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25/05/2010

Cast Iron Architecture, SoHo, Manhattan, New York


This photo was taken in a SoHo street , Manhattan, New York, and shows a number of nineteenth century industrial structures with cast-iron facades.
SoHo boasts the greatest collection of cast-iron architecture in the world. Approximately 250 cast iron buildings stand in New York City and the majority of them are in SoHo. Cast iron was initially used as a decorative front over a pre-existing building. With the addition of modern, decorative facades, older industrial buildings were able to attract new commercial clients. Most of these facades were constructed during the period from 1840 to 1880. In addition to revitalizing older structures, buildings in SoHo were later designed to feature the cast iron.
An American architectural innovation, cast iron was cheaper to use for facades than materials such as stone or brick. Molds of ornamentation, prefabricated in foundries, were used interchangeably for many buildings, and a broken piece could be easily recast. The buildings could be erected quickly, some were built in only four months' time. Despite the brief construction period, the quality of the cast iron designs was not sacrificed. Previously, bronze had been the metal most frequently used for architectural detail. Architects now found that the relatively inexpensive cast iron could form the most intricately designed patterns. Classical French and Italian architectural designs were often used as models for these facades. And because stone was the material associated with architectural masterpieces, cast iron, painted in neutral tints such as beige, was used to simulate stone.
There was a profusion of cast iron foundries in New York, including the major firms of Badger's Architectural Iron Works, James L. Jackson's Iron Works, and Cornell Iron Works.
Since the iron was pliable and easily molded, sumptuously curved window frames were created, and the strength of the metal allowed these frames considerable height. Thus, the once somber, gas-lit interiors of the industrial district were flooded with sunlight through the newly enlarged windows. The strength of the cast iron permitted high ceilings with sleek supporting columns, and interiors became more expansive and functional.
During cast iron's heyday, many architects thought it to be structurally more sound than steel. It was also thought that cast iron would be fire resistant, and facades were constructed over many interiors built of wood and other inflammable materials. But, when exposed to heat, cast iron buckled and later cracked under the cold water used to extinguish fire. In 1899, a building code was passed mandating the backing of cast iron fronts with masonry. Most of the buildings which stand today are so constructed. It was the advent of steel as a major construction material that brought a rapid end to the cast iron era."

1 comment:

Poetic Shutterbug said...

It's colorful though with masonry, very dangerous in an earthquake. Those buildings could completely crumble to the ground. I guess however in NY fire would be more a threat than an earthquake. Vey interesting to see these buildings.