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How did the Industrial Revolution influence the design of cities?

Updated: Jul 4


 Ayadi Mishra, Aishwarya Jadhav, Ajinkya Jamadar, Urban Design Theory, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, Planning, Urban, Urbanism, City, Cities, History, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

When we think of the Industrial Revolution, we often think of large factories, smoky chimneys, rampant densities and crowded streets. The immediate picturisation is always about the cities in the industrial era. But we often overlook how our cities evolved like that. So, how did the processes that accompanied the Industrial revolution influence the design of our cities?


Before the Industrial Revolution, production and consumption remained separate. They did not participate in the public space. Thus, public space was not shaped by the producers or their products but rather by governance forms. However, production-consumption systems provided a social and economic structure to the said places and influenced public life. They enabled a form of recognition and participation between the influencer and the influenced. Thus, creating a form of 'informed consent.’ This allowed the producers to occupy the public sphere and shape public life. It projected production-consumption knowledge as a part of the 'Truth' of proactive expertise, production of cities, and innovations. The other part of the 'Truth' was the agreed-upon need for reconciliation and reparations to the public. In this way, the role of the people as equal participants in the system was systematically omitted (Lefebvre and Smith, 1991).

Allowing each individual to pursue his/her ambitions will lead to social benefits, which Adam Smith in 'The Wealth of Nations' also termed as the 'invisible hand.' The statement drew from his observations on how capital, labour, the act of production, and consumption had mostly behaved historically. The statement in isolation made sense for the longest time.


The 'Invisible Hand' of the market influenced our cities. The term Invisible Hand is a take on the invisible forces that shape public life. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith used the term to suggest that some social and economic outcomes may arise from the actions of individuals. These actions are often unintentional and self-interested. The statement is drawn from his observations on the behaviour of capital, labour, the act of production and consumption. This came to serve as the primary platform for supply and demand theories. It also influenced societies in their evolution as free markets.

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First, it began with the changes in patterns of production and consumption during the Industrial Revolution. New manufacturing methods emerged with machines and mechanised labour, which increased production. Cities became places of mass consumption due to the large concentrations of people and power. In concurrence, the cities became significant points of production and consumption—this bred competition in the market.


Here, everybody strived for maximum production and wanted their product to be the best in the market. The act of production depended on labour, resources, and efficiency, whereas the act of consumption depended on the consumer's willingness to purchase the product. This 'social contract' between the producers and the consumers later became the underpinning concept for improvements and innovation (Collins, 1988).

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Second, the process of urbanisation had influenced the city. It began when a group of factories in a region created the demand for factory labourers. Secondary and tertiary businesses like energy, housing, retailers and service providers followed to meet the demands of workers and their families. In turn, this created more jobs. Eventually, with an increase in demand for jobs and housing, an urban area was established. Once it was industrialised, urbanisation continued over time. Thus, the area went through several phases of economic and social reforms. This is best illustrated by Mumbai. Here the city developed, adapted, and evolved in the continuum even after industrialisation.


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However, there is a fine line between greed and self-interest. Take, for example, the colonisation of Indian practices. Indian villages were once self-sufficient, both socially and economically. They predominantly grew food crops, and artistry was unique to the locality. The Industrial Revolution, combined with colonisation, forced the farmers to grow cash crops. The artisans lost their value due to the abundance of 'factory-made' materials. This resulted in creating a disturbance of the entire social dynamic. This tells us that such invisible forces can even tread the path of socio-economic disruption after having accumulated enough power.


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Third, the emergent capitalist forms influenced the city. During the First and Second Industrial Revolution, automobiles, use of oil, coal, electricity, concrete, steel and modern agriculture maximised. With these innovations, the design of cities conveniently omitted people as stakeholders. A new form of capitalism emerged with the sudden change of scale of production and accumulation of capital – known as 'monopolies.' These forms of production suppressed proactive knowledge production by issuing 'patent rights.' The shift created a dependency on said monopolies to accommodate their inventions in the public sphere. It allowed them to intervene in planning. They gradually excluded the public from the same decision-making processes, the processes where the public was a more significant stakeholder than capitalism (Mokyr, 1999).


Monopolies created modernism's obsession with cities as economic entities. Cities became places of economic activity and power. Cities also became the places of residence for those engaged in these activities. It created a system's thinking about how labour and flow of capital impact a city's processes. The core idea was that capital creates wealth, expands and operates in different circuits, consolidates labour, and later switches into the built environment. This idea dominates the domain of real estate. People use land, value, and investment to grow their social capital, businesses, and resources (Parnell, 2016).


This thinking reduced the reconciliation provided to the public since they were no longer considered informed or knowledgeable. And thus, they became passive consumers who were replaceable and displaceable. This exclusion reduced public understanding of the processes involved in making the public sphere. It limited public knowledge and information, thus omitting the notion of 'informed consent' from public discourse. It severely hampered the capability and accessibility of the common person to influence, shape, or by any form give meaning to or interpret public space.


Architecture and planning were seen as two pivots to actualise the will of money and power in public life through spectacular realisations. Each successive fold distanced the civil societies further from their discourses. Here strategies were choices of non-neutral curators whose authorship and autonomy remained unexplained. (Schmiechen, 1984).

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Fourth, the perpetual creation of a vulnerable and marginalised class in the city has influenced the shape of our cities. Take slum dwellers as an example. Almost every major metropolitan city is dotted with slums. Cities have been unable to get rid of them. This is because the marginalised classes were created through the socio-economic systems of the city; people without access to opportunities settled in parcels of land. These lands were not suitable for human habitation because of environmental or infrastructural vulnerabilities.


This gave rise to a separate circuit - the 'informal' economy. This included a class of people that were no longer agrarian or reliant on land. And hence, they relied on socio-urban mobility to sell labour for a living. Everything had to be paid for in the cities. Low and uncertain wages created harsh situations for the poor and vulnerable. In turn, by living in abysmal living-working conditions and accepting poor wages, they subsidised the city. While they still struggled towards organisation and house-ownership. It was an act of deliberate and systematic injustice meted out by monopolies and is in effect to date (Marx, 2006).


"Every society has produced the housing it needs, naturally and indigenously. These (home-grown) habitats are not designed by outsiders. They are the end-products of a process organic to the city, like flowers that bloom in a meadow. If adequate housing is not appearing in our cities, it is a sign that something is wrong with the system. Our job is to understand the malfunction and try to set it right." (p48, Correa. The New Landscape. 1989).


Looking back, these major forces of Industrial times continue to influence the design of the cities even today. The production-consumption patterns, urbanisation, the Invisible Hand of the market, the vulnerable class and the capitalist forms - still resonate with our cities. The arguments for and against the individual effects of these processes is another discussion in itself. But there is no denying that they were instrumental in transforming cities. We often find our cities at the intersection of such processes. Thus, forming the layers of urban history and imprinting human ingenuity in time and physical Landscape.

Ayadi Mishra, Aishwarya Jadhav, Ajinkya Jamadar, Urban Design Theory, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, Planning, Urban, Urbanism, City, Cities, History, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad



About the Writer

Ajinkya Jamadar is an architect with an inclination towards Sustainable Development and Urban Ecologies. He has previously worked at Bangalore based architecture firm Biome Environmental Solutions. He is a graduate of the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal.


About the Editor

Aishwarya Jadhav is an architect, urban researcher, and software trainer by profession. She is a travel enthusiast, architectural photographer, and literary writer. She is a graduate of the School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University, UK and the Sir J.J. School of Architecture, Mumbai. She has experience working at Urban Liveability Forum, Dharmalaya Institute for Compassionate Living and Abhikalpan Architects and Planners.


About the Illustrator

Ayadi Mishra is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She is a writer, illustrator and graphic designer. She has experience working with An Architect, Ethos India, WPF Creatives, Nivedha Foundation, SkyManga. She has attended summer school at the Hunnarshala Foundation for Building Technology & Innovations, Bhuj, and has been a finalist in Solar Decathlon India.

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