•May 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Manfredo Tafuri’s Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development (1971)

•November 19, 2011 • 1 Comment

Manfredo Tafuri — Architecture and Utopia — Design and Capitalist Development

Bruno Taut’s “Russia’s Architectural Situation” (1929)

•September 27, 2011 • 1 Comment

All thoughts in Russia are dominated by industrialization and the concurrent opening up of its vast virgin territories, rich in natural resources but lacking the technical equipment for their exploitation.  Architectural thought is directed toward the same goals.  Industrial building and the industrialization of building are foremost among the concerns of Russian architects who have come to the West to study, to visit, and to collect information; they also feature prominently in the questions Russians ask when speaking to Western architects visiting Russia.  Russian industrial buildings are conceived in the same consistent, functional manner as are ours here in the West, in Holland, France, partially in England, and above all in America.  The Ford plant in Detroit could just as well have been built in Russia, with minor modifications necessitated by different climatic conditions, and the new plant by Ford in Nizhnii-Novgorod will indeed soon confirm this contention.  The architectural problem as such in the field of industrial building has ceased to exist, since the definition of purpose is unequivocal and, in terms of its goals, can just about be determined with mathematical precision, so that it is possible today to speak about a virtually universal reflex of appropriate architectural design habits.  Indeed, one is tempted to say that the difficulties that have surrounded this problem have been overcome.

Even though the USSR is totally committed to the economic exploitation of its territories, especially under the influence of the five-year plans, there are indications that there are areas of productive work that are not immediately affected by this tendency and that cannot subsist by virtue of a purely scientific point of view, even though the economy has been raised to the level of state planning, thus injecting elements of a moral and ethical nature into the situation.  This much is evident: when individual self-interest is superseded by work for the community, new sources of ideas, as well as new spiritual resources, have to be tapped to provide this higher usefulness with continuing purpose.

In the publication New Russia (Vol. 5/6, 1929) the Greek poet Nikolai Kazan writes in his ‘Banquet of Georgian Poets’ about an important conversation with the Georgian poet Robakidze, who is quoted as having said the following: ‘It is the purpose of art to epress the invisible breath of the father in a tactile and visible manner.  If man [168] does not succeed beyond merely expressing or describing the son, then his art must be considered superficial and insignificant…”; and further on: ‘The Russian Revolution is a visibl phenomenon of a larger cosmic revolution that is being prepared in our hearts.  The poet must come to understand the deep meaning of Bolshevism; he is its son, and only through it can he search and find the father…’ — And Meierkhol’d, whose theater was the precursor of purism, of mechanized ‘objectivity’ and the abstraction of acting, has recently confessed that ‘…beauty must now come to the stage.  We must inundate theater with beauty!’ Surely there is no danger that Meierkhol’d will conjure up an arts-and-crafts stage in the manner of Max Reinhardt of 30 years ago.  Nevertheless, by means of objectivity on the one hand and by abstraction on the other, art strives to capture all the human senses by illuminating the universal by means of concrete reality.

The absence of such a harmonious point of view, which possibly only the Mexican Diego Rivera has brought to realization in painting, may well have been what prevented Lenin in his time from becoming the friend of revolutionary artists, apart from the fact that he may not have considered the arts of great importance in general; at any rate, even the durable People’s Commissar, Lunacharskii, was unable to give these trends full priority.  As a result, we have the well publicized debate in the Soviet press — initiated by Gorkii — and reported in our press as well, which discussed the merits and value of a thorough study of classical literature.

Architecture cannot ignore these spiritual currents; on the contrary, it is fully part of them, particularly if it is to transcend the trite concerns of a purely functional approach.  Basically, there is no limit to such an approach; but, as mentioned before, the design of straightforward industrial buildings does not recognize this problem at all, or only partially, since, strictly speaking, the problem as such is in fact the result of pure functional necessity.  It was quite proper to reduce architecture to its basic functional aspects, thus ending the confusion of mixing or confounding it with painting and sculpture, and so at long last destroying its image as one of the decorative arts.  Even though the Russians, and we as well, have thrown off this particular yoke, a new tendency has to be fought these days, namely, the tendency to proclaim that functionalism and objectivity are the highest aims of architecture.  Functionalism in the sense of trite utilitarianism or, even worse, mere consideration of cost and profit, would surely mean the death of architecture.  The dissipation of the achievements of the pioneers of modern [169] architecture shows very clearly how much damage can be done if such a thesis is accepted.  Function, understood in the sense that the whole building as well as all its component parts, its spaces, and ultimately even its exterior are permeated by a consistent spirit, will give architecture a new lease on life and re-establish it as an art in the aesthetic sense as well.  This is borne out by the fact that a number of existing examples already manifest the first ingredients of such new beauty.  A similar case can be made about the question of objectivity.  In a positive sense the consequences are the same as described above.  In the negative sense the results may turn out to be even worse: instead of seeing his task as one of building, the architect sees it as one of making programs for building.  Whereas in the past he did not concern himself at all, or only very little,w ith the needs and wants that led to building, he now attempts to deal with these questions all by himself.  A drastic example of this is the workingman’s dwelling, which the architect wants to reform according to his own ideas, and which is usually designed for the ‘new’ dweller, who is made to fit the preconceived notion of the architect in question.  Our own situation is full of examples that such experiments, should they become the rule, inevitably lead to an even more extensive proletarianization of the working classes than before.  In order to arrive at a true understanding of the whole situation, a knowledge of the worker’s life, and poverty in general, is necessary to provide food for one’s imagination.  Seen in this light, many of the exhibited plans and model layouts take on the semblance of a charity tea ‘for the benefit of the poor.’

In Russia these, as it were, self-induced dilemmas of modern architecture are quite naturally expressed in a different manner.  However, as soon as residential construction there overcomes its primitive form of organization, which so far has prevented it from arriving at any kind of concrete achievement, the same dilemmas as those described above will have to be faced.  Still, the Russians sense this danger, and it is quite possible that they are resisting modern architecture on the basis of their observations of developments abroad — often in toto — simply because they do not understand the exact nature of the danger.  Such an opposition, devoid of any real argument, and which because of a revolutionary ideology feels that it is being pushed toward a moral schism according to the laws of polarity, is now faced by architect-artists whose a priori worship of modern architecture, of construction, materials, concrete, steel, glass, etc., is essentially as unjustified as the position of their opponents.  [170] These moderns want to imbue the ‘new’ materials with revolutionary ideology, thus elevating them to symbols of their age.  Furthermore, it is really very difficult for an outsider to understand the difference between the so-called ‘constructivists’ and the ‘formalists.’  Often, these designs are accompanied by tables of [a] statistical or quasiscientific character, and the Scheerbart ‘lucky numbers’ are greeted with ecstatic delight.  Another import from the West: German city plans and/or building projects, covered with minute descriptions, the whole sheathed in scientific lingo, certainly may be partially blamed for all this confusion.

It appears that the inhibitions of both parties have the same basic source.  On the one hand ideology, science, materials; on the other, force, monumentality, representation, with both attempting to quench the thirst for beauty.  However, the real sources seem as mysterious as ever.

America teaches a good lesson concerning European weaknesses, insofar as it mirrors them as caricatures in their ultimate distortion.  I received a publication notice from New York, awaiting a book with the title The Logic of Modern Architecture. […]


In Russia the search for fundamentals takes on dramatic forms.  There, as anywhere else, human weakness becomes part of the struggle as manifested in competition work and its results, where over and over again we see the conflict between design for a functional purpose as opposed to the quest for beauty.  In a limited competition for the projected building of the Great Lenin Library on a prominent site in Moscow, the brothers Vesnin unquestionably submitted the best plans.  However, rightly or wrongly, it was found that their modern façade was not the logical solution to the problem because its large glass areas.  And so it apparently decided to give the commission to an academicioan who responded more positively to the craving for monumentality with corresponding sacrifices of functional clarity in the layout.  In accord with the above-mentioned American ‘logic,’ a case like this does call for monumentality, thereby helping this kind of logic to victory, simply because of the weak spot of the counter argument was easy to spot, in spite of the fact that there was no question about its advantages in terms of all its other qualities.  Another such situation exists with respect to another building in a large governmental complex near the Kremlin.  Le Corbusier’s design for the building of the Centrosoyuz illustrates a similar process, albeit with a different set of characteristics: in place of monumentality we are here dealing with pseudorational artistry presented by a brilliant talent, far beyond the comprehension of Moscow.

A number of functional and important buildings point the way in the direction of future developments, even in Russia.  Among these are the buildings of the Electrical Technical Institute, the Textile and Aerohydrodynamic Institute, the Stadium, the Institute of Mineralogy by Vesnin, the Moscow Planetarium and, to a certain degree, the Kharkov Administration Building.  In time the present overriding tendency to express the heroism of the Revolution in monuments will hopefully be overcome.  The provisional Mausoleum of Lenin, which is currently being replaced by a permanent structure, has in general been treated in a restrained manner, the exception being the small Greek temple at its top, which illustrates the common error of mistaking architecture for literature.  The Lenin Institute, completed in 1925, is another example of a building designed to express ‘dignity’ and ‘strength’ by its great black bulk of stone.  The extent to which its real architectural performance has suffered may be gauged by the gloomy and extremely heavy appearance of the building, especially [172] with respect to the striking contrast this produces within the charming cityscape of Moscow to its immediate vicinity.  One may also note the complete inability to provide a good solution for the urbanistically very important Palace of the Soviets, which now will be very difficult to save.  The gloomy and ponderous character of this effort represents the hallmark of a period for a whole school of architects who designed not only office buildings but also apartment houses and clubs in this particular manner.  Still, these are not half as bad as the horrible academic misconceptions of the Main Telegraph Office, in which both plan and façades are equally hopeless.  As far as the Lenin Institute and its companions are concerned, one can see these as the first ponderous attempts of the Russian muzhik trying his first steps in a new direction.

The task of Russian architecture can be seen as an attempt to bring these new ideas into harmony with the traditional Russian closeness to the soil.  In Russia this is no empty phrase, but a fact; for in their colors, dances, music, and folk-art the Russians reveal in a visible and tactile manner a true national tradition.  Therefore the transformation of something modern into something heavy and cumbersome merely means that a synthesis has not yet been achieved; but it also means that a start has nevertheless been made.  Indeed, if one has some feeling for such imponderables, one can sense that this process is at work even now as far as the above-mentioned buildings are concerned.  Just as the Russians accept as natural the idea of a fusion of opposites in their philosophy, so they may possibly also succeed in eventually translating the fusion of apparent contradictions into concrete reality.  The artists among the architects are not being taken seriously as such by practicing professionals and engineers.  However, when obliged to work together with the latter group, the artistry of the atelier changes under the influence of the practicians into heavy, earthbound construction and form, and, in spite of some vague references to Western ideas, the results eventually wind up having typically Russian traits.  This is best exemplified by the new stadium.  Even though the overriding influence of the engineer is quite evident in its design, its peculiar ponderous quality really belongs to the sphere of the Russian conception of art.

—   Unpublished manuscript, November 2nd, 1929.

Futurism: An Anthology

•September 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Futurism — An Anthology (Yale University Press)

Le Corbusier’s “CIAM-2 (1929)” (1929)

•September 14, 2011 • 2 Comments

The International Congress for Modern Architecture [CIAM]

2nd Congress at Frankfurt-am-Main — September, 1929



Report by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret

The dwelling place is a distinctly biological phenomenon.

Yet the vessels, the rooms, the spaces which it implies are confined in an envelope of solid materials belonging to a static system.

Biological event, static event; these are two distinct orders, two independent functions.  The mind which strives to solve one or the other of these riddles follows varied paths.

* * *

The poverty, the inadequacy of traditional techniques have brought in their wake a confusion of powers, an artificial mingling of functions only indifferently related to one another, an exaggerated solidarity which is a hindrance.  Methods of building have emerged from this, and been codified by the Schools and the Academies.  These hybrid procedures are very costly, they save neither matter nor effort; they can no longer respond to the severe economy of the present; the “Minimum House” cannot be achieved; [30] waste is the ransom of discordance between the tasks proposed and the traditional techniques.  This is true throughout the world.  The impasse had led to the crisis in housing.  We must find and apply new methods, clear methods, allowing us to work out useful plans for the home, lending themselves naturally to standardization, industrialization, Taylorization (mass production).

If our diagnosis of the sheer inadequacy of traditional methods were not more than enough in itself to impel us to look for new solutions, the history of architecture (our own past, or sometimes even the present in other climates) would show us that other methods of house construction exist or have existed which are infinitely more flexible, more deeply and richly architectural than those made popular by what is taught in the schools.  (The lake house, the Gothic wooden house, the Swiss chalet [blockhaus], the Russian isba, the Indochinese straw hut, the Japanese tea house, etc., etc.).

We must find and apply new methods, clear methods allowing us to work out useful plans for the home, lending themselves naturally to standardization, industrialization, Taylorization.

If we do not sort out two independent events: the arrangement and furnishing of the home, on the one hand, and the construction of the house, on the other; if we do not differentiate between two unrelated functions: an organized system of circulation, on the one hand, and a system of structure, on the other; if we persist in the present methods by which the two functions are mingled and interdependent, then we will remain petrified in the same immobility:

a) Industry will not be able to take over the “Minimum House” and contribute its prodigious resources to the general economy.

b) Architecture will not be able to make plans adapted to the modern economy, and society, although it is in the process of regeneration, will be deprived of the “Minimum House.”

By “the crisis in housing,” we mean not only a quantitative crisis but a qualitative one as well.  Man today is an animal deprived of its lair: he can only mope.

An exact circulation is the key to contemporary architecture

The running of a home consists of precise functions in a regular order.  The regular order of these functions constitutes a phenomenon of circulation.  An exact, economic rapid circulation is the key to contemporary architecture.  The precise functions of domestic life require various areas whose minimum content can be quite precisely determined.  For each function there must be a type of minimum “container,” standard, necessary, and sufficient (the human scale).  The order of these functions is established according to a logic which is biological, and not geometrical.  These functions can be diagrammed along a continuous line; whereupon the interplay of the necessary areas and their proximities can be clearly discerned.  It will be evident that the way these areas are connected has little in common with the more or less arbitrary shapes and areas of traditional houses.

The façades are providers of light

Standardization is the means by which industry may take over an object and produce it at a low cost, in great numbers and perfect quality.  The domestic functions have these unquestionable characteristics: they are carried out on horizontal planes which are floors; they require a flow of light which in the daytime can be admitted only (theoretically) by the façades: the façades are providers of light.  The partitions which mark off the series of “containers” necessary to the running of a home are in no way directly related to the walls; they are membranes related to the walls; they are membranes, insulating or not.  By its very definition, the façade-provider of light cannot carry the floors of the house.  The floors will be carried independently of the façade, by posts.


The floors will be carried independently of the façade

From then on, with a classification: “floors” and “light-giving façade,” the problem appears in all its clarity: to place at the disposition of the architect surfaces of free flooring covered by surfaces of free ceiling; on this available area, the architect will install, upon request, rooms (or vessels) connected to one another by a rational circulation.  Sunlight will be provided by the façades, especially arranged for this purpose; openings can be made anywhere, vertically or horizontally, in these façades; and the depth of the house will be dictated by the height of the areas to be lighted between two floors.  The flooring will be formed by a system of slabs or girders or flat vaults carried by posts which will either have foundations in the ground or be suspended from systems of bridges and hanging tongues; thanks to these, the number of posts may be decreased and the way opened for static methods which are not yet commonly used in building.  The disposition of these posts or tongues will be dictated by an accurate computation of the distances to be spanned: what we consider the indispensable principle of the “free ceiling” (in order to achieve the “free” or “open plan”) requires the elimination of visible crossbeams.

In order to permit industrialization, the spacing between posts and the spans of the girders will be standardized.  The presence of posts inside the house (a presence which represents about .5% or .25% — the three-hundredths part of the surface built upon) can in no way bother the architect when he proceeds to make the plan of the house (size, shape of the rooms, circulation, arrangement of the furniture).

Modern materials, steel and reinforced concrete, allow the supporting, or static, function of the house to be realized with precision: that is, the framework.

Independent framework, open plan, free façade

We feel that the house should be erected on an independent framework, providing an open plan and free façades.

The masonry wall no longer has a right to exist.

In 1926, during a cycle of lectures at the Labor Exchange in Paris, Auguste Perret, speaking of reinforced concrete, stated: “It is madness to think of using reinforced concrete to build small houses: it is much too expensive.  Only large buildings can be economically made of reinforced cement.”  Coming from an illustrious builder, this statement shows how widely opinions can differ.

We adopt another viewpoint; not of the present but of a near future: having demonstrated above that the ideal solution includes a framework and consequently an open plan and free façades, we say: iron and reinforced concrete lend themselves to these needs.  Concrete and iron for big projects, and iron for scattered houses, prefabricated and assembled.  Industry with all of the equipment and all of the methods for preparing iron and reinforced concrete already exists.  Qualified and specialized labor is abundant; workshops, factories, mills are available.  The open plan and free façade are conducive to equipping the house in a rational way.  Rational equipment (response to the biological function) brings an enormous saving on the area occupied by the dwelling, thus, a saving on the real volume and thus, on installation costs.  The house that is rationally “equipped,” by elements mass produced by big industry, means a considerable saving in operation and construction costs.  But rational equipment, which replaces a good deal of furniture and makes things easier than ever before, can be arrived at only in terms of the free framework and open plan.  So, the open plan and the free façade must be adopted and independent frameworks be created.

If that decision were paradoxically to be followed by greater expenditures, this would merely be the result of industry’s temporary lack of organization.  We would have to put [32] up with this period of deficit, go through it and in a short time, thanks to industrial organization on the one hand and to perfection of domestic equipment on the other, we would attain an entirely new position in the history of architecture and simultaneously solve the problem of the minimum house.

Yet already, at this precarious stage of the question, we have achieved significant results: at the request of M. Loucheur, Minister of Labor, we drew up plans for totally industrialized houses, made with the most costly materials and executed in the most meticulous way.  We extrapolated the house, so to speak, from clay and quarry and mortar; we transported it to the industrialist’s factory, the Taylorization belt.  And on the basis of one hundred houses, with contract price, we housed 6 people (father, mother, and 4 children) in conditions completely different from the usual ones — and much better — for 38,000 French francs per house.

We maintain that this price, of 38,000 francs for 100 houses, could be reduced in the same ratio as that of mass-produced cars compared to cars individually made to order.  For we actually produced the prefabricated house, and we did what the builders of cars and railway carriages do.

Walter Gropius has given us the American figures, revealing the present lack of synchronization between building and industry (the figures represent, from top to bottom, houses, general living index, the automobile industry, and Ford).

* * *

Modern architecture could get onto the wrong track, if it tried to build mass-produced standard houses (one, two, four, even ten standard models) and spread them over the country.  The raison d’être of a whole mass of architects would be eliminated.  But last year, at the La Sarraz Congress, our comrade Hoste cried: “If standardization and industrialization were to wipe out the architect’s calling, I would accept this and say that we would not have the right to react against an ineluctable event.”  Rest assured, my dear Hoste: the architect’s trade will not disappear; instead, it will be geared down, dispersed, divided into a considerable number of branches.  In reality, the field of architecture has been prodigiously extended.

This is what we believe: As far as the “minimum house” (social tool that is indispensable to the present era) is concerned, architecture can center its attention on equipping the inside of the house.  Depending on the problem (capacity), the size of the family, the sort of occupant (his way of life), the exposure to sun and winds, the topographical location (city planning), the architect of equipment can invent biological groupings within a static standard framework.  Thus the industrial methods required here, as a result of the absolute transformation of existing elements, can be employed in any climate since they can be made to fit any and all local conditions.

Normalization of standard measurements of equipment

The framework will be standardized; the elements of the house and the objects making up its equipment will be standardized around a series of varied models, worked out on an accurate human scale (stairs, doors, windows or glass walls, interior sectionals, etc.).  The home appliance industry, until now confined to sanitation, heating, and kitchen appliances, will expand indefinitely.  And the task of a Congress such as ours will be to try, through the individual efforts of each one of us, to establish an international convention normalizing the various standard measurements of domestic equipment.  This attempt at normalization (similar to that which has occurred in the field of photography) is closely linked with those questionnaires I and II which we sent you and which criticize the present regulations, concerning the dimensions of rooms, light surfaces, exits, etc.

Revision of the dwelling’s functions

To tell the truth, the industry toward which we are going to take a decisive step [33] expects our studies to result in a revision of the dwelling’s functions, with this short, concise (and so very revolutionary) phrase as a slogan: “breathe, hear, see” or again: “air, sound, light” or again: “ventilation and isothermics (even temperature), acoustics, radiation of light,” etc.

Everywhere, in everything, in our daily research, we lack scientific certainty.  Physics and chemistry are the territories which we must prospect in the search for sufficient truths.

With such a program, as you can see, we are leaving behind the customs made sacred by tradition.  We will learn more from the savages, from men close to nature whom the Academies have not touched; but above all, we will have to seal new pacts in the scientific world and in that of large-scale contemporary production.

On the other hand, we are reassured as to the destiny of modern architecture, even though certain leftist circles are intoxicated or dizzied by certain words they consider fashionable [Le Corbusier means phrases like Neue Sachlichkeit]: those who are devoted to solving the problem of the minimum house will always (even in spite of themselves) be able “to act like gods” with pieces of wood, iron, cement, or various assembled products.

Architecture will not be ruined by the “minimum house.”

* * *

One last word about these embryos of new systems which have caused a contemporary architecture to dawn (very palely so far!).

When we leave one function behind in order to take up another; when, for instance, we stop swimming in order to walk, when we stop walking in order to fly, we break up the established muscular harmonies and we fall — unless, by reacting with wisdom and perseverance, we create a new harmony wherein all the relationships are new but wherein coherence and unity of principle bring ease and proper functioning — real efficiency.

Unity: all evolution tends toward it.  Everything can be in motion, everything can change overnight, but unity alone brings efficiency through harmony.

We have told you here of our belief in the need for a free framework, making the open plan and free façade possible.  We note that this technical concept allows us to consider all the problems of architecture, from the minimum house to the apartment building, the office building, the skyscraper, and the palace (if that word doesn’t offend your ears).  The idea is simple: in order to act, man needs horizontal surfaces protected from the rain, from temperature, from curiosity.  That’s all!

If we need horizontal surfaces, we will not build any more sloping roofs, which cannot be put to use: on the contrary, the possibility of placing gardens on the roof (to counter the effects of expansion) will mean profound changes in the general layout of the house.


Since we no longer have to lay foundations in the ground for the carrying walls; since on the contrary all we need is posts covering only .5% of the surface built upon and furthermore, since it is our duty to make the house more healthful by raising its bottom-most floor above the ground, we will take advantage of this situation by adopting the principle of “pilotis” or stilts.

What is the point of using pilotis? To make houses more healthful and at the same [34]time allow the use of insulating materials which are often fragile or liable to decay and so should be placed far from the ground and possible shocks.

But most of all: behold, they are available to work a thorough transformation in the system of traffic on the ground.  This is as true of the skyscraper as of the office building, of the minimum houses as of the streets.  One will no longer be “in front of” a house or “in back of” it, but “underneath” it.

We have to reckon with cars, which we will strive to channel into a sort of river with regular banks; we need to park these cars without, at the same time, blocking up the river bed.  When we leave our cars we must not paralyze traffic all along the river and when we come out of our buildings, we must not obstruct the areas reserved for movement.

The President of the Work Soviet in Moscow, during the discussions prior to the adoption of our plans for the Tsentrosoiuz, concluded in these terms: “We will build the Tsentrosoiuz on pilotis because one day we would like to urbanize greater Moscow and solve the traffic problems.”

The most indispensable functions of modern life require the installation of countless utility mains.  If we agree that these mains should be able to climb freely from the bottom to the top of the house and come back down again (skyscrapers, offices, apartment buildings, villas, etc.) and that they should, as the most elementary common sense demands, be able to connect with their point of origin inside or outside of the city, and yet remain within sight for checking and within reach for repairs, then we will realize that the that the traditional wall and foundations are so many obstacles, and that burying pipelines under the ground is the most incredible nonsense of modern times.  The framework with open plan means total freedom in placing mains.  Pilotis make the “elevated street” feasible and thereby, the classification of traffic: pedestrians, cars, and parking.  And the city’s utility mains will be installed like the working parts of a machine in a factory: accessible for inspection and repairs.

As a result, the entire surface of the city will be available for traffic.  Moreover, new ground will be created: the roof gardens.  What fortunate circumstances, if we know how to take advantage of them!

From this new building statute arise new architectural attitudes.  Should we give it all up? Of course not! In the harmonization of the whole, let us create, let us tend toward unity! We feel that modern architecture is just beginning and that a new cycle has just become apparent.

As for the solution to be found for the problem of the “minimum house,” we demand not mere methods of expediency, of temporary adaptation to existing but false situations, but rather methods which are harmonized with those of work as it should be done today.  All we need is to get over the hurdle! But first we must make up our minds to get over!

— Reproduced in The Radiant City (1933)

Wilhelm Lotz’s “Weißenhof Exhibition” (1927)

•September 13, 2011 • 2 Comments

The main part of the exhibition is formed by the Weißenhof residential site. It sticks out strangely amid the traditional architecture of the suburban approach from Stuttgart. But when seen by itself it spreads across the slope with surprising naturalness. Such a natural grouping and layout is otherwise only to be found in medieval town quarters and tropical villages. There are no fancy arrangements. The landscape, variations of terrain, sun, light, and air, form an ensemble of living forces into which Mies van der Rohe’s overall plan and the individual houses are sympathetically inserted. Thus the development seems almost like a living organism; everything is naturally interrelated. Indeed, this seems to us the most important and beneficial aspect of the Stuttgart site: that the exponents of the current architectural revolution are not attached to dogmatic principles, they do not stick mindlessly to slogans, but modestly subordinate their ideas to the demands of human life and needs. Yet they also go further than this, not in formal terms, but in the desire to point [156] the way to a new form of living, which will come to terms with the contemporary forces so often regarded even now as the enemies of all human culture: technology, industry, and rationalization.

No doubt much of what is shown can and will be criticized. Errors of detail will appear, but this is why the development was built. It is an experiment and without experiments here are no results, and no progress. In many of the speeches which were made, there were constant and anxious reassurances that this was not an end but a beginning. If these assurances were intended to forestall criticism they seem misguided. The development is bound to become a whetstone for critical opinion. But we should wholeheartedly support the attitudes which have led to the creation of these buildings, for surely no forward-looking human being can doubt that the experiment will bring results of great importance, or that it is an event of great cultural significance.

The exhibition of plans and models should complement the development itself and draw attention to the generation of architects who in every country are standing up openly and sincerely in support of the new architecture. Here one has an overwhelming impression that these developments are not the expression of a style in the old-fashioned sense, based on and embodying a specific formal language, but that they are grounded in the structure of our times, answering to the specific demands of the task in question. And as Mies van der Rohe emphasized in his opening speech, this part of the exhibition shows that the Weißenhof site is not just an example of contemporary fashion in this country but part of a movement which is spreading throughout the world. And we may count ourselves lucky that we are able to examine the designs and plans of this group from all over the world, gathered together here in one place.

Sigfried Giedion’s “Weissenhof Housing Settlement, Stuttgart, 1927” (1927)

•September 13, 2011 • 2 Comments

The exhibition certainly gave us an insight into actual life.  We believe that it has extraordinary significance because it has brought new methods of construction out from the secluded [596-598] of the avant-garde and caused them to be put into operation on a broad scale.  The new architecture can never develop soundly without the active participation of the masses.  Of course, the problems that have to be solved are not posed by any conscious expression of the masses.  For many reasons their conscious mind is always ready to say “No” to new artistic experiences.  But if the unconscious mind is once directed into a new path, then the laboratory product will be broadened and adapted to meet the needs of real life.  The Stuttgart exhibition appears to us as the nucleus of such a process, and herein lies its importance.

The Weissenhof Housing Settlement gives evidence of two great changes: the change from handicraft methods of construction to industrialization, and the premonition of a new way of life.

Mies van der Rohe’s original plan was to interlock the house-plots so that a unified relationship could be created and the green areas would flow into one another.  This plan unfortunately could not be realized for commercial reasons.  Even so it is possible to experience how relationship and order are created by the level unassertive surfaces of flat roofs in places that would otherwise have been utterly chaotic.  In flat towns, such as the Hague, one can observe ow flat roofs create wide interconnecting bands.

The Weissenhof Housing Settlement is dominated by Mies van der Rohe’s steel-framed apartment house.  Even the apartment house, which today usually takes the form of a palace or a castle, is here transformed into a more loosely articulated structure.  The steel frame permits one to eliminate all rigid inner and outer walls.  For the outside, an insulated filling wall with a half-brick thickness is sufficient, and the inner and outer walls.  These window strips are the only limiting factors.  These window strips are wide and continuous in order to enable good light to penetrate as deeply as possible into the building.  The problem of the apartment house is today (1927) even further from solution than that of the single-family house.  [599] Mies van der Rohe’s steel skeleton shows a possible way of unraveling this problem.

Many architectural critics found the continuous steel supports that ran freely through the houses of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier very unsightly.  It seems that it is especially difficult for the architect to free himself from the appearance of traditional structural methods in which the walls were the bearing members of the house.  It is fundamentally organic to our present-day conceptions of space that complete expression is given to the inner construction of our houses.  The continuous steel support is definitely not an aesthetic focal point.  It may be allowed to run quietly through the space.  Just as the columns of ancient architecture give the onlooker a feeling of security by means of their ordered play of load and support, so the continuous steel or concrete shaft gives today’s onlooker an impression of powerful energy that flows uniformly through the house.  The free-standing visible column is thus given a new expressive quality apart from its constructive objectivity.  Here is continuous energy at work: nothing in our life remains an isolated experience: everything stands in a many-sided relationship — within, without, above, below!

Mies van der Rohe has followed the possibilities of his building through to the utmost detail.  Plywood walls that can be screwed onto the ceilings enable the occupier to alter the disposition of his space at will.  Doorless connections between rooms.  One is continually amazed at the amount of space that this method makes possible within an area of 70 square meters (750 square feet).  It acts upon us as a necessary stimulant — an impetus that can set industry into motion.

— Originally published as “L’Exposition du Werkbund à Stuttgart 1927”


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