What Price Factory Ugliness?

gliness, in varied forms, was the outstanding characteristic of the beginnings of the industrial age — exploitation of the workers, oppressive hours, inhumane conditions, dirt, poorly organized buildings. Factory ex­istence was a nightmare. Gradually, throughout a half century, conditions improved. With this improvement came the recognition that light, cleanli­ness, ventilation, and even agreeable surroundings were advantageous not only to the employees but to the profits and peace of mind of the employers. As the dawn of modern factory architecture arrived, I hasten to add that the dawn’s early gleams escaped the attention of the architects themselves.

Modern factory architecture is a product of engineering. The viewpoint of the engineer is in contrast with that of the architect. The engineer has been the dominant factor in building, during the last two generations. You read much of Gothic Architecture, and you should; nevertheless Gothic engi­neering made the architecture possible.

Gothic architects either were engineers or used engineers. Engineering is a science. Architecture is an art. Building itself is just a craft. When Michel­

angelo, generally thought of as a painter and sculptor/ con­ceived St. Peter’s at Rome, he thought in terms of an engineer. But being an artist as well, the

result was a work of architec – 161


Quite different was the atti­tude of our architects of the gay nineties. They were in their ele­ment in doing mausoleums, government buildings, and other examples of monumental architecture, but gave a factory no architectural ranking. A fac­tory had to be built economi­cally; wasn’t supposed to be seen by anybody except the workers; there was no reason why a factory should have aes­thetic appeal as it was merely a place for machines and for people to work who used ma­chines. When architects did take a hand, it was mainly because of the remuneration, and with­out any consideration for the problems involved, they de-

signed them like large cheap houses.142 The result was dark, depressing and inefficient.143 When they put forth a special effort, their contribution consisted primarily of adding something, such as pilasters, and cornices, or other deco-

with his laboratory.1" In the exterior, Albert Kahn, the architect, was less successful because he was less straightforward. Here we still see the influence of a past architecture of a different character than the inside of the build-

on the human factor. In this regard, the relationship existing between em­ployer and employee is of vital importance. This relationship begins with the plant itself. The successful employees are those who have a sincere creative interest in their work, works and workers. Employees are in every sense as sus­ceptible to environment as the employer. The trail for this constructive rea­soning was blazed in America and its logic was immediately recognized in Europe. Since then, greater progress in this direction has been seen in the advanced industrial regions of Germany and Holland than in America. To­day,-however, in America, there is a quickening sense of appreciation on the part of communities regarding the significance of industrial architecture. It promises well for the future.

I digress for a moment to refer to an incident that is interesting because of illustrating how " great oaks from little acorns grow ” — how something apparently trivial may lead to something of considerable importance. It con­cerns a little device that has had its place on my desk for the past twelve years. For years, I had experienced certain inconveniences from working with the standard pen and ink and I had tried all types. I wanted a pen point always full of ink, a holder thick enough to grip firmly, and not lying down


but standing ready. I liked thick black India ink, so the fountain pens with their thin inks wouldn’t do. India ink required constant recorking or replen­ishment, owing to evaporation. No great skill was required to carve out a pen­holder with a barrel that was large enough to hold easily and the right size to serve as a cork in my ink bottle. Dismantling my favorite fountain pen, I attached the pen part to the wooden holder. The finished holder, with its fountain pen point, fitted snugly into the neck of any boctle of India ink and stood there ready for instant use.

Some three years ago, in the course of a conference in my studio, this device came to the attention of Mr. H. D. Bennett, President of the Toledo Scale Company. Previous to this time, I had been commissioned to redesign the products of this company. A business man of the most generous appreciation and penetrating intuitions, the president of the Toledo Scale Company was also vice-president of a leading fountain pen company, and was impressed by the fact that this handy device antedated by several years the more elaborate and refined fountain pen sets now in vogue and in use by millions. A few days later Mr. Bennett telephoned me from Toledo and said he had been unable to get that pen out of his mind and would I be interested in designing a factory.


No problem could have more neatly touched my imagination and the query led to fruitful discussion. It was the prelude to one of the most satisfying experiences of my life — an adventure in factory design.

Can a first-rate product be manufactured in a third-rate plant? It is no longer advisable to set up a standardized structure, relying on company engi­neers to adapt it to company needs. l“ Factory planning presents problems to the architect unlike any other. The architect must be thoroughly familiar with the product to be manufactured and the production methods used. He must build in practical solutions of ever-recurring manufacturing problems, such as provision for the elimination of waste materials, the easy shifting of line processes, to say nothing of considering all the factors involved in em­ployees’ welfare, lighting, heating, ventilation and cleanliness.

No business man will hear appearance mentioned in connection with fac­tory architecture without raising the question of cost. That question is, in­deed, pertinent. What price factory architecture that is pleasing in design? Rather, what price factory architecture with inherent qualities of appeal such that the factory itself may be regarded as of real inspirational value to the workers and of advertising value to the manufacturer by virtue of its effect upon the passerby, who is also the consumer? The answer is that beauty in factory design exacts no premium but can be made to pay a premium by diminishing the cost of construction.

No special materials, no costly importations are necessary to this end. What for want of a better term I call beauty in factory architecture must be the result of carefully thought out relationships. It can be achieved by the use of common, standard materials, the cheapest available materials, those that can be most economically assembled and handled. The architect who can plan organically, who can achieve his proportions with the simplest of forms will solve the problem both practically and aesthetically, eliminating factory ugli-

ness at no premium in cost. Demonstrably, as the architectural effect is achieved, economies occur. It is not too much to say that for ugliness in fac­tory architecture the manufacturer pays a premium of from five per cent in excess cost.

How this proposed factory, achieved at no increased cost over the average factory, meets the specific requirements of a plant for the manufacture of a specific product, is the question that I propose to answer. I should like to add that the result was made possible by Mr. Bennett’s own point of view and his granting me the fullest freedom in meeting practical as well as aesthetic problems.

Motoring from Toledo, Ohio, toward Detroit, on the Dixie Highway, we enter Telegraph Road. The doorway by which all motorists, going in the direction of Detroit, leave Toledo will be a landscape and architectural devel­opment for the Toledo Scale Company. Its construction is contemplated at an early date. Down a broad avenue of Lombardy poplars we see the eleven-story’ administration building of the company’s new plant.141 As planned to-day, the buildings will occupy approximately twenty acres of an eighty-acre tract. The remaining sixty are landscaped, providing space for a private airport and for future expansion of the plant in any direction.

Turning off Telegraph Road and driving up the wide boulevard between two rows of tall trees, we pass around a large reflecting pool which mirrors the

tower of the Administration Building.1" The noticeable feature of this build­ing is the absence of ornamentation and vertical piers which are usual but unnecessary in steel construction. Getting out of our car and approaching the main entrance, we look through a high vaulted arcade and catch the gleam of another pool on the other side.1" This pool, which is one hundred and twenty feet in diameter, is primarily a fire-protection reservoir. Incidentally, it has been designed for use as a completely equipped swimming tank for employees. The lobby of the administration building is two stories high. In the central section of this building are offices, recreation rooms, lounges and restaurants for the executive departments; the sales school and a display room. The basement provides storage space to meet miscellaneous executive needs.

North of the administration building is the rectangular laboratory build­ing.1" Since visitors will not be permitted access to the laboratory, there is no " main entrance ” at the front, merely the workers’ entrance at the rear. The first floor of the laboratory is occupied by the clerical and executive divi­sions, the second by the chemistry divisions and the third by the engineering division. The basement is a laboratory for testing machines. Flexibility is the outstanding feature of the laboratory. With an area of one hundred and eighty by fifty feet, this space can, by shifting portable partitions, be made

into an open floor or divided into cubicles in multiples of eleven by eleven feet, as required.

A somewhat novel use of an old principle, the so-called cantilever construc­tion, has been used in the laboratory. In consequence, there are no masonry piers in the exterior walls and the maximum of natural illumination is achieved through walls of glass. The building is of such a width that the win­dows on either side illuminate the full width of the floor.

The mechanical services such as telephones, electricity, water, gas, steam,

compressed air, waste pipes, exhaust ducts from the various departments are carried up the various columns and between the finished floors and the ceil­ings directly below them. There are no exposed pipes, beams or other dust – catching surfaces of any nature. Radiators are concealed in the walls under the windows and their heat is introduced into the room through the sloping grilled metal sills. The continuous metal windows are of standard sections with some of the vertical muntins omitted. The ventilating sections are placed in such positions as to give a natural syphon action and also to permit ease of cleaning. Floors are finished with an acid – and alkali-proof mastic mater­
ial giving a resilient and impervious surface easily cleaned. Toilet and locker rooms are centrally located on each floor and are fin­ished ifі Carrara glass wain­scot and stall partitions with tile floors.

The corners of the build­ing are circular. Wide, overhanging cornices at the corners reduce the glare of cross reflections. Light­ing fixtures are provided in

the soffits of the cornices for exterior illumination.

From the laboratory, by means of a covered corridor, we pass through, the receiving and shipping room and enter the machine shop for the manufacture of precision devices. It is a circular building and a marked departure from precedent.170 It is pertinent to inquire why this particular building was born to be circular. For assembling purposes, a shop of this type requires a certain amount of unobstructed space, with an unusual height of ceiling. Adjacent to this assembling space, manufacturing space with good illumination is re­quired. The high-ceilinged central assembling area is a hundred feet in diam­eter, unobstructed by columns.174 Encircling this central area and covered with a circular saw-toothed roof, is a concentric ring of low-ceilinged manu­facturing space twenty-two feet in width.171 This arrangement places the high assembly space adjacent to every part of the manufacturing area.173

In this machine shop it was also necessary to provide for future inexpensive
and rapid expansion. The most economical solution of this particular problem is likewise found in the circular building; for when you increase the radius of a circle twice, you increase the area four times.171 Provision has been made for the addition of four concentric rings of manufacturing space, each twenty – two feet in width.170 All of the window units on the lower ring of the circular machine shop are so standardized that when we add additional rings, each of these window or bay units may be moved out and utilized without loss, leav­ing only the windows in the " saw-tooth ” roof which light the area beneath when the additional ring is added.

Manufacturers familiar with the expensive problems of organizing line production requiring operations greatly varied in number will recognize the just claim of the circular factory building to a high-efficiency rating. It permits of any kind of line production, requiring any number of operations. By this method of routing material, varying lengths of process can most eas­ily be provided for with the least possible waste motion. Obviously, the travel around the inner circle is less than that around any outer circle. By radiating aisles, the longer processes easily arrive after traveling the outer circle, in close proximity to the assembling space.

Leaving the machine shop we enter the executives’ garage. It is adjacent to the north wing of the administration building and accommodates twenty – five cars with facilities for servicing and washing and attendants’ quarters.10* The walls are of concrete, faced on the inside with glazed tile for ease in clean­ing. The main entrance opening on Telegraph Road is sheltered by a semi­circular marquee having a glass soffit above which are placed lights for illumi­nating the entrance way. Proceeding southwest, across the lawn in front of the administration building, are two hangars and the landing field. These are the private hangars of the Toledo Scale Company.10* Then we come to the main entrance of the factory building itself.

Approximately six hundred by three hundred and sixty feet, it is a con­crete building, without the standard exterior columns of ordinary concrete construction.1 The layman, I think, would recognize that in exterior appear­ance this factory has a character that is usually considered appropriate only for a building of better occupancy.176 He would notice that one continuous window runs around the entire structure and that it is curved at the corners instead of square. The simplest and most significant thing that can be said of the architecture of this building could also be said of the others: it is the direct expression of the purpose for which it is to be used, with no lapse into prettification.

Within, we find one or two genuine innovations in factory construction:

namely, the degree to which dust-catching surfaces have been eliminated and the method employed for artificial lighting.177 Here I must express my appre­ciation to Mr. Bennett for placing due emphasis upon attaining ideal stand­ards for housekeeping in his factory. To eliminate overhead shafting and belts, with the inevitable accompanying dust and dirt,147 the Toledo Scale Company decided to use machines individually motor – driven. Under the entire manufacturing area of this building is a service basement, giving access to the floor from the under side.177 Through this basement run the ducts and conduits which are ordinarily in an exposed overhead position. All the waste products of manufacturing, such as chips, fumes, and vapor, machine turn­ings and all blower-system waste are eliminated through the basement. Like­wise, all electric, water, steam and telephone services are brought to the vari­ous machines through the basement. Provision has been made so that if, even­tually, conveyor systems or other material-handling systems are installed, the return of the endless chain will be under the manufacturing floor instead of overhead, as in ordinary installations.

The structure is designed so that the roof load is carried by concealed beams.177 To the under sides of these beams is attached a suspended ceiling covering the entire working area. Heating coils, designed for the columns, are sealed so that only a dust-free circulation of air can ever reach them. Natural day lighting is accomplished by rows of windows placed on the sides of the high bays of the roof which extend the full length of the building. This simple construction permits a maximum of evenly distributed natural light. Sloping window sills, easily wiped free of dust and impossible to use as shelv­ing for miscellaneous articles, have been specified. For the same purpose, round corners are introduced throughout. The common square corner in nearly every factory is a catch-all for a little of everything.

In view of the dust-elimination feature of the design, it is evident that


artificial lighting cannot be accomplished by means of suspended fixtures. The lamps are incorporated into continuous V-shaped troughs which project slightly below the white-surfaced ceiling.’77 The troughs with soffits of dif­fusing lenses are spaced twenty feet on centers and are capable of delivering at the working plane an illumination of twenty-foot candle intensity. This is fully adequate for the most delicate work, the strength of the illumination in a well-lighted living room in the average home being from five to eight – foot candle intensity. These strip lighting fixtures extend the full length of the factory (six hundred feet) and make it impossible for a man at any point in the factory to stand in his own light. With strips as sources of light, rather than points as in the case of suspended fixtures, an overlapping of rays results, and hence the elimination of shadows.

Eyestrain in a factory is due, ordinarily, not so much to a poor quality of light as to glare or an attempt to focus the eye simultaneously on two or more sources of light of widely varying intensities. When two surfaces of varying intensity of light come within the range of vision at one time, the eye cannot

adjust itself to both. The lenses in our strip lights diffuse the light over a wide area on the working plane. While diffusing it, they spill enough light onto the ceiling in short rays to eliminate the glare. Important as the elimination of glare in factory surroundings may be, this result was accomplished not as the result of a direct quest for a method of eliminating glare, but as. the incidental result of devising new dust-eliminating lighting arrangements.

The working floor surface in this factory is more comfortable than cement, consisting of wood blocks on a sand and tar mat over reinforced concrete slab. In the exterior concrete walls, outside the radiator recesses, insulation is in­corporated.

Flexibility, very necessary in factory construction but frequently not achieved, is attained to a marked degree. Instead of attacking the problem from the standpoint of the space the Toledo Scale Company requires at the moment, the entire plot of ground was planned on the estimated basis of what they would require ten years from now. Allowance was made for an area of expansion equal to four times the working space required by their estimated

development possibilities, and the entire plot was laid out accordingly. Work­ing backward in stages, the areas they need at the present moment were estab­lished. The result is that they will expand logically and without running into as many unforeseen complications and problems of space organization as would have happened had the problem been solved on the basis of present requirements.

The factory building is so placed on the lot that it can expand laterally in four directions. Column spacing was determined by the normal distance required for traffic between rows of machines and the most economical struc­tural framing. With the service basement below, it is a simple matter to dis­connect the service to any particular machine. The machine can then be moved to another location and reconnected with the necessary services. Since there are no permanent partitions, any department may expand or contract as the need arises. The absence of partitions of any kind makes for better supervision. To double the space of some one department simply means mov­ing the necessary machinery into the adjoining space. Repair of the floor where a machine has stood, where a bolt or connecting member has been car­ried through, requires only the insertion of a wood block.

Back of this plant is the railroad spur for bringing in coal and bailing out ashes. Trains which bring in raw materials to the factory are completely en­closed. The locomotive does not enter the enclosure. Cars are placed at the shipping platform by an electric mule. At the north end of the factory is a loading dock for motor trucks. Toward the south is the central heating plant with its enormous stack, in approximately the center of the manufacturing area.14′ It conforms to well-established principles of construction and in ex­terior design follows the main scheme. To the north and west of the factory are parking sheds of fire-proof construction for the accommodation of twenty-five hundred automobiles belonging to employees.


The recreation center consists of eight tennis courts, a baseball diamond with a grandstand equipped with showers and locker rooms below, and a wooded picnic ground for the use of employees and their families.16* The swimming pool previously mentioned is part of the recreation unit. From the pool there is a vista through an avenue cut through the woods. The stream which supplies the swimming pool flows from a mountain source at the end of the avenue through the woods.

Once more passing the swimming pool, we leave the plant through the arcade of the administration building and drive back into Toledo, I hope with the sense of having entered the city by its front door rather than by way of an unsightly backyard which is commonly the feature that distinguishes the approach to our industrial cities.

If the business man inquires at what premium in cost this attempt to elimi­nate factory ugliness was undertaken, he can be informed that placing build­ings in such a manner that they fulfill all their mutual requirements one to the other and form a pleasing appearance adds nothing to the cost; also, that


the materials used throughout are the common standardized products, re­quiring the less skilled building trades for construction. Owing to the choice of the materials used and the low labor cost to install, the contractor’s esti­mate (1928) on this factory was $2.88 per square foot as against the average factory cost (1928) of $3.00 per square foot.

Updated: October 3, 2015 — 8:38 pm