Thames Tunnel Was Originally Created Essay

Pages: 15 (6088 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 21  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Doctorate  ·  Topic: Architecture

Thames Tunnel was originally created as a means of connecting Wapping and Rotherbridge beneath London's River Thames. Each of those areas was located on the southern and the northern portions of the river; locals desired a direct connection between these two locations to accommodate the burgeoning docks on each side. The earliest efforts to create a tunnel of this sort can be traced back to the close of the 18th century, when Ralph Dodd was unsuccessful in making a tunnel between Tilbury and Gravesend. The initial financial investors in the creation of the Thames Tunnel were known as the Thames Tunnel Company, which was formed in 1824 and included the likes of investors such as the Duke of Wellington -- who once helped free Thames Tunnel engineer Marc Brunel from prison (Pudney 57). The original plans for the tunnel were largely conceived of by Marc Brunel (No author), who worked with Thomas Cochrane to create the technology that would make the building of the tunnel possible. Originally, the tunnel was designed to accommodate horse drawn carriages. Although there were certainly pragmatic reasons regarding trade and commerce that were instrumental in the tunnel's creation, of equal importance was the degree of hubris on the part of Brunel in particular to build and underground (and underwater) tunnel for the sake of novelty.

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The Thames Tunnel was constructed approximately 23 meters below the River Thames. It is 396 meters long, with a width of 11 meters and a height of six meters. Near the completion of its construction, the tunnel was adorned with spiral staircases and suitable lighting along its roadways. Beneath the bank of the side closest to Rotherhithe, an engine house was built in order to quarter machinery used to drain the tunnel. Although Cochrane and Brunel were widely credited for innovating the technology that paved the way for the tunnel's completion, there was previous inspiration for a design of such a construct known as the Thames Archway (Aaseng 28), which was attempted by a group of Cornish miners between 1805 and 1809. The project eventually dissolved due to flooding, which would prove to be an ominous portent for the construction of the Thames Tunnel.

The principle technological innovation devised by Cochrane and Brunel that was instrumental for the completion of the Thames Tunnel was called the tunneling shield, a protective structure that serves as a support while builders tunnel beneath the ground. The tunnel shield is particularly useful when digging beneath soil that is soft, loose, or unstable -- which was one of the problems that the builders of the Thames Archway encountered approximately 10 years prior to Cochrane and Brunel patenting this technology in 1818.

1.3. Construction

The construction of the Thames Tunnel would prove particularly arduous for a number of reasons. The project frequently encountered financial difficulty in procuring suitable funding. Additionally, the novelty of creating an underwater tunnel presented a number of obstacles, some of which succeeded in shutting down the construction site for a period of approximately seven years. Additionally, the inherent difficulties of working with new technology in a hazardous environment presented physical ailments to many of those who participated in the tunnel's construction, include Brunel himself.

Frequent barriers to swift. successful construction including flooding. Two years into the project, with approximately 167 meters of excavation accomplished, the tunnel flooded, temporary halting progress. The fledgling tunnel would remain closed from 1828 to 1834 following more flooding which took the lives of at least six laborers and nearly killed Isambard Brunel, who took over as the site's leading engineer following illness incurred by both his father and the succeeding resident engineer, William Armstrong. The pair was among the many laborers who became sick due to exposure to the filthy water of the Thames, which was utilized for sewage purposes, and emitted methane gas in noxious quantities.

Despite the propensity for flooding, the tunnel was abandoned in 1828 due to financial reasons. The impecunious nature of the work required to ultimately build the tunnel was far greater than the original estimates for its costs, as the tunnel required 454,000 pounds to dig and 180,000 more pounds to refine (Timbs 287). Additional financial woes were incurred by the motion to enlarge the tunnel's entrance to allow for carriages, when the tunnel would only be used by pedestrians. The builder's attempted to offset the financial burden the bridge represented by charging onlookers to observe the construction progress during the early years. Yet the bulk of the approximately 18 years of the construction history of the Thames River was slowed by financial problems, flooding, and even fires.

The key element in the construction of the Thames Tunnel was the tunneling shield, which was made of 12 frames weighing over seven tons apiece, and which was initially put together in the Rotherhithe shaft (Smith 17). The Rotherhithe shaft was a 15 meter wide iron ring beneath a brick wall that contained a steam engine that powered the pumps for the excavation. The shaft was responsible for the initial excavation that allowed for the tunneling process to begin, after which point the majority of the site excavation was completed by the tunneling shield. The 12 frames of the shield were subdivided into three components which were each manned by a worker, who would remove the earth in front of him as the shield advanced and another worker repeated the process.

1.4 Significance

The Thames Tunnel will always be remembered as the first tunnel that was built beneath a river that was used for transportation purposes. It represents an immense triumph for architecture and for man's steady struggle to exert his will against his natural surroundings. The length of time it took to build and the numerous setbacks endured only attest to the importance of the triumph. Moreover, the tunnel served as a watershed of sorts, particularly in light of the fact that after its completion -- which was facilitated by the technological innovation of Cochrane and Brunel's tunneling shield -- a host of underwater tunnel were completed in the United Kingdom in the subsequent years including London's Tower Subway, the Mersey Railway Tunnel and the Severn Tunnel. Most significant of all, nearly all of these ensuing structures were completed using variations of the tunneling shield.


Aaseng, Nathan. Construction: Building the Impossible. Sonoma: The Olive Press. 1999. Print.

No author. "Subterranean London." BBC London. 2010. Web.

Pudney, John. Brunel and His World. London: Thames and Hudson. 1974. Print.

Smith, Denis. London and the Thames Valley. London: Published for the Institution of Civil Engineers. 2001. Print.

Timbs, John. Stories of Inventors and Discoveries in Science and the Useful Arts. Charleston: Nabu Press. 2010. Print.

2. Fagus Factory

2.1. Background

The construction of the Fagus Factory, which was built for in Germany's Alfeld, was both utilitarian as well as somewhat radical in nature. For the most part, the factory was built as the manufacturing headquarters for a particular type of orthopedic shoe. The work was commissioned by factory owner Carl Benscheidt, who had previously been employed at another shoe factory located across the street. After incurring irreconcilable differences with the son of the owner of that factory, Carl Behrens, Benscheidt made a point of constructing a factory adjacent to the former as a means of competing with him. To that end, Benschedit desired a building that was both functional as a shoe factory and reflected the rebellious spirit of its owner and his brazen quest for competition with his previous employer.

Initially, the shoe manufacturer hired Eduard Werner to serve as the architect for the new building. Werner was credited with structuring much of the original design work of the building's interior. Benschedit wanted the exterior of the building to reflect his rebellious nature, at which point he contracted Adolf Meyer and Walter Gropius to reform Werner's design into something more befitting of Benscheidt's upstart nature.

2.2 Design

It is virtually impossible to look at the Fagus Factory and not compare it to AEG's Turbine factory, which was created by Peter Behrens. This latter building was the single greatest influence on the former, a fact which becomes all the more clear when one considers that both Gropius and Meyer worked on that building as well. One of the primary design distinctions of the Fagus Factory is a number of large sections of glass, which makes it difficult to distinguish the interior from the exterior from certain angles -- which was a design innovation that pleased Benscheidt's sense of the novel regarding the building. The factory itself is actually a series of buildings, the largest of which is a four-story warehouse and a one story production hall. The buildings all incorporate a 40 centimeter dark brick base; the bricks used for the rest of the buildings are yellow. The building was designed so that its front faced a railroad.

2.3. Construction

The Fagus Factory has a somewhat unique construction history, primarily due to the fact that it's original design by Werner… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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