Impacts of Wars on Building Technology


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Impacts of wars on building technology

The post-war America experienced increaseddevelopment of architecture or building technology especially afterthe Civil War, WW1, and WW2. However, the WW2 contributedsignificantly to building technologies across America than WW1 or theCivil War. The war reformulated and advanced architecture tasks andtechnologies rather than confine architect’s work. In fact, the WW2remains an unrecorded chapter in most historical accounts in regardsto architectural production and advancements. America developed anintense experience on architecture matters from countries such asItaly, Japan, England, Russia, Spain, and Germany especially duringthe WW1 and WW2 than any other time in her history (Bijker,Hughes, Pinch, &amp Douglas, 2012 Godin &amp Lane, 2014).Both wars and to an extent the Civil War provided key periods in theprocess of advancement and modernization of building technology. Thewars raised multifarious issues of construction and in the aftermathof cities’ occupation, ruin, and restoration, America developed anintense body of technology. The post-war America experienced intenseand successive technological advances as suggested, which facilitatedher expansion westward as well as the growth of the housing boom thenand later. In this regards, the discourse looks at major wars i.e.Civil War, WW1, and WW2, and their contribution to buildingtechnology in America. As such, the discourse pursues to consider theimpacts of wars on architectural technology across America.


The three aforementioned wars and especially theWW2 proffered some defining moments in the American buildingtechnology. For example, the WW1 marked the entrance of numeroustechnologies ranging from industrial to artillery technologies(Bijker et al., 2012). The Americanbuilding technology benefited significantly from technologicaladvances in electric power and radio, among other technologies thatdeveloped during the WW1. The rise of nationalism and increasedmilitary buildup among countries contributed greatly to theacceleration of the WW1 and WW2. As such, countries engaged bodies ofengineers to develop technological advanced weapons, which resultedto increased knowledge in the technology field. In fact, during theWW1 and WW2, the Allies or the Allied Power won the wars against abackdrop of increased technological advances in their militaries. Inboth wars, America remained unhurt and largely influential in worldmatters thus, she used the advanced technology in the buildingtechnology (Godin &amp Lane, 2014). Inaddition, during the WW1, the radio became an important technologyespecially in terms of communication. In the building technology, theradio became an imperative tool in broadcasting information andsharing technologies hence, the increased housing boom in thepost-war America.

Apart from the technologies that occurred duringthe wars, America attained a new passion for technology especiallythrough observing technologies developed in other countries orthrough developing awareness that countries had made major strides inthe technology front. In this regards, the attained zeal ontechnology ultimately influenced architectural developments duringthese eras (Bijker et al., 2012). Apartfrom hastening the development of new advances in the buildingtechnology, the WW1 and WW2 influenced people’s appreciation oftechnology and its rational contribution in ending both wars. Peoplewho served during the wars as service people or in the militarygained first-hand experience on building technology, which helped inthe proliferation of technologies in the building industry. Inaddition, during the war a huge number of people worked in factoriesor acted as service people, which greatly influenced Americans’admiration on technology as well as the development of knowledge inbuilding technology.

Following the WW2, most countries acceptedModernism in architectural designs and motifs. Research shows thatmodernism has shaped the architectural industry greatly and remainshugely significant today (Gold, 2013). It is worth stating thatmodernism occurred immediately after WW2, as people realized thattechnology would play a critical role in solving day-to-day problems.In fact, technological advancements following the WW2 led to aprevalent recognition of Modernism as the most apposite architecturalmanifestation of the contemporary era. Modernism became the firstarchitectural expression to use technology greatly as it emphasizedon efficient and cogent technology as the WW1 and WW2 demonstratedthat technology played a great role in preventing destruction ofbuildings.

On the other hand, both the WW1 and the WW2contributed to great loss in European countries. A great number ofEuropeans became displaced from their countries and they foundcomfort in America, where they imparted their knowledge. For example,most people credit Le Corbusier with the development of Modernism inpost-war America (Ghirardo, 2014). Godin&amp Lane (2014) assert that apart frompopularizing Modernism, Le Corbusier and other immigrants impartedother forms of building technology, which helped modernizearchitecture. This shows that the displacement of people during thewar did not only act as a negative effect, but it influenced otherparts of the world positively. In this regards, the war contributedto building technology in America in an indirect manner, but itsconnection to Modernism helped greatly to define the architecturaldevelopment in America.

As the effects of the WW1 and WW2 show, thepost-war era in America saw increased suburbanization. Particularly,the WW2 led to increased suburbanization as abundance and safety hadeluded people since the onset of the “Great Depression.” Inaddition, wartime production and mobilization as suggested earliercatapulted the economy greatly resulting to a housing boom inpost-war America. America experienced a population boom in the yearsafter the WW1 and WW2, which intensified the housing shortage leadingto increased concern on technologies in the architectural industry.As such, designers channeled innovative advances into housingindustry leading to increased technology in the housing industry.This shows that WW2 had a significant effect on the housing boom andthe building technology across America.

On the other hand, the wars contributedsignificantly to the development of technologies in steel making,which builders used extensively in construction. Devised by SirHenry Bessemer, the “Bessemer process,” was the first low-pricedindustrial process to be used in mass-production of, molten pig ironinto steel (Mountjoy, 2009). This method of steel manufacture led toa decrease in cost of steel, increased the speed and scale ofproduction of steel, as well as reducing the labor required duringthe steel-making process. The main principle of this method was toremove excess carbon along with other impurities by oxidation of ironprocess, and it comprised of air being blown from side to side of themolten iron (Mountjoy, 2009). In addition, Sidney Gilchrist Thomasdeveloped a more sophisticated process used to eliminate phosphorusfrom iron. In 1878, Thomas cousin, Percy Gilchrist, a chemistpatented the process and the first organization to use the patentedprocess was Bolckow Vaughan and Co. in Yorkshire (Gold, 2013). SirCharles William Siemens who in 1850s developed a regenerative furnacethat was able to recover enough heat because it was able to savearound 70-80% of the required fuel discovered the other greatinvention in steel making. The availability of low-priced steelenabled the American people to build railroads, large ships,skyscrapers, and bridges.

Between 1820- 1830, majority of the entrepreneursand inventors started to use the steamboat technology that wereemerging as engines that could move on land. Oliver Evans broughtabout the first proposal in 1813, his knowledge involved the creationof a railroad that would join Philadelphia, and New York, and thecarriages were supposed to be moved by steam engines (Mountjoy,2009). The efficiency of railway to transport bulk and large itemsled to decreased transportation costs for goods to the market.However, this development undermined the work and profitability ofearlier canals and turnpikes that began to fall and fold intodespair. The early railways were poorly established, and this led tocompetition among different companies as they try to improve theinvention. The companies were using different gauges to ensure thattheir tracks were good enough, and this led to goods to beingtrans-shipped instead of being transported directly to towns(Mountjoy, 2009). The conclusion of the Transcontinental Railway in1869 resulted in efficiency and profit that had the effect of causinga period of extreme technological and consolidation standardizationthat had the capability of lasting for more than 50 years. Inaddition, during this period railway magnate, for example, CorneliusVanderbilt and Jay Gould were able to acquire great fortunes andpower because of consolidating smaller rail lines into StateCorporation. Mountjoy (2009) contends that by 1920, approximately408,800 Km of the standard-gauge railroad lines had been establishedin America, and it was controlled and owned by seven organizations.In addition, the need to harmonize train schedules became importantbecause each city had its local schedule and this createdinefficiencies. However, this issue was settled after the railwaymanagers introduced a standard time schedule in 1883 (Ghirardo,2014). Moreover, the increase in cheap steelmanufacture from the 1860s enabled more railroads to be establishedfrom steel because apart from being cheap it was also more durableand stronger than iron.

Gold (2013) asserts that Francis Pettit Smithestablished the first screw propeller in 1835 after he discovered anew method of constructing propellers by accident. Before Pettit’sdiscovery, propellers were screws of significant length. When he wastesting the boat that was being propelled by one screw, the screwbroke leaving behind a fragment that was shaped like the modern boatpropeller. The amazing thing was that the boat moved at a fasterspeed with the cracked propeller than when it was full.


Some analysts argue that different wars inAmerica did not contribute to the building technology, but insteadthey led to decreased innovations across the architecture fraternity(Ghirardo, 2014). For example, immediatelyafter WW11 and the Civil War, America saw decreased innovations inthe building technology as most engineers died or embarked ondesigning weapons rather than designing inventions that would help inthe building technology. Despite the fact that the impacts of theAmerican wars resulted in the development of positive impacts onbuilding technology, some negative impacts were also encountered. Forinstance, development of railways led to transportation of weapons inthe battlefield, and this caused many deaths of innocent citizens(Mountjoy, 2009). In addition, invention of modern ships contributedto the wars in greater heights, and many individuals lost theirlives, as well as pollution of water, was also encountered. Inaddition, wars in America led to the destruction of buildings, whichled to a housing shortage in America. In this regards, it is thehousing shortage and the development of technologies in other fieldssuch as in production and communication that influenced the buildingtechnology rather than the wars.


The wars in America affected the buildingtechnology greatly especially by offering new designs and motifssince during the wars, the country engaged in mass production ofweapons resulting to transfer of knowledge to the buildingtechnology. The developments that America has experienced in someinstances especially in the building technology bear identity in thesuccesses of wars and lessons learnt during the war. However, thedevelopments also facilitated wars, and many people died in theprocess. In addition, the technological innovations had resulted inmassive impacts on how the war was fought as well as how peopleremember it. Although the war had far-reaching ramifications,post-war America made great strides in building technology.Conclusively, majority of the inventions still play essential rolesin civilians and military lives up-to-date.


Bijker, W. E., Hughes, T. P., Pinch, T., &amp Douglas, D. G.(2012).&nbspThe social construction of technological systems: Newdirections in the sociology and history of technology. MIT press.

Ghirardo, D. (2014). Paolo Scrivano. Building Transatlantic Italy:Architectural Dialogues with Postwar America.&nbspThe AmericanHistorical Review,&nbsp119(5), 1656-1657.

Godin, B., &amp Lane, J. (2014). Making and Remaking the Measurementof Science and Technology: The International Dimension. In&nbspTheGlobal Politics of Science and Technology-Vol. 2&nbsp(pp.163-177). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Gold, J. R. (2013).&nbspThe experience of modernism: Modernarchitects and the future city, 1928-53. Taylor &amp Francis.

Mountjoy, S. (2009). Technology and the Civil War. New York:Chelsea House Publishers