Adolf Behne’s The Modern Functional Building (1926)

Translated from the German by Michael Robinson.

In Adolf Behne, The Modern Functional Building.

(The Getty Center For The History Of Art.  Los Angeles, CA:1996).

• • •


Man’s primordial reason for building is to protect himself against the cold, against animals, against enemies.  He is driven by necessity: he would not build were it not for definite, compelling, urgent purposes.  His early buildings are purely functional in character; they are in their nature essentially tools.

But when we study the earliest stages of human culture, we find that the instinctive joys of play cannot be separated from practical matters.  Primitive man is not strictly utilitarian.  He demonstrates his instinct for play even in his tools, which he makes smooth and beautiful beyond the demands of strict necessity, painting them or decorating them with ornaments.

The tool called “house” is no exception to this.

From the very beginning the house has been as much a toy as a tool.  It is difficult to say how long a balance was maintained between the two poles.

In the course of history we only rarely find such a balance.

The play instinct led to interest in form.  Without that instinct it would be impossible to understand why the tool called “house” must look good and be a certain shape.  Thus our play instinct established certain laws of form, although they are subject to change from time to time.

The laws of form did change periodically.  But if laws of form were unquestionably the secondary element in the origin of all building, they became the stronger, stricter, more rigid principle in the history of human building — stronger, stricter, and more rigid than mere fulfillment of utilitarian function.  Formal considerations outweighed considerations of purpose.

Thus a return to purpose is always revolutionary in its effect.  Forms that have become tyrannical are discarded in order to create — from the recollection of the original function, from as neutral a condition as possible — a rejuvenated, living, breathing form.

Its character as a tool makes the building relative.  Its character as a toy makes it an absolute.  The building must maintain a balance between these two tensions.


In the case of the last few centuries of European architectural history, one cannot speak of a balance.  Form has predominated, and the purpose was entirely satisfied if the house functioned despite its form, that is, if form did not actually negate purpose.

The building that could arouse human interest in any way, that was more than a fence or a shed, was the building as form: the work of an artist.  Its fulfillment of purpose was entirely immaterial.

Of course functional building existed alongside it — fences, sheds, log cabins, stables: the work of anyone at all.

A great gulf existed between formal and functional building because form and purpose were separated.  Schinkel: “Two elements must be distinguished precisely: the one intended to work for practical necessity and  the one that is meant only to express directly the pure idea.  The former is slowly enhanced over the millennia to become an ideal, the latter has this end directly in sight.”

It turned out in practice that the functional building was not as bad aesthetically as one might have assumed from its alienation from form, and that the formal building was by no means as captivating as one might have anticipated from its superiority to any kind of lowly functionalism.  Experience consistently confirmed that modern people of sound mind looked with disdain upon the formal buildings of their period, preferring  functional structures: iron bridges, cranes, and machinery halls.

How was this possible?

Aesthetic sensibility had undergone a revolution.  In the 1890s people had dutifully admired any dense ballast of form and almost equated art with finery, but with the turn of the century came a victorious breakthrough: appreciation of light, conciseness, and clarity.  It opened people’s eyes to the beauty of things suited to their purpose.  Defying expectations, sensibilities refused to find beauty in the superfluous and willingly followed the logic of the functional.

There can be no doubt that the Jugendstil to a certain extent must be judged in light of this attitude.  Today we are far removed from this period that so optimistically could invent its way past fundamental problems.  But it cannot be overlooked that the Jugendstil introduced lighter forms, and the best early efforts of van de Velde, Endell, and Olbrich produced objects that aspired to austerity, energy, and tension of technical functions.

Attitudes really had changed fundamentally.  Architectural form was seen as a danger, and fulfillment of purpose was seen almost as a guarantee for [89] creating a good building.  Whereas before people believed that artists had to be very clever in order to produce good buildings despite function, now they thought that architects were much more likely to produce good buildings by liberating themselves from formal notions and setting their minds on fulfilling function, that is, buildings were again being seen much more as tools.

Functional architectural concepts replaced formal ones.  Functional buildings used to be defined specifically by their use, a link between the free creations of architects and the bare utilitarian structures of engineers and technicians.  Now every building became a functional building, that is, it was tackled on the basis of its type and function.  Fulfillment of purpose became one of the means of architectural design as it had been ever since Otto Wagner in 1895 wrote in Baukunst unserer Zeit [The building-art of our time]: “Something impractical cannot be beautiful.”

In this book we intend to adhere mainly to the old concept of functional building, which has gained currency in describing a particular group of buildings.  But we shall at the same time show how the new conception of architecture, more strongly established here than in other spheres of activity, left its novel mark on building in general.


I. No Longer a Façade but a House

In the last few decades of European architecture, Baroque design has congealed into an arid academicism.  Among the very rare buildings of character are Franz Schwechten’s Stettin and Anhalt railroad stations in Berlin (1878).

The plan was dominated by façades overloaded with decorative motifs, Heidelberg castles with a “composition” irrelevant to their functional requirements.  The most grotesque example: Ihne’s Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, a concrete building that needs an artificial, complicated iron frame to support its sandstone Baroque façade, like a mask; or, by the same Ihne, the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, in whose plan the flight of stairs in the vestibule could be moved from one side to the other without having the slightest effect on the architecture of the building as a whole.

At almost the same time a determined opposition, associated with the names of H.P. Berlage, Alfred Messel, and Otto Wagner, was successfully asserting itself in Holland, Germany, and Austria.  Buildings by these leading architects, which became benchmarks, are the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the Wertheim Department Store in Berlin, and the buildings for the Vienna Stadtbahn.  Work on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange started in 1897, the first phase of the Wertheim Building on Leipzigerstraße was completed in 1898, and the Vienna Stadtbahn dates from 1894 to 1897.  The casino in Saint-Malo by the brothers Auguste and Gustave Perret, with a reinforced concrete vault that is very bold for its period, dates from the same time (1899/1900).  But, as was so often also the case with the Perret brothers’ later buildings, the architecture remained untouched by the constructional innovations.

Berlage (b. 1856), Messel (b. 1853), and Otto Wagner (b. 1841) are the first generation of leaders in the fight for the renewal of architecture.


Berlage, Messel, and Wagner were all trained during the period of academicism and eclecticism, and their own early works were eclectic.  It suffices to name Berlage’s fantastic plan for a mausoleum in which he actually intended to use all historical styles side by side (1889), Messel’s Werder-Haus and his office building on Krausenstraße (Berlin, 1894/1895), and Otto Wagner’s ideal design, “Artibus” (1880).  This makes their historical achievement all the more important.  They developed the first sound modern buildings in which form was no longer a finished, independent construct based on books and rules, with only very superficial connection with the object, but actually became an always new, young, and specific function of the project, or at least approached it.  Berlage, Messel, and Wagner provided the new architecture with the gift of Sachlichkeit; they were the first who dared affirm consciously and consistently and to make into a positive design tool something that until then had been avoided and pushed aside: purpose.

This development is particularly clear in the case of Berlage.  His first Competition sketch for the stock exchange, from 1895 — academic architecture in a Dutch Renaissance style, scarcely distinguishable from Cuypers’s railroad station or his Rijksmuseum — has such a confused abundance of motifs that it looks like a small town.  In 1897 three designs rapidly developed into a modern stock exchange.


The first already shows an extraordinary degree of simplification. A unified building emerges from the gables, towers, and onion domes; a single roof runs from the entrance, stripped of its peculiar architecture, right through to the last room.  The confident strength of the quiet masses replaces the uncertainty of many façades fitted over one another.  The new feature of the strong corner tower emphasizes the building’s unshakable strengths.  The second design shows no fundamental progress but translates the first design’s very arid institutional Gothic into a suppler, more personal ecclesiastical Gothic.  The third version almost completely replaces elements of historical style with a very energetic reassurance and an increasing respect for rectangularity, a tendency further strengthened in the built version.  Incidentally the small De Nederlanden office building in The Hague, built in 1895 and much improved by remodeling in 1905, acted as a harbinger for the work on the stock exchange.

In his book Grundlagen und Entwicklung der Architektur [The foundations and development of architecture] (Berlin, 1908), based on lectures given in Zurich in 1907, Berlage defines the path

that we must now adopt, the path that will be available for the future, and that will lead us to a new art:

1.  A geometric scheme should once again provide the basis of architectural composition.

2.  The characteristic forms of earlier styles should not be used.

3.  Architectural forms should be developed in the spirit of Sachlichkeit (p.  100).

The successive versions of the building Berlage put up in Amsterdam more and more resembled a commercial conference center or office block.  The first design could equally well have been interpreted as a theater, museum, railroad station, restaurant, palace, or town hall.  The final building does not unmistakably say “stock exchange,” but it no longer contains misleading elements, with the possible exception of the tower.  At least it has a general physiognomy, and that is the main thing.  A French critic (L’architecte, 1924, p. 8 ) compares the creator of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange with Vaudremer: “But Vaudremer did not have the honor of definitively leading the young generation down the path of a French national architecture.  Berlage has that honor in Dutch architecture.”

When Messel was building the Wertheim store on Leipzigerstraße in Berlin, he found that his task offered the occasion for a really clear character.  [94] He was in a position to create a new type, the department store, practically out of nothing.  (The stages of his own work were the Werder-Haus, the house on Krausenstraße, the Wertheim store on Oranienstraße, the Wertheim store on Rosenthalerstraße.)

To his contemporaries the Wertheim store represented a more forceful and lucid sally against the tradition of form than any other building of its period.  Here a desire to do complete justice to purpose and to resist aesthetic cliché was more successful than anywhere else.  It was not Messel’s ambition to build a beautiful façade behind which enough space could ultimately be found to accommodate the business of a department store but rather to provide an entirely distinct, concise form for the management of a department store, one arising from the most refined and alert sense of its quite particular and specific requirements and needs.  Thus out of the requirement for maximum light and display window area, Messel designed for Leipzigerstraße a glass wall hung between slender stone piers; he designed open light wells that reveal the structure of the building as if in cross section.

Here a new type arose from the fulfillment of purpose.  This building could be nothing other than a department store, a warehouse, an emporium, a gigantic department store.

Otto Wagner’s contemporary buildings for the Vienna Stadtbahn are seemingly much less revolutionary (incidentally, in 1884, Wagner, too, produced a project for the Amsterdam Stock Exchange).  A certain classicism persists but yet they are essentially modern.  They have an austerity, clarity, and coolness that enable them to accommodate constructional parts remarkably well, even when highly traditional elements remain.  Consistent with their building sequence: “The stations of the Stadtbahn show the gradual development of this utilitarian style.  On the Gürtellinie, Wagner is still working freely with classical forms, predominantly with the Doric style; on the Wientallinie, the iron construction is formally emphasized in the great decorative arches of the outer halls; the Donaukanallinie represents another step forward: everything becomes simpler and more structural as iron arches are replaced by stanchions with braced girders” (Dagobert Frey).  Simple horizontals and verticals are retained almost throughout, placed Strictly parallel to the always dominant track; and in their emotionless, distant coolness they absolutely produce the effect of “transport buildings.”  They remain perfectly within their sphere, whereas Messel’s Wertheim Building contains a strongly alien artistic element, which was to appear increasingly in Messel’s later work.


It is indeed curious that Messel, who at first showed the most revolutionary achievement among the three architects, did not continue along the newly opened path, whereas both Berlage and Otto Wagner moved step by step toward their goal.  Berlage’s route led from the stock exchange to the Diamantbewerkersbond (1899), the De Nederlanden office building in Rotterdam (1910), Müller & Co.’s office building in London (1914), and the sketch for the Upper House in The Hague (1921).  And Otto Wagner created the Postsparkasse building in Vienna after 1903 at a time when Messel had already returned to a traditional building style that in 1910 led to his sketches for a Berlin museum, that is, to a style that once more completely suppressed purpose in favor of a beautiful façade.  In contrast, Otto Wagner’s development went as follows: Kirche Am Steinhof (1906), Universitätsbibliotek (1910), block of flats in Vienna VII (1911), Lupusheilstätte [Sanatorium] (1913).

From Otto Wagner’s Baukunst unserer Zeit (first edition, 1895):

Here it is appropriate to shout a loud and encouraging “forward” to the modern creative architect and to warn him against an excessive and heartfelt devotion to the old, so that he might regain a (however modest) self-confidence, without which no great act whatsoever can arise.

…If I were to summarize what has been said in this book and try to coin in a few words what is essential, in order to show the young architect the shortest and best way to the goal in any kind of work, these words and the sequence of their application would run approximately as follows:

1.  A scrupulously exact apprehension and complete fulfillment of the purpose (down to the smallest detail);

2.  A happy choice of the material of construction to be used (meaning one that is readily available, easily workable, long-lasting, economical);

3.  Simple and economic construction; and only considering these three main points;

4.  The form arising from these premises (it will flow from the pen as if of its own accord and will always be easily understandable).

If we look more closely, we ought to recognize that the Wertheim Building — to put it paradoxically — is more revolutionary than its architect, yet not as revolutionary as it seems.  This is because, despite the energy and lack of prejudice with which it fulfills its purpose, it is not absolutely sachlich. It quickly turned out to be a mistake to try to see the Wertheim [96] Building as the prototypical department store; for apart from Sehring’s Tietz store at the other end of Leipzigerstraße, which adopted the glass surfaces on an even bigger scale, subsequent developments did not follow Messel’s example.  Furthermore, outside Germany it had absolutely no effect at all.  But even in Germany, beginning with Olbrich’s Tietz store in Düsseldorf, we soon see walls once again gaining mass, the system of piers receding, and horizontals again reappearing, so that by the time we get to Emil Schaudt’s Kaufhaus des Westens in Charlottenburg, there is nothing at all left of Messel’s system.  No doubt this development was affected by building codes that for fire protection required a solid wall at least one meter high between every two floors; thus, horizontal articulation was arrested, but the ultimate reasons went deeper than this.

Messel’s façade seemed highly structural in its intention, but in the shadow of the roof and behind the capital-like ornamental headwork the piers are without much ado transformed into a harmless wall, thus revealing that the grandiloquent profile is merely decorative.  The connection between roof and wall is very superficial, and the roof is a feeble, spaceless stopgap.

In a competition design of 1910 for an extension to Messel’s building, Bruno Taut underlined Messel’s principle with greater purity: his smooth piers are arched above to form the wall supporting the roof.  In his design for a Mittag department store in Magdeburg (1913), the same architect carried Messel’s idea of verticality to its logical constructional solution by supporting the roof from above with concrete piers using a system of arches.

Messel’s piers were not really the strong element that they first appeared but rather the weak element of his building.  They were a consequence of the unclear thinking that led Messel to stack five ground floors on top of one another.  The idea of increasing display space fivefold is — looking at the matter rationally — a mistake, as only the ground-floor windows are actually display windows.  The upper rows of windows have little or no significance for advertising purposes; in fact, displays were very quickly removed from them and replaced with screenlike stands.  Thus one did not even take full advantage of an additional light source.  This is why we said that Messel’s idea, directed solely at light and display space, was not entirely sachlichkeit led him to stack five floors of display windows atop one another, and this in turn led to a verticality that brought piers into being as a stopgap measure; basically the piers are nothing more than the additive lifting above the street level, a fivefold raising of the street elevation — making Le Corbusier’s remark that modern German architecture is frequently an [97] “elevator-shaft architecture” absolutely accurate in the case of the Wertheim Building. And it is also because of the internal inconsistency of these apparently so grandiloquent piers that the roof sits on them as it does: unrelated, thin, and random, like a makeshift roof.  (Anyone wishing to adopt the terminology of Leo Frobenius in Das unbekannte Afrika could see verticalism as a continuing effect of Ethiopian-tellurian pile-frame architecture and horizontalism as a persisting element of Hamitic-chthonic building.  It is incidentally also remarkable that Frobenius describes Hamitic social structure as horizontal layering [castes] and Ethiopian social structure as vertical layering [clans].)

There is thus a great deal to criticize in this building of 1898, which when it was expanded, probably contrary to Messel’s original conception, acquired multiple axes.  And yet at the time it was of the greatest significance, although this was probably more psychological than strictly tectonic.  The department store as a type did not develop in this direction, not in Germany, indeed not even in Berlin, and Messel himself recognized why in the way he terminated the building facing Leipzigerplatz.  Here, warmly applauded by cultured people, he adopted an ecclesiastical note with a strong Gothic element, which led a Berlin critic to remark that the opening of a new department store in the Lustgarten (Raschdorff’s cathedral) coincided with the consecration of a new cathedral on Leipzigerplatz.

The ecclesiastical note had already been struck in the first building phase with the system of tall monumental piers.  When foreshortened, they closed to form a solemn church wall.  It rather gave the impression of a gigantic Gothic church converted into a store by installing intermediate ceilings and glass paneling.  In the first building phase this tendency may have derived from an inner uncertainty, but in the section facing the square it became a conscious game with Gothicizing style elements.

All in all this building, apparently designed more radically in pursuit of purpose than any other of its period, is a very artificial construction, which is probably clearest when one compares it with, for instance, the architecture of the Louvre Department Store in Paris.

It cannot be said, however, that this establishes a new type — if there really is such a thing! The fact that a department store has become much larger has not changed the basis for the French architect.  He thinks perhaps more conservatively but also genuinely more sachlich. He places large display windows where they are appropriate and have a purpose: on the ground floor.  On the upper stories there are many windows arranged in [98] regularly ordered rows.  One story is placed above another: not as a repeated ground floor but as second, third, fourth, and fifth floor, i.e., with conscious emphasis on the horizontal, corresponding to reality.  Finally the vaulted roof with its many skylights and chimneys makes the whole thing look like a warehouse, a gigantic storehouse accommodating a large number of things at the same time.  In brief, the modern department store ultimately finds a mode of expression here where it was not being sought, an expression more genuine and purer than in Messel’s work — simply because the tendency to grandiose stylization is absentia tendency that inclined excessively toward art and thus led to a falsely ecclesiastical character, isolating the building from its neighbors, although its purpose is not particularly different from theirs.  The Louvre Department Store remains entirely a part of the street, and precisely this is part of its truth.  As the department store was built quite specifically in, on, and for the street, it is not allowed to be the most alien, conspicuous, and isolated building along the entire street, which was the case with Messel’s store along Leipzigerstraße.

Messel’s pointed, one-sided emphasis on a single function — display — made him untrue to the whole; the building lacked integration.

If we nevertheless assign Messel’s building such an important place, it is because it had enormous psychological impact.  He gave others the courage to break away from conventional schemes, to dare to create new types —  even though his own attempt was far less happy and far less sachlich than it first appeared.

• • •

The modern country-house plan was also developed in the mid-1890s by the Chicago architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Sullivan’s student.21 Conventional terminology would not place the country house in the category of functional building, but the sensibility articulated in Wright’s new floor plans is extraordinarily important as it is characterized by the liberation of the plan from formalist rigidity by returning to the functional element.  This development begins somewhere between the plans for the Winslow House in River Forest (1893) and the Heller House in Chicago (1896) and reaches its peak in the plan for the Coonley House in Riverside (1908).  Here Wright has given up fitting the rooms together in an ornamental scheme in favor of “free balancing in space” (Herre), based on the most careful inclusion of all requirements of comfort, quiet and clear design.  There is no longer any trace of symmetry or axis, simply walls succinctly marking and accompanying the most comfortable traffic patterns for all the rooms.  The accommodation to [99] living functions goes so far that each piece of furniture has its specific place in the floor plan.  This plan “unfolds.”  The house is not complicated by stairs ascending to the upstairs — a rudiment of medieval castle and masonry wall architecture.  The plot of land has space enough to allow the building and almost all its rooms to develop directly at ground level.

In Wright’s plans the rooms are not inserted next to one another but set in motion — as asymmetrically as life itself, strangely enough influenced by the Japanese, Wright already started building unusually flat roofs, mostly with wide overhangs.  This means suppressing the picturesque and stressing  constructional and cubic elements.  It is logical that a house organized as freely balanced spaces should reject the roof as a hat that unites everything.  Even the roof changes from a “motif” into a “function.”

Wright’s influence on European architecture was significant — in Germany (Peter Behrens, Gropius, Mendelsohn, Mies van der Rohe); in Holland (Oud [b. 1890], Jan Wils, van t’Hoff, Greve); in Switzerland (Le Corbusier); in Czechoslovakia (Obrtel.  Krejcar, Tyl, Černy, Višek, Fragner, Feuerstein) — at first probably affecting the elevation more than the plan, which has only recently come to be fully understood.

Compositionally, Wright’s country houses are of the greatest significance because they consistently emphasize the horizontal.  Their high-tension, nervy force, always contrasting ingeniously with concise verticals, actually makes the houses look as though they are a component of the street, although in their very idiosyncratic interpenetration of public and private space they almost never open to the roadside.  Eschewing all ornament, which to our taste often plays a surprising role in the interior (recently increasing also on the exterior), he achieves the aesthetic composition of the house from the basic elements of accelerated horizontal movement, subtly and strikingly stopped verticals, and textured walls that never appear as supporting but always as supported parts.  All visible parts are completely conveyed as function: the precise relationship of open and closed areas produces the “building.”

Every attentive observer senses the close connection with machine aesthetics, completely new in the history of architecture.  In an essay for the New York Architectural Record in 1908.  Wright says:

The machine cannot be removed from the world, it is here to stay.  It is the forerunner of the democracy that is the final goal of our hopes and dreams.  There is no more important work before the architect now than to use this [100] modem tool to the greatest possible extent.  But what does he do instead? He abuses this tool in reproducing forms born of other times, under distant skies, forms that today seem boring because one cannot avoid them anywhere; all of this happens with the help of the machine, whose main task it is to destroy just these forms.

Berlage, Otto Wagner, and Alfred Messel (the latter with the reservations mentioned above) had successfully championed the cause of Sachlichkeit. But their Sachlichkeit was restricted primarily to resisting and avoiding Unsachlichkeit. Common sense, a feeling for cleanliness and its practice found acceptance, and fear of purpose ceased.  But they still failed to address the task directly enough.  They remained house builders.  It may be that their commissions (stock exchange, office building, etc.) had something to do with this.  At any rate, they did not approach the plan in a new way.  Even Otto Wagner expressly stresses the importance of symmetry — in the plan: “A simple, clear plan in most cases requires the symmetry of the work.  In a symmetrical arrangement there is some measure of self-containment, completeness, balance; an impossibility of enlargement; even self-assurance.  Gravity and dignity, the constant companions of architecture, also demand symmetry.”

Wright provided the first real breakthrough.  Through a positive Sachlichkeit, he developed the country-house plan as something new and directly based on life, by returning to the most elementary functions of the inhabitants.  This was the decisive turn from formal restraint to a commitment to life itself — in the confidence that a form appropriate to a healthy and orderly life will of necessity be beautiful — space newly conquered by purpose and function.

This attitude, when applied to the great tasks typical of the times, could lead to a new architecture.

And to an increasing extent in the first decade of the century, factory buildings and industrial problems represented just such tasks.

• • •

Academic and historical styles have been abandoned and the concept of the façade has been disposed of.  Yet the “house” is still standing.  Success is achieved by returning to purpose in an architectural development that has its precise counterpart in painting of the period, which likewise disposed of academic and historical styles.  Its medium is naturalism, which in the development of painting always allows a new freedom from prejudice, quite [101] analogous to the significance that a return to function had for building.  “Naturalism in architecture is functional fitness” (Karl Scheffler: Messel, p. 14).


II .  No Longer a House but Shaped Space

Industrial commissions had already produced surprising solutions in America.  Walter Gropius put together an interesting selection in his essay “Die Entwicklung moderner Industriebaukunst” [The development of modern industrial architecture] in the German Werkbund yearbook of 1913.  The distinguishing feature of these American buildings (without exception the work of engineers, not architects) is their complete absence of compulsive ideas about form, their quite unprejudiced design, and their spatial realization of production and working processes.  Take the grain silos for the Washbury-Crosby Company in Buffalo: a group of vertical tubes of different heights and widths, with bracing quite openly revealed — no hint of cladding, balancing, or refinement.  Note also the contrast of angular elevator sections and connecting tracks extending horizontally, an absolutely asymmetrical and irregular plant that for this reason is so convincingly a legitimate and thrilling example of functional or dynamic building.  It is a building that seizes upon tensions arising from the production process, and in working with them it actively articulates space without inhibitions or suppressions.  It is completely analogous to the approach of Wright, who has had no industrial commissions himself with the exception of the Larkin Building in Buffalo.  (The film studios [sic] in Olive Hill, California, also cannot be classified as such.) In order to show the strong effect of these works (an excellent compilation appeared in Ingenieurbauten, published by Ernst Wasmuth, Berlin, 1923) on the younger European architects, I quote a few sentences from the above-mentioned essay by Walter Gropius:

In the motherland of industry, in America, large industrial plants have been built whose unknown majesty excels even that of our best German buildings in this genre.  The grain silos In Canada and South America, the coal stores for the great railway lines, and the ultramodern factories for North American industries are almost comparable to the buildings of ancient Egypt in their monumental power.  Their architectural features have such assurance that the purpose of the complex [104] is made unambiguously comprehensible to the observer with convincing force.  The self-evident truth of these buildings does not come from their material superiority in extent and scale — this is certainly not where the reason for their monumental effect is to be found.  It is much more that those who built them seem to have retained a natural sense for large-scale, concise forms in a way that is independent, healthy, and pure.  There is a valuable lesson in all this for us.  We should once and for all cease paying attention to historical yearnings and other misgivings of an intellectual nature, which are crippling modern European artistic creativity and obstructing artistic naïveté.

Henry Ford’s remarks on the subject of factory building are very typical:

One point that is absolutely essential to high capacity, as well as to human production, is a clean, well-lighted and well-ventilated factory.  Our machines are placed very close together — every foot of floor space in the factory carries, of course, the same overhead charge.  The consumer must pay the extra overhead and the extra transportation involved in having machines even six inches farther apart than they have to be…This brings our machines closer together than in probably any other factory in the world.  To a stranger they may seem piled right on top of one another, but they are scientifically arranged, not only in the sequence of operations but so as to give every man and every machine every square inch that he requires and, if possible, not a square inch, and certainly not a square foot, more than he requires…When we put up the older buildings, we did not understand so much about ventilation as we do today.  In all the later buildings, the supporting columns are made hollow and through them the bad air is pumped out and the good air introduced.  A nearly even temperature is kept everywhere the year round and, during daylight, there is nowhere the necessity for artificial light…The dark corners which invite expectoration are painted white.  One cannot have morale without cleanliness.  We tolerate makeshift cleanliness no more than makeshift methods” (p. 113 ff.).

Ford writes about his hospital: “Because of the arrangements it is easily possible for a nurse to care for seven patients who are not desperately ill.  In the ordinary hospital the nurses must make many useless steps.  More of their time is spent running around than caring for the patient.  This hospital is designed to save steps” (p. 55).

It will not take us too far away from the point at hand to quote the longer passage in which Ford formulates his attitude toward art:


We seemingly limit the creative functions to productions that may be hung on walls, or heard in concert halls, or otherwise displayed where idle and fastidious people gather to admire each other’s culture.  But if a man wants a field for vital creative work, let him come where he is dealing with higher laws than those of sound, line, or color; let him come where he may deal with the laws of personality.  We need artists who master industrial relationships.  We need masters of industrial methods.  We need those who can mould the shapeless mass in political, social, industrial, and moral aspects into a sound and shapely whole.  We have limited the creative faculty much too much and have misused it for too trivial ends.  We need men who can create the working design for all that is right and good and desirable (p. 104).

Ford is also being entirely consistent when he says:

We will not put up elaborate buildings as monuments to our success.  The interest of the investment and the cost of their upkeep would only serve to add uselessly to the cost of our products — so these monuments of success are apt to end as tombs.  A great administration building may sometimes be necessary, although it arouses my suspicion that perhaps there is too much administration.  We have never found a need for elaborate administration and would prefer to be advertised by our product, rather than where we make our product (p. 173).

The first European to solve industrial tasks in the grand style was Peter Behrens (b. 1868), whom Emil Rathenau called to be artistic adviser to the AEG in 1907.

Peter Behrens started his career as a painter in Munich, moved on to decorative and applied artwork at an early stage, and risked the leap to architecture in Darmstadt in 1901.  The house in Darmstadt was followed by the Düsseldorf exhibition garden (1904), the Oldenburg exhibition pavilions (1905), a private house in Saarbrücken, some rooms for the Dresden Applied Arts exhibition [Kunstgewerbeausstellung] (1906), and the crematorium in Hagen, Westphalia (1907), all works then outstanding for their stereometric simplicity and conscious return to clear cubic proportions.  It is certainly not yet possible to talk about a real creation of space; there is more reduction than production, more graphics than architecture.  But there was an unmistakable hint of a modern attitude in the work, a pleasure in concise, precise, and technical form — elements that make Rathenau’s choice seem the happiest that could have been made at the time.


What had been happening in German industrial architecture until then?

Factories were thrown up here, as everywhere, in the rawest and cheapest way with, in fact, insulting contempt.  Not even a minimum of design consideration was wasted on them, and if occasionally a bit of Gothic tracery or a Renaissance gable was added, the effect was all the more artificial.  Factories with dark courtyards, narrow passages, blind windows, and low, dark rooms, more like prisons than places for productive work, repellent, stifling, joyless hammer mills mirrored perfectly the ever more terrible back premises of the urban tenements in which the majority of toilers in the factory had to live.  No one has drawn the horrific misery of these buildings — with their hordes of subtenants, lodgers, transients, and illicit stills — more accurately and movingly than Heinrich Zille.

This hopeless brutality, this contemptuous negation of all design consciousness was highly fitting for a period dominated by middle-class culture.  Art was Raphael and Hans Makart, and what did a factory have to do with Raphael and Hans Makart?!

Peter Behrens’s early work for the AEG was on a small scale.  Arc lamps, fans, electrical cooking and heating equipment were designed simply, clearly, and logically, entirely without ornament.  Behrens’s great gift for creating new aesthetic values with the object itself was already beginning to show, and this was probably the first time in our age that things emerged that were typical rather than individual in form.  Great emphasis was placed upon precise proportions and appropriate handling of materials.  These works aroused general interest, for instance, at the Berlin shipbuilding exhibition of 1908.  They were an early attempt at a clear and pure form for our times.

The AEG’S most important buildings are the Huttenstraße Turbine Factory (1909), high-voltage factory (1910), small-motor factory (1911), assembly plant (1912) — all at Humboldt-Hain.  Later came buildings for other industrial concerns, such as the administration building for the Mannesmann Factory in Düsseldorf (1911/1912), the Frankfurt Gasworks (1911/1912),  the NAG [Nationale Automobil-Gesellschaft] Factory in Berlin-Oberschöneweide (1920), and more recently, the administration building for the Höchst Dye Factory.

We should not underestimate the contribution made by Peter Behrens in recognizing the historical meaning of the task that fell to him.  Early on he correctly sensed that here was a job to do that had to be fundamental for the formation of a style for our times.  From the start, Behrens had no [107] doubts that he had to adapt his work to typical solutions.  The poorly imitated, dissipated, ornate Baroque motifs jumbled together to suffocate, inhibit, and dislocate any life there might have been in the original architectural rhythms were, with a new pride, replaced by the beauty of the pure surface, of taut smoothness, of precise and concise outline, and of exact edges — fitting things for an age in which the machine had started to organize a fundamentally new working process.  Wright was unmistakably a model for all this.

Here are some striking passages from an essay by Peter Behrens for the AEG (Plakat, June 1920):

In questions of form for all industrial plants it is always a matter of creating character from the very nature of the things to be designed, to discover the type, just as all past art is seen today to reveal sublime greatness by being typical of the respective condition of the times.  This means no less than that one must address all the artistic and technical conditions that a plant imposes, support them, indeed elevate them to a fundamental principle and let this principle become a visible expression.

This applies first to the placement of the building.  It has to follow the scale of the production process.  The location of railroad tracks is crucial to the siting of the building.  Staggering the buildings allows for the proper entry of rail tracks through the gates of the factory buildings.  At the same time spacious storage yards should be provided, and this touches upon a city planning principle of great aesthetic significance.  It is precisely this staggering of buildings, necessary in practical terms, that will give the plant an effective silhouette; and the necessary layout of the yards fulfills a demand by a past master of city planning, Camillo Sitte, who described a square enclosed by buildings as one of the most necessary aspects of architectural effects.

Whenever the opportunity arises to compare plants designed from such a purely practical point of view with others based on random factors or built in stages, one is astonished to see how such different impressions can be created with the same expenditure of construction and materials.

But the same is also true of a factory’s interior layout.  The spatial arrangement grows out of the organization of the production process.  Clear layout, ease of interchange and forward movement of products, and unhampered mobility of tools, machines, or trucks require open, uncluttered, well-lit halls.  Workplaces should be as well lit and spacious as possible.  It is therefore recommended that staircases and elevators be moved to the exterior; this will at the same time make the architectural [108] effect more impressive, producing a long sequence of work spaces inside and on the outside rows of windows picturesquely enlivened by protruding stairwells and elevator shafts towering above the roof.  Since light is a prerequisite for good work, factory buildings should have large window openings; they should dominate, control the surface of the building, and lend support in their effect as windows.  For this reason they should not seem like large holes in the wall but appear flush with the outer wall, giving the exterior a friendly appearance.

At this point I should like to draw attention to an important essay by H. Lülwes, “Was rnuß beim Entwurf neuer Werke beachtet werden?” [What has to be considered in the design of new works?] (Hawa-Nachrichten, January 1922).

If we compare Peter Behrens’s achievements with American examples, the crucial difference is that Behrens is still intent on stylization, on artistic interpretation through form, whereas the Americans present the object completely bare.  There is no doubt that Behrens was extraordinarily refreshed, broadened, and strengthened in his forms by an unprejudiced accommodation to the living process of industry, but in the end his behavior was not altogether without prejudice.  He abandoned a number of conventions, gave up a great deal of rigidity and tradition, but he did not unquestioningly devote himself to the purpose, to function.  Many concepts persisted for him, even the concept of a “house.”  And it is just this clinging to this notion of a house that compels him to stylize.  For how could the small-motor factory on Voltastraße express itself as such — and Peter Behrens cared for “expression” — other than by applied forms (in this case strongly stressed piers) if the basic layout of the plan is not fully and unconditionally committed to the thing, and then of course it is no longer a “house.”

A duality still remains in the case of Behrens: a good fulfillment of purpose and its integration into a normal body — wall, roof, window, etc.  But because he wanted to destroy the normal house for the sake of a greater and more powerful concept, Peter Behrens’s pathos was born, which unfortunately found many imitators.  For example, Stoffregen’s Delmenhorst Factory showed an inclination toward the vertical, perhaps still under the influence of Messel.

It is now very interesting to see that the earliest of Behrens’s AEG buildings makes the greatest and freest break with the conventional house type, and that his last industrial buildings (Oberschöneweide) are classical. There seems to be a certain analogy with Messel’s development.


With the Turbine Hall in Huttenstraße there suddenly emerged an industrial building that was a new type, a new life: no longer a “house” no longer a shed, no longer convention, and no longer a cross between various historical types.  For the first time in this country, industry built a workspace solely according to work requirements, not as a trivial stopgap but with self-confident strength, using the new materials iron, concrete, and glass.  The new feature of this building was the stronger unification of a more massive body.  The body built here to house the working process was an indivisible, unbroken whole: from socle to ridgeline its mass is informed with a will and a life; it stands like an improbable giant amid the childishly stuccoed tenement façades of the area.  Decoration, ornament, and form were swept away.  The building was itself form, it needed no forms.  The shaping force was directed away from an obsolete concern with façade ballast and toward the body, toward fulfilling purpose, and toward exploiting the new materials.  They had of course been used before (Perret), but with a few exceptions their style-forming possibilities had never been recognized.

In contrast to this, in the Frankfurt Gasworks we find once again the method of delimiting and dividing, and the reduction of the design to a few abstract forms (“sphere, cone, and cylinder”).  In the NAG buildings in Oberschöneweide we definitely find the emphasis on classical form, the neutralization of function and purpose behind impenetrable calm, here consistently also forgoing any expression.  The house reasserts itself.

We could establish a parallel between the Turbine Hall and the Wertheim Building with the following observation: the Turbine Hall, more than any other building by Behrens, is devoted to function.  This makes it the most unusual, revolutionary, and influential of his buildings and at the same time, very analogous to the Wertheim Building, the one most isolated and alien in its surroundings, so that the juxtaposition of tenement buildings and the Turbine Hall borders on the grotesque.  Just as the desired typology led the Wertheim Building toward the ecclesiastical, the Turbine Hall was driven toward the heroic.  The hall arose in the style of a Cyclopean force, for which there was no basis.  The assembly hall in Humboldt-Hain was essentially more sober, more sachlich, thus more honest and also more consistent, making better use of the materials.

All in all, Peter Behrens still “builds” factories.  The same is true of Hans Poelzig, whose chemical plant for Milch & Co. in Lubin near Posen is probably the best and most sachlich of all “built” factories.  Unfortunately the excellent Werder Mill design has not been executed.  Poelzig’s attitude [110] toward purpose was made surprisingly dear in a speech he delivered in Salzburg in 1921 explaining his Festspieihaus [theater] design (Kunstblatt, 1921, no. 3, p. 77 ff.):

All purely technical considerations are an abomination to the artist from the start.  Even if he knows that these purely technical matters cannot be avoided, that they have to be tackled, he also knows and continually feels that technology plays far too large a part in the life of the present age, and he will continue to struggle against its dominance.  Technical and artistic intentions are and remain complete contrasts, and the artist knows only too well how German art expresses this confused, rowdy, deviate, utter and complete irrational charm…He (the artist) thinks of nothing but the chance that he may plant this piece of land with the constructs of his imagination — to the extent they are at his disposal — and only then does he try to whittle down his constructs to the level on which present-day life moves.

Purpose? “What a dreadful epithet for a work of art.”

Result? The Salzburg Festspielhaus!

Elsewhere Poelzig says: “Art begins only where one is building for the good Lord” (Neubau, 10 January 1924).  “For the good Lord” — in other words, for no one!

The Fagus factory in Alfeld an der Leine, built in phases by Walter Gropius (b. 1883) beginning in 1913 [1911], may be considered, along with his buildings for the Cologne Werkbund exhibition (1914), to be the first factory that was no longer built but “constructed” from iron, concrete, and glass.  The following sentence from the essay mentioned above may serve to characterize Gropius’s approach:

A clear internal plan that also from the outside clearly expresses the layout simplifies the production process considerably.  But it is by no means socially immaterial whether the modern factory worker does his work in a dreary, ugly, industrial barracks or in well-proportioned rooms.  He will work with much greater pleasure on large collective projects if his workplace, designed by an artist, complies with the sense of beauty innate in all of us, one that has an enlivening effect on the monotony of mechanical work.  Thus the increasing contentment will increase the working spirit and the business performance.


(Sept arts, 15 February 1923 [Brussels], demands that the noise and racket of a large factory should also not be allowed to rage unchecked: “Doubtless, one will never arrive at some sweet harmony, but it is necessary to strive for a rational organization of all sonorous brutality.”)

It is clear from the Alfeld factory how much Gropius’s study of American utilitarian buildings had a liberating effect — and just as clear that Gropius nevertheless subjects American directness to a certain aesthetic filtering.  There is a sense of distant refinement, even caution, that detracts from the unconditional inner unity of the first phase of this important building.  The way in which all false pathos is coolly avoided is very admirable, but a certain aesthetic urge deprives the work as a whole of its ultimate simplicity.  This simplicity could almost be called complicated.  It vacillates between object and form, between “America” and “Osterndorf.”  But there is no doubt that it is still the most modern, the most exemplary German factory of the prewar period, not perhaps as compelling or as direct as Poelzig’s plant in Lubin but unquestionably bolder.  Gropius’s view coincides with Jean Cocteau’s, for instance, who writes in Le coq et l’arlequin: “American machines and buildings resemble Greek art in the sense that utility confers on them a spareness and a grandeur stripped of the superfluous.  But this is not art.  The role of art consists in grasping the sense of the time and drawing upon the spectacle of this applied spareness to create an antidote to the beauty of the useless that encourages the superfluous.”

Fritz [Friedrich] Kaldenbach’s Seeck [Sack] Factory in Dresden also deserves an honorable mention.

• • •

Apart from a relatively unimportant factory for Vorster & Co. in Hagen, Westphalia, Henry van de Velde (b.  1863) has produced no industrial buildings.  And yet his work is important for the further development of functional architecture because of its consistent emphasis on functional form.  By including the element of movement in architecture, van de Velde gave the younger European generation courage to devote itself with real frankness and without classical prejudice to the force of technical and economic functions.

We have already talked about the element of “movement” in the case of Wright.  For van de Velde it is an essentially different matter.  The difference is between a sober, sachlich American and a romantic European; for there is a romantic in van de Velde as well as a rationalist.

Wright’s “movement” is a more consistent and conscious conception of space (in plan) and a tighter relationship of tension between the parts of [112] the building (in elevation).  The building parts themselves are absolutely “expressionless”; they are immobile, technically determined, standardized, readymade pieces.  A human will, with the machine’s help, has constructed the building from prefabricated parts, with all its angles and corners.

Van de Velde takes movement in a more literal sense, as a force plastically organizing the building from the inside.  He arrives at curves and flourishes, at forms that could be true once only, i.e., they are valid only in one context.  He arrives at expressive forms that speak.  Human will, which is seen as limited, does not determine and fix the work, but the will of Sachlichkeiten, of purposes, of materials is itself translated into reality; thus the human being is more the mediator.  Van de Velde’s conception parallels the Expressionist Movement, making its appearance somewhat later in painting.

Function — movement — expression as well — symbolism — romanticism — individualism — and finally anthropomorphism are logically very closely related, that is, van de Velde’s influence was important and valuable but not completely harmless.  It also contained a danger.

In Wright’s conception the “house” type could continue to exist despite all innovations and improvements.  Unequivocalness, clarity, and the assurance of edges delimited a space that the human will had conquered and arranged.

In van de Velde’s conception these limits are easily blurred.  The freely given forces of strong curves and flourishes could very well destroy the box and replace it with a free organism of a completely different nature — a small example: the Osthaus desk.

Van de Velde’s houses (for Esche and Körner in Chemnitz; Hohenhof and Springmann in Hagen, Westphalia; Dürckheim and Henneberg in Weimar; and Schulenberg in Gera) do not show dissolution of the conventional “house” concept and they therefore do not show any dissolution (the one that comes closest is the house for Dr. Leuring, a physician in Scheveningen).  The reason for this is that van de Velde is both a romantic and a constructor.  As such, he only abandons the “house” type where there is a sachlich imperative, as in the Weimar Kunstschule or the Werkbund Theater in Cologne, which unfortunately has been pulled down for no obvious reason.


These last two buildings show how valuable van de Velde’s view of movement can be regarding the renewal of the building mass — despite the many echoes of the Jugendstil still resounding here.

Of course if we want to see the ultimate consequence of a functionalism colored with a romantic and pantheistic tinge, then the best place to look is among Hermann Finsterlin’s designs, the most radical dissolution of the “house” concept imaginable, approaching the forms of organic, growing nature.

• • •

The formal type that is the last greatest genial invention of the terrestrial spirit — organic form — ties between the crystalline and the amorphous.  My architecture also sprouts at this transition point.  Inside the new house one will not only feel as though one is the occupant of a fabulous crystal druse, but like the internal resident of an organism, wandering from organ to organ, a symbiont of giving and receiving within a fossil of a gigantic mother’s body.  A small fragment of the transposed set of boxes of world forms is to be found In the sequence of town, house, furniture, and vessel; growing out of one another like the gonads of an organism, these hollow creatures need no longer be displaced foreign bodies as they have been hitherto.  Tell me, are you never irritated by the brutal scheme of your six walls and the injected material coffin of your thousand necessities? Has the mysterious urge never crept over you to rearrange yourselves in accordance with the rhythm of your breathing souls? (Frühlicht, no. 2, p. 36).

Finsterlin, who refers to his designs as “glacier crevice systems for the soul” [Seelengletschermühlensysteme], is an unabashed romantic.  Van de Velde is not just a romantic but a rationalist at the same time.  Neither van de Velde the romantic nor Finsterlin are backward-looking in their views —  and the rationalist is emphatically a man of our times.

“Nothing is ugly in the world of technical inventions, machines, and the thousand everyday objects that serve purposes just as important as architecture and the applied arts.  Yes, their forms so shaken by truth and boldness have elicited the greatest admiration from all those who were passionately waiting for a new beauty, the beauty of the future” (Die drei Sünden wider die Schönheit [The three sins against beauty], p. 41).

The thing that seems most to bother people who oppose these principles is the fact that they are just principles, that they moreover require an intellectual effort to which people are no longer accustomed…Are we at the end of the world, or [114] have we wandered into the blind alley of the driest puritanism because we plead for a formal and simple rule of construction in which I have perhaps discovered the secret trait of our times, it is a rule that after everything is examined and checked off, one only includes those things (no matter what field) that still seem reasonable, powerful, and capable of being followed up by things that are even more reasonable and powerful (Innen-Dekoration, November 1902).

The bridge between van de Velde the romantic and van de Velde the rationalist is construction.  In summing up his comments on the shape of his column in the Folkwang-Museum vestibule, van de Velde says: “its form shows its soul or, to put it more precisely, its bones (Innen-Dekoration, October-November 1902).

In searching for expressive form he found those forms arising from construction to be the most expressive; or rather, reason leads him to construction and feeling interprets construction.

Another passage characteristic of van de Velde is his commentary on the Folkwang-Museum:

I searched a long time for a solution to the banister, which was made significantly more difficult by the design of the steps.  When I had found a way of attaching a wrought-iron baluster to every step (a shallow bracket is attached below the profile of the tread with a bolt while the two outside stiles of this railing, resting on the tread, thrust upward in a horseshoe shape), it seemed so clear and simple to me that I was almost ashamed to have taken so long thinking about such a thing.

The functional suppleness of his early rooms for Bing’s L’Art Nouveau in Paris (1897), still thoroughly Jugendstil, already delighted one of the Goncourts.  who in his review coined the apt word yachting-style (Osthaus. p. 18).

Van de Velde’s attitude toward technology and construction is thus aesthetic, just as his enthusiasm for machines is not incompatible with empathy.  Van de Velde even sees machines in formal and aesthetic terms, for he bitterly rejects their consequences.  Whereas Peter Behrens somewhat coolly defines machines as pseudo aesthetic structures, van de Velde is the first representative of a romantic machine cult that has found many followers.

Machine: that means standardization, typification.  collectivism — but van de Velde is a passionate individualist! At the Cologne Werkbund conference (1914) tie led the “artists” group against Muthesius’s proposals tor types.  [115] He declared: “The artist is in his innermost essence a fervent individualist; he will never of his own free will submit to a discipline that imposes a type upon him.”  The essay “Devant l’architecture” indicates a change.  It is imbued with a profound understanding of the collective architectural task of our times and a fine confidence in the work of the younger generation in all countries (Europe, 15 July 1924).

Van de Velde was less prone to notions of historical-monumental form than Behrens.  He was drawn more to the idea of movement in every living thing and thus developed form determined by function, a dynamic form that he himself was fond of describing as “dramatic,” that is, a less historical form, an emergent form, with its character rooted in engineering and construction.  It is revealing to compare a utensil by van de Velde with Peter Behrens’s AEG lamps, for instance.  Van de Velde tries to find the unifying thrust of movement through empathy and the fulfillment of the functions of standing, rising, gripping, carrying, etc.  He frequently says of his forms: “I reveal their innermost nature, their soul.”  Peter Behrens, closer to Wright, contrasts simple stereometric forms.  There temperament, here distance.

• • •

Van de Velde’s marked influence on the younger generation of European architects is seen very clearly in Erich Mendelsohn’s (b. 1887) Einstein Tower near Potsdam (1920/21).  A certain hint of Olbrich (early Darmstadt exhibition buildings) can be traced in Mendelsohn.  Early sketches for the Einstein Tower (the title page of the Wendingen issue [of 1919], for instance) show how very close Finsterlin was to him at the time as well.  Compare, for example, Finsterlin’s works on pages eleven or fourteen in this Wendingen issue to the drawing by Mendelsohn cited above.  Finsterlin’s decorative self-sufficiency is certainly transformed into an engineer-like energy and tension by Mendelsohn.  Incidentally, it is very characteristic that the journal of the Amsterdam Movement in Holland, which inclines to romanticism (De Klerk [d. 1923], van der Meij, Kropholler, Wijdeveld, etc.), should devote special issues to these two Germans: Mendelsohn and Finsterlin.

The desire for exaggerated characterization and expressive individuality brought Mendelsohn, with his Einstein Tower and also — less markedly — his Mosse Building (Berlin, 1921-1923), to an architecture that worked a great deal with movement and anthropomorphism, that really can be called “dramatic” in van de Velde’s sense, and that must definitely be placed within the Expressionist Movement.  The entrance “draws us in,” the walls “lead” the steps “sway,” etc.  (On the Mosse Building: “no passive spectator of the [116] rushing cars of the traffic flowing to and fro, but it has become an assimilating contributing element of this motion.”) The exhibition gallery built by Richard Döcker for a Werkbund exhibition in Stuttgart (1921) was the product of a similar attitude, whereas certain early works by Hans and Wassili Luckhardt had the special nuance of Novembergruppe Expressionism, which they soon grew out of with their Norma Factory and Wender Garage.  Döcker’s gallery was only a transition as well.

The exaggerated character of the Einstein Tower places it within the series Wertheim Building and Turbine Hall.  In his critique of the tower, the Dutch architect J.F. Staal remarked quite aptly that it was more a monument than a workshop: “It is the best German [building], it ranks among his best individual works, but it is still German and still individual” (Wendingen, October 1920).

Some of Mendelsohn’s industrial designs are more sachlich and more objective, and now for the first time they show the benefit derived from all the work.  Disregarding, as always, American engineering buildings, it is only here that the “house” type of vertical walls, roof, and windows is completely overcome by the concept of shaped space.  It is subdued from the inside, not just concealed from the outside, by pathos and stylization.  That which, from the inside out, necessarily led to the break with the old type was the consistent use of the iron truss.  In his lecture “Problem einer neuen Baukunst” (1919) Mendelsohn stresses how a new chapter of architectural history started with the appearance of the iron truss: “From the columns and marble beams of the Greek temple to the piers and stone vaulting of the Gothic cathedral come the flexible trusses of iron halls.  After the balance of loads of antiquity and neutralization of structural loads of medieval times comes the dynamic tension of ferroconcrete construction” (Wasmuth’s Monatshefte, 1924, p. 3).

His model of 1919 for an optical factory is already convincing.  Here and in the Luckenwalde Hat Factory of 1921-1923 there develops from the most expedient organization of the production process a tight, closely fitting, spatial form, a form intended to follow and be appropriate to the functions of the business, to the production sequence, like the parts of a machine.  Mendelsohn achieved an admirable simplicity and repose in his renovation of the Wüstegiersdorf Textile Works (1922/23), and especially in his competition project (with Richard Neutra) for the Haifa business center (1923).


III.  No Longer Shaped Space but Designed Reality

From this point forward, two trends in contemporary European architecture diverge fairly sharply; they can be called eastern and western.  Both are aligned with Sachlichkeit, both like to make reference to machines, both want an expression of our time and our region, but they arrive at very different results.  Otherwise, the boundaries are entirely fluid.

At the time of the Russian Revolution artists in Russia and Germany began to negate the concept of “art.”  They no longer wanted to be producers of luxuries, they wanted to fulfill a necessary function in the life process of society.  They rejected decoration entirely, committed themselves to construction and artistic production, and opposed any sort of aesthetics or concern with form.

The Russian engineer Lapshin declared, for example: “There is no architecture as such and no separate architecture as such, there is only uniform, strictly scientific design…So-called artistic matters still dominate building.”  We have to come closer to the style of our times.  (The demand for an independent “style for our times” is found already with Schinkel and has been echoed by every architect since.  Schinkel says: “Why should we always want to build in the style of another period? Why should we not try to invent a style of our own!?”)  No artists were summoned to build the Palace of Labor in Moscow, but factory managers with great technical expertise were brought in.  Lapshin is against treating building from an aesthetic point of view and suggests that it should become part of engineering.

• • •

The surest guiding principle to absolutely sachlich, necessary, extra-aesthetic design seemed to be adaptation to technical and economic functions, which with consistent work must in fact lead to the dissolution of the concept of form.  Thus building would unconditionally become a tool.

Strict suitability to functions — what could the building gain by that?

When the parts of a building are arranged according to a sense of their use, when aesthetic space becomes living space — and this is the kind of [120] order we call dynamic — the building throws off the fetters of the old, fossilized, static order, axes, symmetry, etc., and achieves a new starting point.  A cramped, material, stable equilibrium (symmetry) gives way to a new, bolder equilibrium, delicately balanced in broad tensions (polarity) that correspond better to our essence, and with this comes a form that is entirely new and alive, free from constraints and stabilization.

And then, through this suitability to function, a building achieves a much broader and better inner unity: it becomes more organic by abandoning the old conventions and formalisms of representation, which inhibit the materialization of necessary form.

It is therefore no wonder that architects tried to exploit the possibilities of functionalism to the full.  Building presumes the optimum functional articulation of the proposed living space; architecture is no more than a fixed and visible structure of the final organization of every movement, every occupation, every purpose and use of the building.  It is no small architectural achievement if all the paths through a building relate to each other clearly and coherently, absolutely free and open to every possible combination, and not just in a mechanical sense — “twelve doors in a long corridor” — but with the aim of achieving the finest and most ambitious organization and best possible construction.  The architect can only grasp and carry out his truly artistic work, that is, the creative work, when he addresses questions of his client’s attitude to life, way of living, business methods — something that of course he can only do with him, not without him or against him.  For this reason “being a client” is not just buying a piece of land, some bricks, and an architect.  The client must be an activity, whose taking possession of the acquired space is so definite, clear, rich, and organic that it can be transformed into the relationships of masonry walls, indeed relationships governed not by convention or mere custom but by necessity and a living sense.


It is the architect’s task to balance spaces freely against each other, simply according to their sachlich functions, excluding anything arbitrary; only then is it possible to have the ambition — from floors, circulation, size of interior and exterior space, the best spatial sequence, the disposition to light, to garden, to street, to traffic — of creating the final tectonic order of all factors: the building.  In this process all symmetrical axes, all drawing board geometry, all floor plan ornaments must completely disappear; architecture becomes shaped reality (see also Richard Döcker, “Über Baukunst,” Volkswohnung 5, no. 13).

As an example of a logical form in this sense, let us take a plan and elevation for a farm being built by the Berlin architect Hugo Häring.  (Some fine plans by Fritz Kaldenbach, who died young in 1918, show a transition from formalism to functionalism, not via Wright but more via van de Velde and Lauweriks.)59 Häring finds a way of working with curves that is at first reminiscent of Finsterlin’s projects, and it is of course related to these as well, but it is also fundamentally different because of the strict Sachlichkeit of its curves, as opposed to Finsterlin’s romantic arbitrariness.  For similar reasons Hans Scharoun of Insterburg comes to use the curve in plan and elevation, and so occasionally does Adolf Rading of Breslau.

Is there an internal logic for such use of the curve, one that has little to do with the illustrative, symbolic use of van de Velde? Certainly!

The rectangular room and the straight line are not functional but mechanical creations.  If I were to work consistently from biological function, then the rectangular room is nonsensical, for its four corners are unusable dead space.  If I were to outline the areas in a room that are actually used and walked upon, then I would inevitably arrive at a curve.

The flow of organic life knows no right angles and no straight lines.  And as the functionalist always appeals to the flow of organic life as the finest example of pure functionalism, his fondness for the curve is entirely understandable.  Straight lines will always resist the ultimate adaptation to functional mobility and fluidity.  They allow only a general, approximate adaptation, nothing absolute.  Thus the consistent functionalist has to take curves rather than straight lines as his starting point, as Hans Scharoun does when he writes: “Why does everything have to be straight, when straightness only evolves from material values and our milieu!”

Scharoun’s competition entry for a new post office in Bremen (rejected in the first round) is a fine example of functional work.  An officially prepared floor plan combined counter hall, parcel room, and check office under [122] the same roof and behind a façade, for which the competition really only sought a style.  Scharoun differentiates and articulates the mass.  His work carried the typical motto: “Business — not official image!” Counter hall and parcel room can and should be flat.  As a purely administrative building with no public traffic to speak of, the check office can be concentrated upward. The parcel room lies long and narrow next to the railway line.  The counter hall evolves practically from a circular plan, and a building with a clear physiognomy emerges, articulated in height, width, and length, a building appropriate to the dynamic tensions of its functions — just as Häring’s plan solves this problem in the most subtle, sensitive, and functional way for an agricultural enterprise.

Functional thinking, almost in the spirit of Roux’s “evolutionary mechanics of animal organisms,” is shown when Häring and Scharoun, working on office plans for Berlin (Friedrichstraße office building) and Königsberg (Börsenhof), choose to run corridors not as channels with a consistently regular cross section, independent of the volume of traffic flow, but as paths that are wider where many people have to use them and narrower at the end where fewer people need to use the doors.  Functional thinking is shown in Heinrich de Fries’s plan for an office and large tenement building, similar to the planned Börsenhof in Königsberg, which is formed not around the individual office room as a cellular unit (as Peter Behrens had rightly done in his Düsseldorf Mannesmann building, in which the entire space belonged to one firm) but around the unit of the smallest possible group (for instance director’s office, typing room, public room), whose internal traffic is not dependent upon the public corridor.  Here is what de Fries was aiming for: “Fusing maximum organizational usefulness and economy in the floor plan with the strongest possible rhythm of masses by dissolving hitherto customary surface façades.”  It seems to be carried out more consistently in his competition entry for the office building in Prinz-Albrecht-Garten, Berlin (1924).

• • •

This consideration shows functionalists concerned with very practical matters. And yet it would be a mistake to see functionalists as utilitarians.  Results produced by both groups overlap here and there, but they derive from quite different attitudes.

Functionalists are concerned with solving a problem of general significance to our culture.  The utilitarian only asks: “What is the most practical way for me to act in this case?” But the functionalist asks: “How do I act [123] most correctly in principle?” Their attitude inclines toward philosophy and has a metaphysical basis.  Their thinking will be in sympathy with the thought processes of someone like Frobenius considering chthonic and tellurian architecture, and there is no question but that the functionalists, even the most sachlich ones, could more readily be classified as romantics than as rationalists.

The utilitarian who absolutely must derive all phenomena from the purpose in many cases achieves this only by wrongly equating “purpose” with “meaning” as, for example, when he asserts that ornaments in prehistoric caves also had their “purpose.”  They certainly have a “meaning” but not a “purpose.”  Even Lu Marten’s Resultate historisch-materialistischer Untersuchungen [Results of historical-materialist investigations] (nature and change of forms) only explains the general fact of existence, not the particular way in which existence is manifested (Frankfurt am Main: Taifun-Verlag, 1924).

The utilitarian subordinates himself to purposes in a commonsensical way that the citizen of today indeed knows and recognizes.  He can, as a result, easily become a materialist.

The functionalist is clearly no less decisive in approving of purpose, but he does not see it as something complete, unalterable, rigidly prescribed; rather, it is a means to broaden and refine, intensify and sublimate, move and mold human beings.  For him every satisfied purpose is an implement for creating new, more refined human beings.  Residents in his building have everything at hand — the architect has the residents in hand — through purpose.  The architect creates purpose as much as purpose creates the architect!

To be fully consistent the functionalist would make a building into a pure tool.  He would necessarily arrive at a negation of form, as he could only completely achieve his ideal of absolute adaptation to the events in a space by means of movement.

• • •

Is consistent functionalism not a dead-end street?

It certainly leads to biological relativism, which in the end not only dissolves [124] the conventions of decorative art forms (which would be an advantage) but of building itself.  One can, as Jennings does, define an animal as a mere incident, but not a house.  And why can one not do that?

An animal is a moving organism with its own limited, temporally measured life Its forms are forms of being, identical with the individual, not utilitarian forms for the many.  A snail shell, for example, is part of the body of an individual snail and cannot serve as a house — organically — for anyone else.  It grows with the individual snail and dies with it.  (When nature needs space for a number of creatures she organizes it on the basis of a mechanical principle that can be standardized: the mass tenement of the honeycomb.)

The built house neither grows nor dies.  When the functionalist nevertheless compares it with an organism (in a cinema design Scharoun mentions its “maw,” “stomach,” “digestion,” and “backside”), he is trying to express that it should be as appropriate in its parts and as logical and unified in its classification as a grown organism.

The objection to an ultimately consistent functionalism is the exaggerated and overstated individualization of its body, a potentially dangerous tendency for Germans.  Take, for example, the Wertheim Building — Turbine Hall — Einstein Tower sequence.  We stressed that a functional attitude is capable of furthering and enhancing the inner unity of a building to a very large extent, but we must now add that it makes it equally difficult for greater objective unity to emerge from several or many entities.  Once more: Wertheim Building — Turbine Hall — Einstein Tower.

Are we really dealing with inevitabilities here?

If we consider nature’s ideal functional constructions, then we recognize that the richer and more subtle a living creature’s organization, the more distinctively it is individualized.  In the same way it is quite logical that a perfectly good, tried and tested tool does not have an “environment,” and it is quite immaterial where a machine is placed.  Its elements and proportions relate only and exclusively to itself.  Therefore if the guideline for shaping a building is only the optimal fulfillment of function, then concern for what has to be taken into consideration also ends at the four walls of that building.

Here one might raise the objection that individuals in organic nature do form a unit Be that as it may, these individuals are, in any case, distinguished by the possibility afforded them of movement and change of place.  Their unity is probably fundamentally based on this possibility, and this is the very thing that is denied the house on principle.  A house stands firmly [125] on its site, in permanent surroundings, and can only endure time, never create it.  This is important because all the efforts of functionalists to give the outside of their buildings the unity they so markedly exhibit on the inside necessarily lead to seizing the element of movement that has suggested itself since van de Velde — movement that of course can only be apparent, a surrogate of movement.

I am thinking, for example, of Hans Scharoun’s conceptual sketch for the Chicago Tribune building (see page 117).  To be sure, this work consciously embodies its environment.  It considers “the articulated point connecting a low building to a tall one” and connecting the indifference of a frantically busy street to formal clarity.  And it is typical that in doing this Scharoun arrives at concepts expressly concerned with movement: “(1) The front is fixed; (2) seeks a standpoint; (3) collects tension; (4) rises steeply; and (5) carries working platforms.”  You could describe a machine in operation like that.  In fact Scharoun wants a tower block to be perceived as a “machine,” not as “house or monument.”  Other functionalists as well like to refer to machines, which as moving tools are bound to attract their greatest attention.

Scharoun’s work certainly reflects its environment, but the referential process remains one-sided.  The building devours the environment and digests it for itself, so that some of its features appear in its functional accounting — but the result remains completely individualistic in principle, even where the work takes on a large collective form.  Despite its relation to the street the form remains unique and particular; indeed it may be that with this approach the assimilation of the environmental elements only reinforces the building’s emphatic individuality.  This is easily proved.  Is it possible to make Scharoun’s solution into a type? That is no more possible than it is for Bruno Taut’s Chicago Tribune design, which may be impeccable in constructional-functional terms but, when taken as a type (and this is the yardstick for every modern building), would turn downtown Chicago into a Negro village [Negerdorf].

German architecture we repeatedly find an inclination to a one-sided verticals: individual elements exaggerated in character and usually exaggerated in form as well, not relating to each other, with nothing in common.  Parallelism is the only bond.  Our political attitude suggests itself here.  From [126] this perspective we can understand the Bismarck Tower epidemic and the epidemic of ideal designs for skyscrapers.  With an approach like this, the basis for every new building is always different and always new.  “The systematic use of the vertical in Germany is a kind of mysticism — a mysticism in matters of physics is the poison of German architecture.  A simple fact refutes all this: we live in a building floor by floor, horizontally layered, not vertically” (Le Corbusier in L’esprit nouveau).

From this point of view, whose essence is unconscious separation (“singularity”) and a one-sided direction of creative forces inward (“introspection”), it is therefore to some extent difficult to imagine how we could arrive at the totality of a city.  When Scharoun calls buildings like cinemas or theaters components of an urban development plan, one is skeptical as long as the riddle remains unsolved of how a whole can be formed from elements that do not desire this whole but only themselves.

An essay in the Flemish magazine Het Overzicht (September 1923) on “Stedenbouw” is interesting in this context.  Although the author, Louis van der Swaelmen, does persistently speak the language of a functionalist — “It here concerns functions and organs” — in practical terms he opts for Le Nôtre and Haussmann.

We said that the element of movement in architecture can never play more than a surrogate role, but it should be added here that there are attempts in Russia to turn actual movement (change of place) into an architectural device.

The most radical and earliest attempt is Tatlin’s model for the Monument to the Third International in Moscow (1919/1920) (page 147).

The model is 20 m high.  The building itself would be over 400 m high.  […] It consists of two cylinders and a pyramid of glass that turn at different speeds.  Within these glass structures are the great halls for meetings, reunions, accords, etc.  Then there are great plants for climate control: heating the assembly rooms in winter and cooling them in summer.  These building units are surrounded by an iron spiral soaring into the sky.  […] His monument has the same practical beauty as a crane or an industrial bridge.  Tatlin says that he made the triangle the predominant [127] form in order to express Renaissance statics.  He expresses the dynamics of our time in a wonderful spiral.  For his material he chose glass as well as iron, already commonly in use for modern construction.

(Here one should mention Bruno Taut’s glass house at the Cologne Werkbund exhibition [1914], the first to try out the constructive and aesthetic possibilities of building with glass [Elias Ehrenburg, Früchlicht, no. 3].)  Bruno Taut’s Iron Monument of 1913, height 30 m, can be considered the orthogonal static miniature ancestor of Tatlin’s monument, and some designs for exhibition towers by Wenzel August Hablik of Itzehoe (1918/19) can be seen as intermediate links in the evolutionary chain.  Here the dynamic elements of rotation and oblique position begin to appear.

Recently the less than satisfactory outcome of a competition for a Palace of Labor in Moscow led to a discussion in the Russian press, stimulated by a very bold essay by K. Selinksi, entitled “Stil und Stahl,” which ended with the words: “Architects, engineers, adapt to the pace and meaning of history: — build movement.”

But it would be a mistake to believe that movement, as Selinski understands it here, had much to do with the movement of individualistically minded functionalists.  Selinski does not make his demand based on soul and expression (war has been declared on these factors in the new Russia; see René Fülöp Miller: “Der kollektive Mensch,” Vossische Zeitung 3, October 1923) —  but for the sake of a setting for the new human collective.  For this reason we shall return to Selinski’s essay later.

If for the functionalists the basis of every new building is forever new and different, then it seems reasonable that in working they rely on eternal nature.  In fact their ideal is the total merger with nature: the building not as a body foreign to nature but as its organic component.

Häring tries to design the rooms in his clubhouse in Rio de Janeiro in such a way that they are not general, transposable, interchangeable spaces but are fundamentally determined by their particular situation in nature.  The ocean bay, mountain structure, color of vegetation, coastline, qualities of light, etc., should all play an active part in the quite particular, unique, and nonrepeatable form of halls and rooms.  Nature should be embraced [128] within the building and likewise every room should be embraced in every other one — following the model of organic life.  One is reminded of Chinese féng shui and the interpretation that Ernst Boerschmann places on the concept.  The functionalist tends to depersonalize the building process.  He is reluctant to adopt an imperatorial attitude toward the world.  He integrates himself and his product.  The person who builds is ultimately only the mediator.  For him the perfect building would be one that grew out of the ground like an organic plant.  (Finsterlin — an example is an issue on snail shells published by Wendingen.)

One could thus raise the objection here, contrary to what has been said above, that the functionalist is defined just by the idea of integration, by the negation of any form of individualism!

But no! For integration into nature means integration into endless ambiguity, that is to say, into everything and nothing; it does not contradict individualism, as the hermit demonstrates.  Nature enthusiasts love solitude.  Integration into nature is only a euphemism for individualism, for the rejection of society.

In the end experience shows that precisely in this functionalist attitude that wants to dehumanize architecture, anthropomorphism prevails — more so than in any other humanist approach.  For it is always the human being that places one space next to another.  And if he does not accept responsibility for this task because he finds it imperatorial and rejects it, but instead wants to let things evolve from the inner nature of the materials and the spaces, then (in order to be able to grasp it) he will always have to interpret this nature first, because this inner nature of spaces and materials will always remain foreign to him — and how else should he interpret it but according to his own human, indeed personal condition?!

In fact dehumanization is the very thing that leads to humanization, to anthropomorphism.

When steps collide with a wall and I prepare for the steps by means of contrasting stripes in the wall, I do not know whether the wall or the steps find this pleasing and whether I have done what is right for them: I am thus bringing precisely the subjectively human concepts that I wanted to avoid into the objective world.

Isolation, absolute individualism is the ultimate driving force behind consistent functionalism.  Even its reference to the organic is not primary but simply the consequence of an individualistic attitude.  Thus the deciding factor is the relationship with society!


Functionalist deliberations are correct so long as they concern a specific matter, and they go wrong as soon as things have to fit together.  It is correct to say that a single rectangular room is uneconomical, that a curve is a better biological transcription of real usable space.  But if it is a matter of arranging several rooms together, the result is different.  If several oval, circular, or curved rooms are put together, far more space is lost than in a group of rectangular rooms that fit together much better.  The honeycomb can be cited once more as an example from nature.  In individual organisms the single organs are certainly curved, but they fit snugly together because they are made of flexible, pliable material. Haring and Scharoun sometimes choose different widths for their corridors, allowing them, like living arteries, to narrow, to shrink, in places where there is less traffic.  This is all right provided that traffic always follows this same path until the death of the building, that the same conditions prevail as on the first day, in the same way as is the case for blood corpuscles in an organism.  But it is wrong, and the functional becomes antifunctional as soon as the traffic finds different conditions — such as through a change of owner or when purpose alters traffic requirements — whereby it could be heaviest in precisely those places where the plan requires it to be lightest.

Thus in view of the fact that an individual item, even if it functions excellently in and for itself, and even if it is competely adapted to an infinitely manifold nature, is not adequate for society’s living requirements, it indeed closes itself to them because it is exaggerated for the sake of uniqueness in space, time, and personality and is not open to duration, change, and multiplicity.  In such a case it is questionable whether the mechanical structures of rectangularity are not socially more correct in functional terms!

Once more then: the deciding factor is the attitude toward society.

The human being stands between nature and society.  He opts for human community and thus places himself in a certain state of tension with nature.  He opts for nature and is in a certain state of tension with society.

Expressed differently, the human being bases his actions and work either on the fact, the awareness of human community and his membership in it, or on a feeling of unity with nature.  As a creator he works from the whole to the individual or from the individual to the whole!

According to this, two clear types can be distinguished: at their extremes are the rationalist and the romantic.


In the context of architecture we have identified the consistent functionalist as representing one of these types, the romantic.

His opposite is the consistent rationalist who has congealed into formalism.

• • •

When van de Velde referred to the machine, he saw it as the neat, concise, modern, and elegant form.

When the functionalist refers to the machine, he sees it as the moving tool, the perfect approximation to an organism.

When the utilitarian refers to the machine, he sees it as an economic principle of saving work, power, and time.

When the rationalist refers to the machine, he sees it as the representative and patron of standardization and typification.

Let us now turn to the clear-thinking representative of the Western view, the Swiss Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (b. 1887), who has already been quoted several times.  He is known as a purist painter and publisher of L’esprit nouveau in Paris and is better known as an architect under the pseudonym Le Corbusier-Saugnier, who worked for Peter Behrens for a short time.  Le Corbusier adopts a position of absolute Sachlichkeit. Naturally he rejects the façade: “Architecture has nothing to do with styles.  Louis xiv, XV, XVI, or Gothic are to architecture as the feather on a woman’s head — occasionally pretty but not always, and never more than that.”  He admires the work of modern engineers.  “Without pursuing an architectural idea, guided only by the conditions of functional calculations derived from the laws that govern the universe, and by the concept of a living organism, modern engineers have taken the fundamental elements and by putting them together according to firm rules, they have come close to great works of art and allow the work of the human hand to resonate with the universal order.”

In a series of essays in L’esprit nouveau, “Des yeux qui ne voient pas,” Le Corbusier contrasted types of modern motorcars, airplanes, etc., with conventional contemporary architecture and came to this result: “If problems of the dwelling and its layout were studied like a chassis, we should very soon see our houses transformed and improved.  If houses were produced industrially, serially like a chassis, we would see unexpected forms, but they would be healthy, defensible forms, and an aesthetic would be formulated with surprising precision.”

A house: protection against heat, cold, rain, thieves, the curious — a receptacle for light and sun.  A certain number of compartments for cooking, work, intimate life. [131] A room: a surface upon which one can move freely; a bed on which to stretch out; a chair for comfort and another for work; a table for work; drawers so that every object can quickly be put in its place.  Number of rooms: one for cooking, one for eating, one for working, one for bathing, and one for sleeping.  Such are the standards of a dwelling.

In order to arrive at a definition of a simple, clear, and defensible type for such “machines for living,” Le Corbusier recommends the use of standards:

One has to set up a standard in order to face the problem of perfection.  When a standard is established, competition immediately and violently comes into play.  In order to win, one has to do things better than one’s rival, in every part, in the line of the whole, and in every detail.  That is what all parties are compelled to: progress! The standard is a necessity.  The standard is based on sure foundations, not arbitrariness, but with the certainty of intention and with a logic controlled by experiment…The establishment of a standard means exhausting all practical and reasonable possibilities, deriving a type that will be recognized as appropriate to the maximum performance of functions, using minimal means, as little hand assembly as possible, and a minimum of materials: words, sounds, colors, forms.

This emphasis on the type, on the universally valid, the need for a norm is what makes Le Corbusier fundamentally different from the functionalists. The basis of his work is the primary awareness of belonging to human society.  To be sure, functionalists will agree with many, perhaps all, of Le Corbusier’s pronouncements, but there then remains the distinction that what is heterogeneous for them is autogenous for Le Corbusier, to use Paul Tillich’s terminology (Das System der Wissenschaften nach Gegenstanden und Methoden).

A recurring and vigorously emphasized aspect of Le Corbusier’s approach is the importance of the floor plan, because it is the floor plan that primarily contains the social element of building.

“Mass and surface are determined by the plan.  The plan is the generator. All the worse for those people with no imagination.”

The whole structure rises on a foundation and develops according to a rule drawn on the ground in the floor plan.  Good forms, variety of form, unity of a geometric nature, communication of harmonies — that is architecture.  The plan is the basis. [132] Without a plan there can be no greatness of invention and of expression, no rhythm, no volume, no coherence.  Without a plan we have only the sensation intolerable to man of formlessness, misery, disorder, and arbitrariness.  The plan demands the most active invention.  At the same time it demands the strictest discipline.  The plan is the determining factor for the whole.  It is the decisive moment.  A plan is not a pretty thing to draw, like a Madonna’s face.  It is a severe abstraction, nothing but dry mathematics for the eye.  But the work of the mathematician remains one of the highest activities of the human mind.  The unity of the law is the law of the good floor plan — a simple, infinitely variable law.

What is already clear in these statements by Le Corbusier is his social view of architecture.  His thinking moves from the whole to details, that is, for him the fundamental element is order, which is inseparable from any overview, whereas architecture can just as logically be directed toward expression, at the point where it creates and forms a single object, an individual body, something that exists for itself.  Even an architect concerned with expression will, of course, draw plans and will not underestimate how very important they are, but it is right that we should hear a paean of praise to the plan from an architect who makes the totality his starting point.  The plan is the element that fits the structure into the floor, the universal; it is the union of the enduring base with the earth common to all.  But the elevation is the more individual element, the differentiating factor.  A plan belongs to the world of the horizontal, an elevation to the world of the vertical.

The plan conveys, in the most compressed form possible, the order and overview of the building; the elevation conveys the construction.  It is therefore not surprising that someone who lays such emphasis upon the plan should emphatically underline the element of order.  “Architecture is art in the highest sense — mathematical order.”  “More and more, constructions and machines can be represented in proportions and in a play of volumes and materials; many of them are true works of art as they contain number — that is order.”

Order — universal validity — rejection of all subjective elements in building, rejection of precisely that movement that van de Velde called “dramatic.”  “The cathedral is not a plastic work of art, it is a drama: a struggle against the law of gravity, concern with the sphere of emotions.  For this reason we search in it for complementary values of a subjective nature beyond the plastic element.”  If order is to be visible in built space it needs elementary primary forms.  For the architect concerned with expression, such demands [133] do not exist: what is most irregular can at the same time be most expressive.  Le Corbusier works with clear, recurring, unambiguously comprehensible masses: “Cube, cone, cylinder, sphere, and pyramid are the great primary forms that light reveals to advantage.  They give us a clear and tangible image without ambiguity.  For this reason these forms are beautiful forms, the most beautiful forms.”  “If the fundamentals of architecture are sphere, cone, and cylinder (one thinks of Cezanne’s statement), as creators and emphasizers of form, they are purely geometrical by nature.  But geometry frightens today’s architect.”  The first European architect to recognize the positive role of geometry for architecture would seem to have been Berlage, who praised geometrical form as early as his Zurich lectures of 1907.  It stands above the all too personal and often ugly character of the idiosyncratic because it is “not individual and essentially always beautiful in itself.”

Something that is very important to our case now emerges, justifying and explaining the extent to which we have followed Le Corbusier’s pronouncements: whereas an architect who is concerned with the individual work, and is therefore looking for expression, always places the demands of purpose clearly in the foreground and consequently stresses construction, the architect proceeding from the whole, and thus concerned with order, will stress an element that has no fundamental significance for functionalists — play! Functionalists want to make their buildings into tools, but rationalists (and this is surprising at first) are equally determined to see them as toys!

Expression isolates, is always serious by nature, and in attempting to overcome its seriousness does not transcend the half-measures of the grotesque.

The overview may well be able to be lighthearted.  Play requires community, order, rules.

Le Corbusier does not expressly talk about these relationships, but the expression “play” repeatedly occurs in his writings — a concept that apparently seems to him to be the best analogy for his ideas.  A sentence like this one: “Architecture is the masterly, correct, and magnificent play of masses brought together under light” recurs frequently in many variations, and elsewhere Le Corbusier makes supplementary remarks on the subject of [134] “purpose” and “construction” — not in Poelzig’s romantically disapproving way but by integrating these important elements, which he continually stresses himself, into the whole and entirely rejecting their isolation and independence. (Isolation and independence of individual factors are potentially dangerous for German artists; for example the element of expression and mime is unquestionably part of dance, but it is a mistake to isolate this factor and make modern dance out of expressive mime.)  Le Corbusier says:

A commonplace for young architects states: one must express construction.  And another: a thing is beautiful when it corresponds to its purpose.  (Compare the much more correct version by Otto Wagner quoted above: “Something impractical can never be beautiful!”).  The good Lord may have emphasized joints and vertebrae, but there is still something else.  Architecture has a different meaning and different tasks from showing constructions and fulfilling purposes.  Purpose is here understood as a matter of pure utility, of comfort, and of practical elegance.  Architecture is art in the highest sense, mathematical order, speculation, perfect harmony through the proportionality of ail relationships: that is the “purpose” of architecture. Therefore the conception of architecture as an art is the conscious representation of aesthetic demands, whereas functionalists and utilitarians will always tend to negate building as an art.  Adolf Loos (b. 1870): “Only a very small part of architecture belongs to art: the gravestone and the monument. Everything else that serves a purpose must be eliminated from the ranks of art” (Sturm, 1911, p.  334).

Le Corbusier consciously starts with man.  Human will is the decisive factor: “Brutal materiality can only accept the idea through the order that one imposes upon it.”  The aim of the human desire to build is standardization: “Every problem that will emerge tomorrow is a problem of synthesis; it requires a stricter standardization than any age has ever known.”

Just as striving to dehumanize building, to eliminate the element of will, actually brings the functionalists to humanization, so the rationalists are led [135] by a conscious emphasis of human will to objectivity and Sachlichkeit. There is no doubt that someone whose starting point is the consciousness of human community is in a certain state of tension with nature.  He is not inclined to make buildings harmonize with the existence of evolved organisms in a kind of mimicry, where the result can only be a hybrid, not an organism and not a building; he creates the embodiment of his human will. In opposing nature’s rule, his house disputes nature’s space and orders it according to human requirements: the house is in a state of tension with nature.  The house has its own center and expresses its will almost aggressively (Mendelsohn: “Nature is organic development, the house individual will”).  But far from standing brutal and alien in nature for this reason, it enters into closer unity with it as a result of tensions.  The house is mathematics, and because it is mathematics — that is, law, order, purity, health, and logical consistency in its requirements and tendencies — it binds itself to the liveliness of nature, which is never possible through dissolution or relativization but always only through concentration and absolute architectural logic.  “The more human creations move away from direct contact, the more strongly they incline to pure geometry.  A violin or a car that touches our body has a low degree of geometrical rigor, but a city is pure geometry” (L’esprit nouveau, p. 18).

• • •

Here we must briefly mention the two French architects who taught Le Corbusier’s generation (Mallet-Stevens, Guevrekian, Dufour, Lemaire, Jourdain, etc.): Auguste Perret of Paris, who works with his brother Gustave, and Tony Gamier of Lyons.72 Perret was first and foremost a builder.  The declaration that he wrote for the Stavba issue devoted to him (Prague, July 1923) is astonishingly reminiscent of Otto Wagner: “A living architecture is that which faithfully expresses its epoch.  One looks for examples of it in every field of construction.  One will choose works that are strictly subordinates to [136] their use and are built with the judicious use of material, that achieve beauty by their design and harmonious proportions, and that are inspired by necessary elements that compose them.

Perret is from the same mold as Eiffel, whose spirit also recurs in the wonderful structure erected by Freyssinet in Orly for the great dirigible hangars.  Perret used ferroconcrete to create a skeleton into which walls are placed as light membranes.  This technique is most consistently used in the church at Le Raincy.  Perret’s main works are the casino in Saint-Malo that has already been mentioned (1899/1900), an apartment house on the rue Franklin in Paris (1902/03), which was the decisive turning point in Perret’s output, a garage on the rue du Ponthieu in Paris (1908/09), and the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris (1911/12).  The story of this building has become a quarrel between Perret and van de Velde, in which not only German friends such as Karl Ernst Osthaus (who, however, does not do justice to Perret’s achievement) took van de Velde’s side but (among others) also Jacques Mesnil in an essay called “Henry van de Velde et le théâtre des Champs Elysées.”  There can be no question but that the spatial design in the Théâtre des Champs Elysées was due to van de Velde.  But the extent to which the forcing out of van de Velde was caused by personal intrigue on the part of the Perrets and how far (beyond the personalities) it represents the victory of modern construction over architecture can scarcely be decided from Mesnil’s essay.  More recent buildings by Perret are the docks in Casablanca (1916), the Esders Workshops (1919), a highrise project (1922), the church at Le Raincy (1923), a bank for the Societe Marseillaise de Credit in Paris, and a decorator’s studio also in Paris.  All of these buildings show great imagination in their constructional design and at the same time offer bad taste in architectural form.

Gamier (b. 1869) is an architect through and through.  In two large publications he provides an insight into his work, which is admirable both for the grandeur of its concepts and for the most scrupulously detailed work in execution.  The book Les grands travaux de la ville de Lyon contains buildings by Gamier that he erected or planned for that community when he was city architect: the Franco-American Sanatorium, the Grange-Blanche Hospital, the stadium, the art school, the slaughterhouses, the municipal residential buildings, the main post office, the telephone exchange, and the imposing Bourse du travail with its congress halls, libraries, museums, administration offices, etc.  Edouard Harriot, then mayor of Lyons, wrote a few introductory sentences for the portfolio.  Even more comprehensive and bold is the [137] portfolio Une cite industriefle, etude pour la construction des wiles, in which a modern industrial town with all its residential, traffic, hygiene, and educational problems is worked out in masterly and minute detail and with a wealth of valuable ideas. This labor was completed in 1905.  Whereas Herriot says in his foreword to the Lyons portfolio that “our French cities still lack all the institutions essential for their up-to-date functioning.”  One can praise the Cité industrielle for the fact that its creator, probably more than any other French architect, respected and liberated healthy function, as his plan for the sanatorium demonstrates in particular.  On his relationship with German architecture Gamier says: “I have never had a chance to see the architectural designs that impressed me, but I noticed on the other hand the often great ingenuity in the technical installations that I have seen in Germany” (Reisen in Deutschland, 1907 and 1911).

Nothing is more self-evident than that a rationalist should stress form.  Form is nothing more than the consequence of establishing a relationship between human beings.  For the isolated and unique figure in nature there is no problem of form.  Individuals, even individuals in nature, are free.  The problem of form arises when an overview is demanded.  Form is the prerequisite under which an overview becomes possible.  Form is an eminently social matter.  Anyone who recognizes the right of society recognizes the right of form.

If humanity were just a sum of individuals, it would probably be possible to see the house as a pure tool, as purely functional.  Anyone who sees a form in humanity, a pattern articulated in time and space, approaches the house with formal requirements, in which case “formal” is not to be confused with “decorative.”

If every building is part of a built whole, then it recognizes from its aesthetic and formal requirements certain universally valid rules, rules that do not arise from its individual functional character [Zweckcharakter] but from the requirements of this whole.  For here, in the social sphere after all, must lie the primeval elements of the aesthetic (Guyau: Art is tenderness).  A one-sided fulfillment of function [Zweckerfüllung] leads to anarchy.  Where a building is perceived as part of a whole, the character of a toy is added to the character of a tool, the absolute to the relative element.

The concept of “form” does not deal with accessories, decoration, taste, or style (from Gothic to Biedermeier) but with the consequences arising from a building’s ability to be an enduring structure.  The functionalist prefers to exaggerate the purpose to the point of making it unique and [138] momentary (a house for each function!) but the rationalist takes the purpose broadly and generally as readiness for many cases, simply because he gives thought to the enduring qualities of buildings, which perhaps see many generations with changing requirements and therefore cannot live without leeway.  The rationalist is no more indifferent to purpose than the functionalist.  Although he does not have the perspective of the Baroque genius opposing purpose, he avoids the tyrannical role of purpose.  As the functionalist looks for the greatest possible adaptation to the most specialized purpose, so the rationalist looks for the most appropriate solution for many cases.  The former wants what is absolutely fitting and unique for the particular case; the latter wants what is most fitting for general need, the norm.  The former is all for adaptation, relation, formlessness growing from selflessness, and mimicry; the latter is also for personal will, self-consideration, play, and form.

There is no doubt that the West leads in its determination to see architecture as a whole and from a social point of view.  I quote from a programmatic essay by Victor Bourgeois for the Brussels magazine Sept arts: “Since the building is inseparable from its neighbor and since a street extends into another street, all powerful architecture tends to style, that is to say, a superior collective equilibrium.”  The following passage explains how personal and psychological work comes to be rejected: “A modern architect who is compelled to build today on any street in Brussels is almost insolent with regard to his art if he realizes an interesting building — what progess is this if this hostile architecture becomes an indifferent architecture.”

In Western Europe the feeling is not that an architect should work in a special, original, and personal style (which he had best protect from imitations by official patent).  Here conspicuous work is considered bad eo ipso — simply because it is conspicuous: “A home must be made a measure of man” (Malespine) and “Originality is, moreover, a form of insubordination” (Georges Linze).  From this point of view it is understandable when Roland Hoist emphatically points Dutch artists toward “the correction that the romantic always and under all circumstances signifies” (Architektura, February 1924).

It is not surprising that Le Corbusier addresses the problems of the modern metropolis, for these accord with the basic thrust of rationalism, that is, working from an awareness of community, moving from the whole to the individual.  (It is precisely by this means that form emerges since form is correspondence, and tact comes from tangere = to touch.)  In his Principes [139] fondamentaux d’urbanisme moderne, Le Corbusier maintains the clarity of his rationalism throughout, but at the same time demonstrates that the consistent rationalist gets stuck in just the same cul-de-sac as the consistent functionalist.  Functionalism may court the danger of exaggerating to the point of becoming grotesque, but rationalism courts the danger of reducing everything to the schematic.

It is quite logical that the individual aiming at expression will arrive at moving curves with maximum fluidity, fulfilling every function, and will therefore see concrete as a plastic mass that can be modeled.  Contrast this with R. van t’Hoff: “Only with ferroconcrete are the horizontal and vertical adaptations consistent” (De Stijl 2, no.  5).  The rationalist who is inclined toward an overview likewise emphasizes straight lines and right angles. “Why,” asks Scharoun, “must everything be straight, when the straight line is produced only by the environment?” Le Corbusier might reply: “Precisely because nothing can remain isolated, because we all stand within an environment, everything must be straight and the curve is individualistic lack of discipline.”

There is no question that only the straight line and right angle can be the basis of the modern creation, which seeks to eliminate arbitrariness and rejects all anthropomorphic curves — and yet it would be wrong to turn the straight line and right angle into a dogma or rigid principle.  The modern metropolis sketched by Le Corbusier, which in fact hardly touches upon many problems, is certainly consistently straight-lined and right-angled down to the last detail, but it can be so only because and for as long as it remains on paper.  Here Le Corbusier can certainly decree: “The curve — that’s paralysis” but if he were to realize his plan and did not find a field as flat as a silver platter, he would be forced by every bend in a river or by every hill to depart from the rigid straight lines and strict right angles; otherwise one could say, “This straight line is senility” and thus the functionalist would be justified.

Le Corbusier’s city plan shows fairly clearly the dangers of a consistent rationalism: form becomes an overbearing, life-constraining, stifling mask, and the result is no longer the integration into a living whole but an academic division that turns play into a show.  And then it is time again to emphasize purpose and underline function to lead the way to recovery and reflection.

It seems to us that all building contains an element of compromise: between purpose and form, between individual and society, between economy [140] and politics, between dynamics and statics, between forcefulness and uniformity, between mass and space-and that style in each case is nothing more than the particular version of this compromise.  Kurt Schwitters’s view (Merz 6) is similar in principle: “Style expresses the common will of many ideally all, the democracy of the will to design.  But since most people — even the occasional artist — are idiots by and large, and since idiots are usually most doggedly convinced about what they think, and as agreement by all can only take the middle road, so style is usually a compromise between art and non-art, between play and purpose.”

• • •

Today the East shows a passionate emphasis on the dynamic element.  Such an emphasis is already hinted at in German functionalism.  Just as the dynamic element here, in accordance with our entire constitution and past, is oriented individually, so we find in Russia that dynamism is collectively oriented, indeed dynamism seems to be virtually the means by which the life of collective human beings is expressed architecturally.  Let us return to Selinski’s essay “Baut Bewegung!” [Build movement!], from which I have already quoted.  It shows that this problem can be solved only with the aid of every possible technical and mechanical device, but it also lets us see that a strong emphasis on dynamism always tends toward the romantic-revolutionary. We share here the most important sections of Selinski’s essay (Neue Kultur-Korrespondenz 1, nos. 4/5, Berlin 1923):

Stone is becoming extinct.  Stone is becoming a retrograde element.  It serves only to hinder the evolution of architecture and is thus becoming socially reactionary.  Immobile, cramped, and crooked in its dynamic possibilities, stone cannot follow the rapid tempo of life.  But life is becoming dynamic with enormous rapidity.  Today people still move along city streets in carriages and traps.  Tomorrow there will be moving sidewalks, just as advertisement boards, neon signs, pneumatic doors, etc., are already on the move.  But a clay-footed colossus like the one proposed by architects (meaning the competition entries for the Palace of Labor in Moscow) will never contain within its gates the tens and hundreds of thousands of people who will surge to the Pantheon of the Revolution on November 7th.  Its walls will stand too silent and immobile, its doors will be too narrow, its acoustics will be unsuited for the hundred thousand voices of the jubilant people.

Why net erect a gigantic building on an enormous, rotating steel foundation with removable glass and aluminium walls? Such a palace would be capable of guiding the masses of people from room to room, opening itself up to magnificent [141] halls, bringing masses of listeners closer to speakers from its various platforms. Instead of elevators, continuously rotating spiral ladders will carry people up to the roof.  Why should one not, for example, set up some rooms, classes, laboratories, and operation theaters that can in turn swing around to the south and the sun, and in the evening flood the street with light to be exploited for general artistic and educational purposes?

We must proceed to a new building material: steel, ferroconcrete, and especially Duralumin, glass, and asbestos.  We now see a shift to these materials across the whole cultural front.  It would be a disgrace to build a palace in the heart of Red Moscow, in the residence of the Federation of the Soviet Union, whose physiognomy is directed to the past when it should serve the revolutionary present.

Aside from dynamic building, a number of other constructional problems must be solved in the Palace of Labor.  Acoustics in the large halls must be strengthened with an electric membrane.  Walls must literally speak with the assistance of radio telephones.  Walls, ceilings, and vestibule must become translucent when necessary. The radio must be exploited to full advantage.  Radio waves must beam through glass corridors to activate electric motors driving ventilation and various other devices like cooking facilities, for example.  The roof must be suitable for walking in the open air, cinema, lighting effects, sport, etc.

(In discussing this, Akseiski said the following: “Things like this have not even been carried out in America.  Without disputing the possibility in principle of such a building in the future, it must be said that it would be ridiculous to try to build it at the moment.”) It is impossible to think of a sharper contrast with the Russian Selinski than the Frenchman Albert Gleizes, who in his Vom Kubismus writes in the chapter on “Dynamism”: “A flower is immobile.  It can be moved by outside forces — otherwise it remains static. A painting is a silent and immobile manifestation.  To speak of dynamism when dealing with a painting is to give words a meaning that they do not have!” (p.  30).

The element of movement is shared by German functionalism and Russian dynamism (biomechanics).  (Italian Futurist architecture fails into the same category, although after the early death of Sant’Elia, killed in 1916, Virgilio Marchi is probably the only one who still represents it.  Marchi emphasizes and underlines individualistic, dramatic, dynamic, and lyrical elements.  “Every architect has his own rhythm and his own law that does not coincide with that of anyone else.”) In Germany one is dealing with [142] movement as an expression of individual life, with a pseudo-organic, plastic movement working from within, whereas in Russia one is dealing with installation montage, and constructing frameworks.  Working from the outside like this almost without a plan, produces ingenious constructive works that ultimately remain always studio objects, as is seen, for instance in Ladovskii’s class at VKhUTEMAS in Moscow.

Plasticity and construction are both features of architecture, but they are not themselves architecture.

• • •

It is a feature common to the East and West that, in contrast to individualist Germany, they proceed from the collective.  But the collective is fundamentally different here and there: France has a structurally articulated society; Russia is dominated by the masses.  A byproduct of this is that the plan is a major feature in the West but is addressed strikingly little in the East. There and in fascist Italy the plan is replaced by direct tension of masses.

The problem is to fuse the two tendencies, statics and dynamics.  In an excellent essay “Der jung-europäische Staat” (Vossische Zeitung, 25 September 1923), Willy Hellpach recommended this task to Germany in terms of national law: “The remedy is not to compel emergent professional forces to submit to the imaginary authority of Platonic powers again — in history attempts of that kind always end with the complete ruin of the formal powers — but to create a new state with real authority by taking those forces that have emerged as a result of powerful spiritual processes of radical change in the nation and integrating them into the state as legal, synarchic forces, thus putting an end to their unlawful, anarchic effects.”

Heinrich Mann takes a similar line: “We are in the middle and it is our task to link East and West; one does not shut off nature.  In the future we will be the republic in which representation of class and parliamentarianism are interlinked.”

The exclusive fulfillment of purpose, the one-sided focus on function makes the individual building dynamic and qualifies it.  It becomes one “consequence” within a flow of biological dependencies, with a logical inclination to include the temporal factor.  One-sided focus on form gives statics the rigidity of a general, abstract “law.”  Interpenetration of the two elements makes the building a living, concrete “form” [Gestalt].

“Consequence”-”law”-”form.”  This is the terminology of Paul Tillich’s Das System der Wissenschaften nach Gegenständen und Methoden. The law: “The thinking person can look away from individual being to create some [143] thing general, comprehensive” (physics).  Consequence: “The individual becomes part of a (temporal) context” (history).  Form: “The individual being becomes a general being.  Form is actually the concrete, the real being” (technology) (Christian Herrmann in a critique of Tillich, Sozialistische Monatshefte, 1923, p. 569).

Alfred Vierkandt in his Dualismus im modernen Weltbild [Dualism in the modern world image] seems close to such a view.94 Christian Herrmann sums up his doctrine like this:

In this sense every culture is by its very nature built upon a dualism of principles. For on the one hand culture represents the epitome of the meaning of life, derived from life, or aimed at its preservation and furtherance, in brief, things that exist from the point of view of utility; but on the other hand, such things have their own intrinsic value that opposes the content as that which formed it.  Tension of this kind can be seen in all spheres of culture.  This dysfunction between a utilitarian and a defined content and it’s pure formation as form can be seen everywhere, in law, art, religion, economics, society, science, and technology.  In the life of the soul we find the same dualistic confrontation, for on the one hand it is a process entirely determined by biology, on the other hand, however, it leads to patterns with their own meaning and value.  Spiritual acts are causally determined by their antecedents, but they are also determined by the meaning that they serve.  Thus human beings are closely attached to two worlds: the world of biological necessity, a dark natural bedrock full of hardships, and a spiritual world with specific content and substance.  (Sozialistische Monatshefte, 1923, p. 287).

If we return to the building, we can say that its concrete form is a compromise between individual (function) and society (form).  In its pure development this compromise is inhibited by “expression” and “soul.”  Its pure [144] form is living equilibrium, realization of a behavior that plays to many sides, open and yet determined.  We may join Theo van Doesburg in calling it “formless” provided that we do not confuse “formless” [formlos] with “shapeless” [gestaltlos]. Closed form in the sense of a “figure” is today no longer a satisfying element in art, either in architecture or in other fields.  A drive toward the final fusion breaks the bounds of closed form (in painting this was done by Cubism) and tries to achieve pure relationships, spatial tensions that are never arbitrarily limited.  “Art is equilibrium achieved by evaluation of all parts” (Schwitters).  “Proportion” is the interpenetration of “function” and “form,” that is, a plastics of proportion replaces a morphoplastics (Piet Mondrian).  “As long as design uses any form, it is impossible to shape pure proportionalities.  For this reason the new design has liberated itself from all creation of form” (Piet Mondrian).

The younger generation of German architects insists on strict Sachlichkeit. Mies van der Rohe explains: “We reject all aesthetic speculation, all doctrine, and all formalism.  Let form be shaped by the nature of the task, using the means of our time.  That is our work.”  Otto Wagner had already insisted on the same thing in a very similar formulation.

The necessary and only sound approach is to reject aesthetic speculation, formalism, and doctrine, but it seems to us quite a frequent error to make this rejection from an anti-aesthetic point of view, even if we inveigh against the aestheticism of aesthetes one hundred times a day.  Rejecting aesthetic demands (which is not the same as aesthetic speculation) would be to saw off the branch on which one sits.  As long as individual objects are being dealt with, the fulfillment of purpose may suffice to create a healthy form.  But if we accept the demands of a monumental architecture, that is, of an architectural whole, the bringing together of forms — even genuinely sound ones — does not suffice.  The demand for unity is through and through an elementary aesthetic or artistic demand, and to assume that all strictly sachlich works “in themselves” would form a unity, even if they were developed in a vacuum, is to draw a false conclusion.  The task is not merely an overview of new buildings but also an overview of their landscape or urban environment.


House, human being, sun, and landscape form a complex of mutual relationships. Just as the individual form gets its face and body organically from these relationships, so, for the sake of the overall idea, must a housing complex, as an overall urban composition of a complicated organism, fulfill more and various environmental demands in order to absorb, integrate, and subordinate the personality of individual organisms converted to something impersonal.  Only when they are all conjoined do the parts attain the validity and meaning each intends.  The types that result from such architectural tasks are not a necessary evil of an anxious economy; they are a necessity of life in terms of what a housing complex demands and means and what the individual objects, considered within the same framework, must be, namely an organic unit (Richard Döcker, Volkswohnung, 10 July 1923).

We should not abandon this demand because we are prejudiced — rightly! — against previous romantic methods of doing it justice.  The demand itself remains as long as we do not abandon the full claim of design.  A bridge over a river is not just a utilitarian problem but also a town planning problem, that is, the demand to insert its mass into the movement of the bank, into the rhythm of the streets and squares, by means other than formal nonsense and naturalistic mimicry is completely an artistic-aesthetic one.  One can deny these demands only by including under the concept of utility the consideration of the optical and logical, of the perceptually correct. But then one has done nothing more than give aesthetic demands another name.  In fact, according to utilitarian dogmatists, there is a double demand: the accord with sachlich-constructional demands and the accord with demands arising from the the nature of our organs of perception.  And it is precisely these that we call aesthetic demands in the pure, original sense of the word (αισθάνομαι. = I perceive).  We do not doubt for a moment that these demands, just as much as sachlich-constructional ones, belong to the realm of human reason; these demands are not mystical and arbitrary nor are they in any way satisfied by that.

To care whether and if things relate to one another is under no circumstances a matter of utility.  But if we abandon the demand for unity, we can no longer speak well of design.  The problem is not solved by the fact that hitherto people have always tried to create unity in an emotional or romantic fashion, using only the values and realities of the landscape.  We have to solve it on the basis of reason.

We find that German architecture is somewhat inclined to devote itself to an extreme that changes fairly frequently and then gives way to the opposite [146] extreme-the consequence of inner uncertainty.  It is all too rarely recognized that the aim should be to stabilize the strong dynamic tensions that Irving architecture must absorb in order not to become aesthetic, and this certainly includes tensions of extreme revolutionary power and force, the kind demanded by Selinski’s essay.

It is erroneous to think that dynamism can only be expressed in the elevation, in the animated “form” [Form]; instead, it is to a great degree a matter of the floor plan.  And it is just as erroneous to believe that structural requirements are assured by a quadrature of the plan, which often enough remains a drawing-board ornament.  In contrast Mendelsohn says: “Architecture establishes the conditions of its animated masses from its own laws: the dynamic condition, movement of space (seen in outline as its linear element), the rhythmic condition, the relationship of masses (seen in elevation as its surface projection), and the structural condition or balance of movement (seen in plan and section as their structural elements).”

We find a clear and secure attitude in recent Dutch architecture as well as in recent Czech architecture, which is getting under way with surprising elan.

Theo van Doesberg, editor of De Stijl, stresses the double function of building: “Function from the perspective of practice; proportionality from the perspective of art.”  Function and play.  “Intentional artistic design and utilitarian constructivism combine to produce complete equilibrium” (De Stijl 6, nos. 6-7).”  Political realism and confidence of this kind spare Dutch architecture from swinging from extreme to extreme between opposing dogmas; it allows it the possibility of coping with all the dynamic tensions of our time openly and freely, without abandoning the demand for monumentally; it allows Dutch architecture the possibility of steady development.

Under the pressure of circumstances and through the expansion of aesthetic insight, it is only now that an architecture shaped by and through itself seems possible, an architecture in which the other arts will not be applied and thus subordinated, but one that will work organically together with the other arts; it makes possible an architecture that from the beginning experiences beauty in its constructional functions, that is, an architecture that through the tension of its proportions raises the construction itself above its material necessity to aesthetic form (J.J.P.  Oud).


~ by Ross Wolfe on October 19, 2010.

4 Responses to “Adolf Behne’s The Modern Functional Building (1926)”

  1. […] Behne, Adolf.  The Modern Functional Dwelling. Translated by Michael Robinson.  (The Getty Center for the History of Art.  Los Angeles, CA: […]

  2. […] Behne, Adolf.  The Modern Functional Dwelling. Translated by Michael Robinson.  (The Getty Center for the History of Art.  Los Angeles, CA: […]

  3. […] he sees it as the representative and patron of standardization and typification.”  Adolf Behne, The Modern Functional Building.  Pg. […]

  4. […] Behne, Adolf.  The Modern Functional Dwelling. Translated by Michael Robinson.  (The Getty Center for the History of Art.  Los Angeles, CA: […]

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