Cornelis van Eesteren’s “Ten years of ‘Stijl.’ Art, Technique, and Town Planning” (1927)
Translated from the Dutch by Hans L.C. Jaffé.
In De Stijl. (H.N. Abrams. New York:1971).
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Man is slowly becoming aware that he is the victim of an uncomprehended and uncontrolled development of technique. Understanding of the nature of technique is not proportional to technical ability. The chaotic condition of our environment (the modern cultural landscape) and our settlements (towns) and the inefficient lay-out of our homes are the tangible results of this lack of understanding.
Artists have discovered intuitively this lack of balance, understanding, and ability.
Reactions to this discovery were Cubism, Dadaism and functional architecture.
They provided the means of rediscovering and bringing our environment, reality and matter back under control.
Many painters turned to architecture, advertising, etc., for this purpose. The poets saw a new material in the word: they sought the universal. The particular, isolation within the self, no longer satisfied them. An urge towards collectivity arose. The painter studied the color and form of things, the architect studied dwellings, the town planner towns, etc.
They all tried to realize in material — wood, stone, color, steel, concrete and glass — their collective insights, to reveal the passive facts and results.
The artists could see that our age is formless, i.e., that our age has found no synthesis of thought and work. But they could sense the beginnings of a synthesis in the products of technique, which have all arisen from the same mode of thought, from technology. The engineer and the modern artist, although unknown to each other, already had much in common.
Artists began to approach matter differently. In their compositions of material they began to denaturalize the subject-matter (Cubists, Dadaists).
The engineer did the same in his constructions. Iron, a material that was formerly forged and kneaded into more or less playful forms, became a new material for him. He invented steel, experimented with it for spans, and began, after he had made the necessary safety calculations, to construct with it. He designed constructions in which forces of tension and compression cancelled each other out — he constructed an equilibrium of tensions. In place of the medieval smith with his sense of play came the engineer with intuition controlled and guided by the intellect. The engineer  also denaturalized material. Intelligence constructs. Material is the means of achieving the end with a minimum of material and a maximum of result. The development of technique gave man a hitherto unknown degree of freedom in relation to material. He does not know how to use this freedom. This is seen best and most clearly in our towns or our most densely built-up industrial areas. All our modern great cities or industrial landscapes are chaotic. Instead of technique increasing individual happiness, it is threatening to choke it.
A few architects have seen this. They began to consider how this chaos could be conquered. Thus they did not begin by considering the form of the city, but first tried to discover the origins of this chaos. Just as the position of a room in a house is not accidental, so must the position and arrangement of the various urban neighbourhoods, parks, sports grounds, factories, dwellings, etc., be studied and given consideration.
For this reason the modern town planner is concerned with the town and with the increasingly built-up countryside as phenomena and expressions of modern life, to which he must give form and full recognition.
He knows that the old must give way to them. He possesses something positive, which he is convinced is better than the old, that must disappear when it is worn out.
By taking up this standpoint he comes into constant conflict with the ‘Preservationists,’ who would prefer to let their fellow men live in tumbledown buildings (in traditional costume) because such picturesque scenes still give them sensations of beauty. (The Preservationists themselves travel to such places by car.)
Where there is good reason, the modern town planner makes such cultural relics into museum pieces or turns a part of the town into an open-air museum. But he does so consistently (see my plan for Unter den Linden in Berlin, where the old part is turned into an open-air museum).
The town planner (urbanist) knows that every age and every society had the cities they deserved. Our age is no exception. As a constructive element of society, it is his task to point to the possibilities that modern technique offers to our cities, so that they can renew themselves and again satisfy the demands we make upon them. It is the urbanist’s task to examine and plan the reorganization of our towns and a rational use, arrangement and occupation of the soil.
The Hague 1927 [From De Stijl, Jubilee Number, 1927, pp. 93-96]