Cast-iron architecture became mainstream as a building design material all over the world in the mid-1800s. Its popularity can be attributed, in part, to its cost-effectiveness and efficiency — an elegant exterior facade could be mass-produced economically using cast iron. Now, portable iron houses have become very popular as one can prefabricate and ship the entire structure from one part of the world to another. Ornate facades take a leaf out of historic buildings and then ‘hung’ on the tall steel-framed building — the architecture style that was in vogue in the late 19th century.
Cast iron was used in both private building projects as well as commercial building for several reasons. First, it was low on the investment front to reproduce ornate facades, such as Italianate, Classical and Gothic, which turned out to be most popular designs mimicked. The splendid grand architecture, a paragon of affluence and prosperity, became cost-effective when mass produced. People reused cast iron moulds that produced architectural catalogues of module patterns that were customizable according to one’s requirements — catalogues of cast-iron facades were in fashion like those of pattern house kits. Like automobiles that were mass produced, cast-iron facades would have “parts” to easily repair components, if worn out or broken, in the case of a mould still available.
Second, like other industrial products which were mass-produced, there were elaborate designs that could be assembled fast and easily on a construction site. Better still, entire building structures could be put up in one place and shipped all over the world, thereby enhancing portability.
Lastly, the use of cast iron was closely linked to the progress of the Industrial Revolution. The use of steel frames, especially in commercial buildings, maximized the expanse of open floor plan design, with space to fit in larger windows designed for commerce. The hole in one, however, was the cast-iron facades which were also considered to be fireproof — an innovative type of building construction that met new fire regulations after the devastating impact of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Not everybody would vouch for the use of cast iron. Maybe it’s been overrated, or a popular representation of a mechanized culture.