential role in the evolution of an important industrial building type: first, in the development of the multistoried concrete-frame structure, and second, in the construction of buildings on a single level, primarily using a steel framework.
In the first stage, the Highland Park plant was integrated into a set of buildings, each of which specialized in a different operation. That meant abandoning the principle of performing all the phases under one roof, or rather, it meant making each building a component in a sort of segmented assembly line.
In 1906 Kahn had already experimented with the single-level factory in the construction of the buildings of the Pierce plant in Buffalo, in collaboration with Lockwood, Greene & Martin of Boston, to whom he introduced the entirely new technique of building concrete factories. These were seven low buildings, each corresponding to one phase of manufacturing. Thus, Ford and Kahn simply perfected a model.
The new site chosen by Ford was River Rouge, a few miles from Detroit. The essential prerequisite for the site was the construction of a canal linking the site to the Detroit River, and hence to the Great Lakes, which was able to accommodate freighters.
Building construction proper began in 1917 (continuing until 1939), in conjunction with a submarine order for the U.S. Navy; thus was born Eagle Plant, a building more than 1600 feet (490 meters) long. The area covered by the most varied shops, which ensured the business's self-sufficiency, rose from 2000 acres (800 hectares) at the outset—acreage acquired at low cost—to nearly 13 square miles (3400 hectares).
The internal port and a network of 90 miles (145 kilometers) of railways guaranteed the quickest circulation of materials and products, in order to shorten the manufacturing time as much as possible.
The floor space was considerably expanded compared to the Highland Park factory, thanks to the use of steel components for the roofs and interior columns, which were now very thick and spaced at a great distance from one another.
The parts entered at one end of the building and the car came out finished on the other, having traveled along a single moving assembly line, which was supplied laterally along the way with all the necessary components.
Albert Kahn, a revolutionary in industrial-use architecture, built about two thousand factories between 1900 and 1940, but without achieving recognition from his peers, who had little respect for utilitarian buildings that did not fit within the canon of public, civic, and residential architecture.
However, he succeeded in focusing the attention of corporate customers on his Detroit firm, which still operates under the name Albert Kahn Associates.
Kahn worked in the service of a great number of automobile manufacturers, and later of manufacturers in the aeronautics industry. Thus, he worked for Glenn Martin in Middle River, north of Baltimore, in 1929, 1937, 1939, and 1941, and in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1941.
In 1937, Glenn Martin, convinced that the wingspan of airplanes would soon reach 300 feet (91 meters), commissioned from Kahn an unobstructed space measuring 300 by 150 feet (91 by 46 meters), with one end entirely open for the finished airplane to exit through. Albert Kahn borrowed bridge technology to design steel trusses of a size previously unequaled.
Similar requirements of the techniques of industrial architecture had already been taken into account in Akron, Ohio, in 1929, with the construction of Goodyear Airdock, the largest dirigible shop and hangar in the world.
That parabolic steel structure, designed to house the erection of the large airships ordered by the U.S. Navy from the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation, still inspires awe by virtue of its dimensions—1200 feet (366 meters) long, 330 feet (100 meters) wide, 210 feet (64 meters) high—and its vast, open floor space. The largest semis look like toys at its yawning entrance.
In 1939, Glenn Martin called for a second unit contiguous to the first, and Albert Kahn completed it between February 5 and April 23.
Wartime production further increased the pressure on his firm, which was responsible for the Willow Run factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which in 1943 was the largest war factory in the world (forty-two thousand workers). Designed for the construction of Ford's B-24 bomber, the structure was more than half a mile (805 meters) long and 1300 feet (400 meters) across at its widest.
In addition, many orders were filled in Chicago, Illinois; Louisville, Kentucky; New Orleans, Louisiana; and other sites. Within the context of a military program that required minimal delays, the standardization of architectural solutions became a key advantage.
Another, no less fundamental revolution initiated by Kahn lay in the essential change in the architect's relation to his projects and to his client. Traditionally, the 19th century architect superimposed decorated facades and eclectic forms on buildings designed to house industrial work.
Later, architects of a more modern spirit, who were passionate about technology and engineering, gave the factory an avant-garde structure, but were unable to refrain from applying references to styles borrowed from other periods—hence, Peter Behrens evoked a Greek temple in the design of the AEG turbine factory in Berlin.
In both cases, the architect was faithful to a system of artistic and aesthetic sources, and to the intention of making the industrial building a pretext for the discovery of new forms containing new symbols.
The Business of Industrial Architecture
Conversely, Albert Kahn's phenomenal commercial success can be explained by the relation he was able to establish with many Detroit businessmen, in a city where he had learned his trade, and with the engineers trained at the University of Michigan.
His practical approach was to submit completely to the technical and economic requirements of the entrepreneurs and to the dictates of the new organization of work. Kahn's capacity to satisfy the demand of industries that required large amounts of space, and which had an almost frenetic growth rate, proved to be astounding.
His success can be attributed to his firm's organizational principle, in which work was entirely rationalized, from the design and supply of materials to the smallest detail of plumbing. Hence, Kahn came to surpass all other architectural engineering firms of the time.
One of Albert Kahn's greatest contributions rests, finally, in the ties that he established between the modernization of industrial production equipment and its architectural housing on the one hand, and the design of the city itself on the other.
Following World War I, Kahn was the prime contractor of the new center city in Detroit. This district was designed to accommodate all the corporate headquarters for the new automobile industry, in buildings dedicated to displaying the glory of postwar economic growth.
Kahn, who continued to take commissions from a very diverse clientele outside the narrow field of industry, was an excellent architect with eclectic tastes who used all the resources he had at his disposal.
Louis Bergeron is president of The International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH) and of the Ecomusee du Creusot-Montceau les Mines in the Burgundy region of France. Maria Teresa Maiullari-Pontois is secretary of TICCIH and researcher in charge of the foreign program at the Ecomusee du Creusot-Montceau les Mines.
This article was excerpted from Industry, Architecture, and Engineering: American Ingenuity 1750-1950, with permission of the publisher, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. The book is available at Amazon.
|Kahn's Export Building of the
Chrysler-Dodge Half-Ton Truck Plant in Warren, Michigan (1938). Its planar
facade and sharply defined shapes, transparency, and original roof structure
create a striking architectural presence.
Photo: Hedrich-Blessing for Albert Kahn Associates
|The Assembly Building of the
Chrysler-Dodge factory, in Warren, Michigan, is remarkable for its vast open
interiors and for its metal frame supporting a sloped glass roof.
Photo: Hedrich-Blessing for Albert Kahn Associates
|The Goodyear Airdock (1929), a
dirigible construction shop in Akron, Ohio.
Photo: Jet Lowe for Historic American Engineering Record
|Albert Kahn's first Ford factory
(1909). The six-story building inaugurated the "rational" factory, saving
labor by arranging machines in sequence and handling materials with
conveyors and cranes.
Photo: Louis Bergeron
|The River Rouge plant (1917-18)
was Kahn's second commission from Ford. The canal and port are at the
center. The single-level horizontal plant spread out among many buildings on
a huge site.
Photo: Albert Kahn Associates