Saturday, December 8, 2012

Fordism: Automobiles and Architecture

The mass-production process which emerged due to the production of Ford’s Model T transformed the order and sensibilities of society; what was produced became secondary to the actual method of production. Ford designed an unchanging and standardized car model, allowing them to manufacture the automobiles cheaply and efficiently with the use of specialized machines and unskilled labour. The invention of the assembly line provided workers with the bare minimum amount of time allotted to the completion of their specified task. The rapid nature of the assembly process resulted in the removal of all curvature and specialized varnishes. The appearance of the Model Ts were dictated by efficiency as opposed to aesthetics. As a consequence, the Model Ts allowed little time for detail work—the fragmented exteriors displayed abrupt transitions and joints. By 1924, 16 years after the introduction of the Model T, Ford flooded the world with 10 million copies of the black, squared, undecorated, fragmented car―comprising half of the worlds existing automobiles. The Model Ts imposing presence, as well as the newfound popularity of mass-produced consumer goods, made a substantial impact on the American landscape. 
Model T
"Showroom of Automotive History: The Model T." The Henry Ford. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2012. <>.

The look of mass production was in direct parallel to the aesthetics of modernity― standardization, repetition, rectilinearity and lack of ornamentation with a visual order of efficiency and instrumentalism. This strict visual order of instrumentalism was not limited to consumer goods, and its influence became prominent in the built environment. Mass-production and mass-consumption presented the need for new factories, new stores, and new roads for the transport of goods. Many of these places themselves were mass-producesd. Kahn played a large role in the development of this new architecture in his work for the Ford Motor Company. His designs for the Highland Park Plant and the River Rouge Plant displayed an architecture with the sole purpose of supporting production and eventual profit. He expressed no regard for aesthetics, human accommodation, or the natural landscape. 

Highland Park Plant
Babiasz, Joe. "Ford Highland Park Plant." N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2012. <>.

The American factories and mass produced machines inspired the European architects of the interwar period to create a new architecture―a modern architecture for a modern age. The European architects were attracted to the aesthetic of a future they had yet to attain, while the Americans dreamed of a past they had surpassed. As a result, American architects chose to conceal the mass-production building techniques they pioneered while the Europeans chose to consciously exhibit them. 

During the Great Depression mass-production through Fordism, along with modern architecture, lost its allure. The retreat during the 1930s and early 19040s eventually ended with the reemergence of Fordism in the 19050s due to the postwar state demand management. Up until the 1950s, American architecture hasd rejected the modernism of European avant-garde architecture. The 1950s, however, demonstrated a rapid and near instantaneous conversion in United States’ architecture to the machine aesthetic. Working Americans became more willing to accept modern architecture as they began to migrate from urban city-centers to the suburbs, which resulted in the mass-production of single family homes. The epitome of post-war suburban housing for the working class is the Levittown development, a low-cost, single-family grouping of homes in Long Island, New York by Abraham Levitt and Sons. 

" Levittown Through the Years." The New York Times . N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2012. <>.
Other architectural styles such as expressionism, art deco, streamline, moderne etc. claimed to be part of the modernist movement, but by the 1950s advocates of the machine aesthetic had managed to monopolize the label and modernism became known to directly mimic the appearance of mass-production. 

The empty frameworks of standardized and rectilinear proportions was not new or foreign to the American landscape. In 19th century America, there was an ambition to turn land and space into a standardized commodity and the entire Western wilderness was broken up into a uniform grid of land sections. A blatant disregard for the variation present in the land’s topography allowed for this new system of commodification. The methodical approach of land division was carried into the American city on a smaller scale as a grid of right-angled streets and standardized lots were established. This system in the division of land, as exemplified on Manhattan Island, was meant to aid in the buying, selling and improvement of real-estate. 

By the 1970s, the Fordist regime of mass-production and consumption had lost much of its dominance. There was an increasing demand by customers for a more diverse variety of goods and the cost of production was increasing while overall labour productivity was decreasing. The dire economic climate of the 1970s also brought the building industry to a crippling halt and the mass-produced construction techniques utilized in the past were no longer feasible. With Ronald Reagan’s neoliberal policies in the 1980s, the building industry experienced a resurgence. The acceleration in construction stimulated tough competition and little time was left for artistic expression. As a result, the architect’s role was largely reduced to exterior finishes and frill. The time of Post-Fordism produced an architecture which contradicted many of the principles previously established by the period of modern architecture and mass-production. 

Amin, Ash. Post-Fordism: a reader. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994. Print.
"Showroom of Automotive History: The Model T." The Henry Ford. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2012. <>.

The primitive huts by Peter Pfau and Wes Jones embraced the concept of mass-produced housing, characteristic of Fordism is the 1950s, in their use of standardized and rectilinear shipping containers. However, they simultaneously favoured the idea of customization, which was prominent in the Post-Fordism era of the 1970s and 80s. The later works by Jones, Partners: Architecture embodies the aesthetics of 'machine architecture' with exaggerated joints and connections between materials. His choices in both construction methods and materials demonstrate Jones' effort to present the building as mechanical and technological, rather than trying to conceal its innards with facades and unnecessary ornamentation. 


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