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Perth identified as birthplace of the architectural iron industry

June 13 2013

Perth identified as birthplace of the architectural iron industry
The important role played by Perth in the development of the architectural iron industry has been highlighted today by Historic Scotland at the first such conference of its kind on the subject; The Architectural Iron Industry in Scotland – A Historical Perspective.

Accounts to date had suggested that the industry arose in America in 1850 thanks to the work of architect James Bogardus, who proclaimed as much at the time.

Fresh research conducted by the heritage body has cast doubt on these claims however; after it was discovered that Bogardus had been an observant visitor to Perth Waterworks during a trip to Scotland that predated any of his own work by 15 years.

At the time Scotland was the world’s leading manufacturer of prefabricated iron structures, a technique used to great effect in the delivery of the cast iron façade of the waterworks.

Dr David Mitchell, director of conservation at Historic Scotland said: “Scotland is world-famous for its architectural ironwork but the history of the industry is not particularly well appreciated here, so this is a great opportunity to promote the incredible contribution this country made in this field.

“Scotland was the world’s leading manufacturer of pre-fabricated iron structures for a considerable time, and objects and structures are still being traced in India, South Africa, South America and Australia. We continue to discover pioneering Scots in this field and the design and construction of Perth Waterworks ahead of Bogardus in the United States is testament to that.”
Glasgow's Ca’d’oro Building is another good example of the early use of cast iron architecture
Glasgow's Ca’d’oro Building is another good example of the early use of cast iron architecture

1 Comment

kevin toner
#1 Posted by kevin toner on 14 Jun 2013 at 13:35 PM
An excellent day’s proceedings across the board!

The claim that Bogardus was influenced by the architectural iron of Perth Water Works 1932 is highly likely, but one must not ignore any cast iron facades that formerly overclad brick built buildings - of which there was at least one - equally valid as ‘architectural iron’, a rather broad and loose term encompassing railings, balusters, infill/spandrels, canopies, etc, and occasionally utilitarian or structural at its peak. The earliest example cited in ‘Bannister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture’ of a clad cast iron facade was in 1830 (two years prior to the unmentioned Perth WW [ps: a GSA 3rd year project, class of 1992/93]).

I’d nonetheless agree with the HS claim that PWW was indeed a much earlier example of what Borgardus was heralded to have done first, i.e. a fully architectural cast-iron facade/building.

Interestingly, if we were to have such a term as ‘architectural concrete’ like we do with iron, the very same argument could be made for modern architecture in concrete, where concrete built grain silos would outdate Gropius and Corbusier et al (& Adolf Loos’ Steiner house roughcasted 1910 modernism) by a like number of years or decades. The concurrent strain of concrete [occupied] buildings and civil engineering works prior to modernism, e.g. the Lion Chambers in Glasgow, is also interesting.

If my memory serves me correctly, and with more help from my 18th ed. BF of course, it would appear that Bogardus was in fact the first in western architecture to build (not clad) an actual building in cast iron, i.e. for occupation (his own showrooms/warehouse by 1848/9) rather than as a civil engineering structure, which the Perth Water Works’ example (the former water tank part and core) originally was, but arguably didn't always have to be...

Another speaker also showed a Glasgow painting of a cast iron lighthouse 1824 on the banks of the Clyde as another possible reminder that Scotland may have had even earlier ‘architectural iron’ facades than the PWW example (?)

Banister Fletcher does in fact cite two Glasgow buildings typically built with full cast iron facades within half a decade of Bogardus’ very first, but there may have indeed been even earlier examples than these in Glasgow, especially perhaps of stone hybrids... It neither mentions any of the early 1870s Walter MacFarlane facade examples in Glasgow (e.g. the ABC; the Ca' d'Oro) and those exported worldwide, which presumably improved on all other worldwide examples.

Keep up the good work HS & Scottish Ironwork.

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