Origins of the Skyscraper: Historic Angles

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This detail comes from a building, which believe it or not, was THE proto-type for all our high-rise buildings. It is Bage’s Flax Mill, the world’s first iron-framed building, constructed in Shrewsbury, in the English Midlands in 1797. As with much invention, it was driven by a series of disasters, specifically the conflagration of several timber-framed textile factories. Cotton and flax dust is highly combustible, and these early factories were candle lit. The losses to the owners were considerable  (never mind the damage to the workers).  Fire resistant buildings were what they wanted. The techniques of this iron-framed brick clad mill were further adapted in the rebuilding of Chicago after the great fire of 1871.

Shropshire Archives

For more on this and the grim story of the young flax mill workers who were employed here see my earlier post: Pattern for the Sky Scraper

 copyright 2014 Tish Farrell


Anyone for CGI – Iron, that is?

Travel theme: Ripples

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Ripples through time, ripples of iron: Ailsa’s prompt gives me the chance to show another shot of Bage’s Flaxmill-Maltings, the world’s first iron-framed building and eighteenth century blueprint for the skyscraper.

Recently, fellow blogger Frizztext in his post on Frankfurt Mainhattan spoke of “skyscrapers to sharpen the corporate identity”, a stunningly acerbic phrase, and Charles Bage certainly had something of the sort in mind when he built the flaxmill. The whole thrust of his design was to overcome a long-standing and costly problem for mill owners: the propensity of flax and cotton mills to go up in flames. There was certainly big money to be made in proving such a design. For one thing it meant industrialists could build bigger, taller factories, the better to exploit larger numbers of needy workers including orphans.

However, the iron-clad tower above (and whose rusty corrugations I confess to enhancing with some digital tinkering), belongs to the building’s later phase when it was used for malting barley for the brewing trade. I confess, too, to a yen for corrugated sheet iron. You could put it down to a childhood spent in rural Cheshire where the curved iron cladding of Dutch barns formed striking landmarks across the flat farmland. It was usually painted black.

St Chad's Gospel Mission Church, Blists Hill, Madley

St Chad’s Gospel Mission Church, Blists Hill Open Air Museum, Shropshire. Photo: Creative Commons David Dixon

Corrugated Galvanised Iron is anyway a brilliantly useful structural material. It was invented in the 1820s by Henry Palmer, architect and engineer to the London Dock Company. Cheap, and relatively easy to transport, it has been used all over the world to rainproof grass huts, make instant pioneer homes and water tanks, and to clad colonial godowns and administrative offices. One useful property is that it is pest proof. At least I think termites can’t quite manage to recycle it. It is ideal for prefabricated buildings, requiring little skill to erect. Furthermore, as it rusts, it creates its own art installations across the landscape. There are of course downsides in the tropics, rusting being one of them. Also iron roofs convert buildings into ovens during the hot season, and into tin drums in the rainy season.

I bet all you travellers out there (and especially those of you who live in Australia and New Zealand) have some good CGI shots too. Here are some more of mine.


Kikuyu farmstead 24

Kikuyu Farmhouse, Central Highlands

Kikuyu farmstead 5

Kikuyu Farmhouse, Central Highlands

Karen coffee garden gift shop and restaurant, once part of Blixen estate

Karen Blixen’s Coffee Farm Manager’s House, Karen, Nairobi


A farm in the Ngong Hills at Denys Finch Hatton’s grave site

And in Stone Town, Zanzibar:



Ndola Red Cross


Harare colonial house

Colonial house, Harare

Lamu, Kenya:




Victoria, Mahe