How The Industrial Revolution Shaped Conceptions of Elegance

I don’t imagine peasants in medieval Chartres aspiring to own anything precious. Give them the basics, and let anything special belong to the church. And when it comes to the Cathedral, and everything in it, we are looking at exquisite one-off creations.  

With the printing press in fifteenth-century Italy we see the beginnings of a new sensibility, that by the 1950s had become firmly entrenched. Interim landmarks include pulley blocks from Portsmouth Block Mills, Adam Smith’s writing on the division of labour, Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace assembled from component parts produced a long way from site, Henry Ford’s assembly-line cars, Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House and Kelvinator fridges. I am referring to the allure of mass produced items. In our minds these are not substitutes for one off creations, but the real thing.           

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