Hannes Meyer’s “The New World” (1926)

Translated from the German by D.Q.  Stephenson.  From Hannes Meyer,

Buildings, Projects, and Writings,  (Teufen AR/Schweiz.  Arthur Niggli Ltd.: 1965).

• • •

The flight of the ‘Norge’ to the North pole, the Zeiss planetarium at Jena and Flettner’s rotor ship represent the latest stages to be reported in the mechanization of our planet.  Being the outcome of extreme precision of thought, they all provide striking evidence of the way in which science continues to permeate our environment.  Thus in the diagram to the present age we find everywhere amidst sinuous lines of its social and economic fields of force straight lines which are mechanical and scientific in origin.  They are cogent evidence of the victory of man the thinker over amorphous nature.  This new knowledge undermines and transforms existing values.  It gives our new world its shape.

Motor cars dash along our streets.  On a traffic island in the Champs Elysées from 6 to 8 p.m.  there rages round one metropolitan dynamicism at its most strident.  ‘Ford’ and ‘Rolls Royce’ have burst open the core of the town, obliterating distance and effacing the boundaries between town and country.  Aicraft slip through the air: ‘Fokker’ and ‘Farman’ widen our range of movement and the distance between us and the earth; they disregard national frontiers and bring nation closer to nation.  Illuminated signs twinkle, loud-speakers screech, posters advertise, display windows shine forth.  The simultaneity of events enormously extends our concept of ‘space and time,’ it enriches our life.  We live faster and therefore longer.  We have a keener sense of speed than ever before, and speed records are a direct gain for all.  Gliding, parachute descents and music hall acrobatics refine our desire for balance.  The precise division into hours of the time we spend working in office and factory and the split-minute timing of railway timetables make us live more consciously.  With swimming pools, sanatoria, and public lavatories, hygience appears on the local scene and its water closets, faience wash-bowls and baths usher in the new line of sanitary fittings in earthenware.  Fordson tractors and v.  Meyenburg cultivators have resulted in a shift of emphasis in land development and sped up the tilling of the earth and intensive cultivation of crops.  Borrough’s calculating machine sets free our brain, the Dictaphone our hand, Ford’s motor our place-bound senses and Handley Page our earthbound spirits.  Radio, marconigram, and phototelegraphy liberate us from our national seclusion and make us part of a world community.  The gramophone, microphone, orchestrion, and pianola accustom our ears to the sound of impersonal-mechanized rhythms: ‘His Master’s Voice,’ ‘Vox,’ and ‘Brunswick’ see to the musical needs of millions.  Psychoanalysis has burst open the all too narrow dwelling of the soul and graphology has laid bare the character of the individual.  ‘Mazdaism,’ ‘Coué’ and ‘Die Schönheit’ are signs of the desire for reform breaking out everywhere.  National costume is giving way to fashion and the external masculinzation of woman shows that inwardly the two sexes have equal rights.  Biology, psychoanalysis, relativity, and entomology are common intellectual property: France, Einstein, Freud, and Fabre are the saints of this latterday.  Our homes are more mobile than ever.  Large blocks of flats, sleeping cars, house yachts, and transatlantic liners undermine the local concept of the ‘homeland.’  The fatherland goes into a decline.  We learn Esperanto.  We become cosmopolitan.

The steadily increasing perfection attained in printing, photographic, and cinematographic processes enables the real world to be reproduced with an ever greater degree of accuracy.  The picture the landscape presents to the eye today is more diversified than ever before; hangars and power houses are the cathedrals of the spirit of the age.  This picture has the power to influence through the specific shapes, colors, and lights of its modern elements: the wireless aerials, the dams, the lattice girders: through the parabola of the airship, the triangle of the traffic signs, the circle of the railway signal, the rectangle of the billboard; through the linear element of transmission lines: telephone wires, overhead tram wires, high-tension cables; through radio towers, concrete posts, flashing lights, and filling stations.  Our children do not deign to look at a snorting steam locomotive but entrust themselves with cool confidence to the miracle of electric traction.  G.  Palucca’s dances, von Laban’s movement choirs, and D.  Mesendieck’s functional gymnastics are driving out the aesthetic eroticism of the nude painting.  The stadium has carried the day against the art museum, and physical reality has taken the place of beautiful illusion.  Sport merges the individual into the mass.  Sport is becoming the university of collective feeling.  Suzanne Lenglen’s cancellation of a match disappoints hundreds of thousands, Breitensträter’s defeat sends a shiver through hundreds of thousands.  Hundreds of thousands follow Nurmi’s race over 10,000 meters on the running track.  The standardization of our requirements is shown by: the bowler hat, bobbed hair, the tango, jazz, the Co-op product, the DIN standard size, and Liebig’s meat extract.  The standardization of mental fare is illustrated by the crowds going to see Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks, [92-93] and Jackie Coogan.  Grock and the three Fratellini weld the masses — irrespective of class and racial differences — into a community with a common fate.  Trade union, co-operative, Lt., Inc., cartel, trust, and the League of Nations are the forms in which today’s social conglomerations find expression, and the radio and the rotary press are their media of communication.  Co-operation rules the world.  The community rules the individual.

Each age demands its own form.  It is our mission to give our new world a new shape with the means of today.  But our knowledge of the past is a burden that weighs upon us, and inherent in our advanced education are impediments tragically barring our new paths.  The unqualified affirmation of the present age presupposes the ruthless denial of the past.  The ancient institutions of the old — the classical grammar schools and the academies — are growing obsolete.  The municipal theaters and the museums are deserted.  The jittery helplessness of the applied arts is proverbial.  In their place, unburdened by classical airs and graces, by an artistic confusion of ideas or the trimmings of applied art, the witnesses of a new era are arising: industrial fairs, grain silos, music halls, airports, office chairs, standard goods.  All these things are the product of a formula: function multiplied by economics.  They are not works of art.  Art is composition, purpose is function.  The composition of a dock seems to us a nonsensical idea, but the composition of a town plan, a block of flats…?? Building is a technical not an aesthetic process, artistic composition does not rhyme with the function of a house matched to its purpose.  Ideally and in its elementary design our house is a living machine.  Retention of heat, insolation, natural and artificial lighting, hygiene, weather protection, car maintenance, cooking, radio, maximum possible relief for the housewife, sexual and family life, etc.  are the determining lines of force.  The house is their component.  (Snugness and prestige are not leitmotifs of the dwelling house: the first resides in the human heart and not in the Persian carpet, the second in the attitude of the house-owner and not on the wall of a room!)  Today we have new building materials at our disposal for building a house: aluminium and duralumin in plates, rods, and bars, Euboölith, Ruberoid, Forfoleum, Eternit, rolled glass, Triplex sheets, reinforced concrete, glass bricks, faience, steel frames, concrete frame slabs and pillars, Trolith, Galalith, Cellon, Goudron, Ripoliin, indanthrene paints, etc.  We organize these building elements into a constructive unity in accordance with the purpose of the building and economic principles.  Architecture has ceased to be an agency continuing the growth of tradition or an embodiment of emotion.  Individual form, building mass, natural color of material, and surface texture come into being automatically and this functional conception of building in all its aspects leads to pure construction [Konstruktion].  Pure construction is the characteristic feature of the new world of forms.  Constructive form is not peculiar to any country; it is cosmopolitan and the expression of an international philosophy of building.  Internationality is a prerogative of our time.

Today every phase of our culture of expression is predominantly constructive.  Human inertia being what it is, it is not surprising that such an approach is to be found most clearly at first where the Greeks and Louis XIV have never set foot: in advertising, in typographical mechanical composition, in the cinema, in photographic processes.  The modern poster presents lettering and product or trademark conspicuously arranged.  It is not a poster work of art but a piece of visual sensationalism.  In the display window of today psychological capital is made of the tensions between modern materials with the aid of lighting.  It is display window organization rather than window dressing.  It appeals to the finely distinguishing sense of materials found in modern man and covers the gamut of its expressive power: fortissimo = tennis shoes to Havana cigarettes to scouring soap to nut chocolate! Mezzo-forte = glass (as a bottle) to wood (as a packing case) to pasteboard (as packing) to tin (as a can)! Pianissimo = silk pajamas to cambric shirts to Valenciennes lace to ‘L’Origan de Coty’!

In Esperanto we construct a supranational language according to the law of least resistance, in standard shorthand a script with no tradition.  The constructive mode of thought is most urgently needed in town planning.  Unless we approach problems of town planning with the same impartiality as the factory engineer, we shall throttle the social life of the modern city through monument worship and uncritically accepted ideas about street axes and viewing points.  The city is the most complex biological agglomeration, and it must be consciously regulated and constructively shaped by man.  The demands we make on life today are all of the same nature depending on social stratification.  The surest sign of true community is the satisfaction of the same needs by the same means.  The upshot of such a collective demand is the standard product.  The folding chair, roll-top desk, light bulb, bath tub, and portable gramophone are typical standard products manufactured internationally and showing a uniform design.  They are apparatus in the mechanization of our daily life.  They are manufactured in quantity as a mass-produced device, as a mass-produced structural element, as a mass-produced house.  The standard mental product is called a ‘hit.’  Because of the standardization of his needs as regards housing, food, and mental sustenance, the semi-nomad of our modern productive system has the benefit of freedom of movement, economies, simplification and relaxation, all of which are vitally important to him.  The degree of our standardization is an index of our communal productive system.

Art has an undisputed right to exist provided the speculative spirit of mankind has needed after the graphic-colored, plastic-constructive, musical kinetic overthrow of its philosophy of life.  (We are deliberately refraining from mentioning in this connection the individual experiments of isolated artists, the ‘isms’; one of the best, Piet Mondrian, recently characterized what ahs been achieved so far as a substitute for the better achievement that still has to be achieved).  This new creative work can only be done on the basis of our time and with the means of our time.  Yesterday is dead; Bohemia is dead.  Dead are atmosphere, color values, burr, mellow tones, and random brush-strokes.  Dead the novel: we have neither the suspension of disbelief nor the time to read.  Dead picture and sculpture as images of the real world: in the age of films and [hotos they are a dissipation of oeffort and the endless ‘beautification’ of our real world through the interpretations of ‘artists’ is presumptuous.  Dead is the work of art as a ‘thing in itself’, as l’art pour l’art: our communal consciousness will not tolerate any individualistic excesses.

The artist’s studio has become a scientific and technical laboratory, and his works are the fruit of incisive thinking and inventive genius.  Like any product of its time, the work of art today is subject to the living conditions of our age, and the result of our speculative dialogue with the world can only be set down in a precise form.  The new work of art is a totality, not an excerpt, not an impression.  The new work of art is an elemental creation made by primary means (El Lissitzky’s ‘Story of 2 Squares’ is still an illusion of a spatial excerpt conjured up by the draughtsman’s art; it is not a primary creation.  Willy Baumeister’s ‘Mauerbild’ {a kind of impasto} makes use solely of the media of a ‘Mauerbild,’ viz.  [94-95] planes of color, and is created from primary elements, forming a totality, an independent whole).  The new work of art is a work for all, not a collector’s piece or the privilege of a single individual.

The revolution in our attitude of mind to the reorganization of our world calls for a change in our media of expression.  Today is ousting yesterday in material, form, and tools.  Instead of the random blow with an axe, we have the chain mortiser.  Instead of the scumbled line of the charcoal pencil, we have the clean-cut line produced with the T-square.  Instead of easel-work, we have the drafting machine.  Instead of the French horn, the saxaphone.  Instead of a copy of light reflections, we use light itself to create with (as a photograph, a light organ, projected cinematography, picture photography).  Instead of the sculptural imitation of movement [as in Italian futurism], we have movement itself (the synchronized film, illuminated advertising, gymnastics, eurhythmics, dancing).  Instead of lyrics, we have the sound poem.  Instead of caricature, photosculpture.  Instead of drama, the sketch.  Instead of opera, the revue.  Instead of frescos, the poster.  Instead of painted material, the color of the material itself.  (‘Painting without a brush’ in itself calls for picture construction for manual reasons).  The nine muses were long ago abducted by practical men and have stepped down again into life from their high pedestals, more humdrum and more reasonable.  Their fields have been expropriated, confused, and blurred.  The boundaries between painting, mathematics, and music can no longer be defined; and between sound and color there is only the gradual difference of oscillatory frequency.  The depreciation of all works of art is indisputable, and there can be no question that the continued utilization of new and exact knowledge in their place is merely a matter of time.  The art of felt imitation is in the process of being dismantled.  Art is becoming invention and controlled reality.

And personality? The heart?? The soul??? Our plea is for absolute segregation.  Let the three be relegated to their own peculiar fields: the love urge, the enjoyment of nature, and social relations.

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~ by Ross Wolfe on October 20, 2010.

4 Responses to “Hannes Meyer’s “The New World” (1926)”

  1. […] Meyer, Hannes.  “The New World.”  Translated by D.Q. Stephenson.  Buildings, Projects, and Writings,  (Teufen AR/Schweiz.  […]

  2. […] Meyer, “The New World.”  Pg. […]

  3. […] Meyer, Hannes.  “The New World.”  Translated by D.Q. Stephenson.  Buildings, Projects, and Writings,  (Teufen AR/Schweiz.  […]

  4. […] “All these things are a product of the formula: function times economics” proclaimed Meyer in “The New World.” And the effectiveness of this formula, the enormous technical progress it brought, and the victory […]

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