Jiří Kroha’s “Ideology of Architecture” (1933)

Translated from the Czech by Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, et al.

From Architecture and Design, 1890-1939: An International Anthology

of Original Articles.  (Whitney Library of Design.  New York, NY: 1975).

• • •

Architectural formalism was always symbolic.  It maintained and increased the esteem felt by the largest social class for the laws imposed by the ruling class.  The activity of architects was always subject to the social class structure, the beauty of Venus is a formal artistic expression of an architectural workmanship; it is dialectally related to the discrepancy resulting from utilitarian needs.  In historical architecture the discrepancy between the utilitarian needs and of an individual and the utilitarian aims of the people is obvious.  It cannot be denied that the work of architects was always dictated by the ruling class; it was a class symbol and class instrument to show to the lower classes the way of life and the laws of the ruling class.  Thus changes of architectural styles indicate to some extent that changes of architectural symbolism were related to the social and economical transformations.  Historical styles vary and originate in close dependence upon the economical and cultural structure of society.  The clashes and discrepancies involved in these social and economical changes are also reflected in architecture.  In historical architecture these difficulties are overcome to a large extent by an almost planned formalism.  The splendor of Roman buildings, its resurrection in the Romanesque style, and the horribly complicated Gothic style appear as symbols of the ideology of die master’s material and spiritual might…

After a further disorientation at the end of the last century and at the beginning of the present century, modern architecture rejected the obsolete servitude to historical conceptions and turned to serve the entire collective community.  Formalistic architectural activity was terminated.  In liberal middle class communities an architectural movement was developed which dispensed with excessive ornamentation, a characteristic feature of the old symbolic designs.  Symbols are superfluous for the new working man, who grows under the influence of modern science, the modern world and modern ideas.  Liberal citizens do not require these symbols, as they are able to correctly evaluate their social, clerical [209] and policing purpose, and it is only the conservatives who need them to preserve clannish traditions and emotional self-esteem.  The elimination of elements of visual ornamentation in modern architecture is entirely of social and ideological origin; it is not an expression of a lasting repudiation of architectural beauty…

New construction and production methods, new technical discoveries and new industries provided architecture with new possibilities, which suggested new kinds of projects.  The new architecture thus began to turn to planning of specially designed premises for a determined social, collective or individual purpose.  A stupendous advance was accomplished by the ideological work of creative contemporary architects, who repudiated the symbols of life and sought instead its real elements.  It is quite natural that in this work the architects drew conclusions which did not always conform with official opinion and which were not universally acceptable.  It is also natural that among those who wanted to find the basic elements of life some simultaneously became the judges and critics of various aspects of everyday life, of its needs and of social relations.  In the study of modern life these architects, whom we now call the vanguard architects, repeatedly pondered about the official false social and moral conventions.  Analytical studies always led these pioneers towards the necessity of a new philosophical and political culture.  They considered architectural space as a community space which should be arranged in a new way, and applied to this purpose all available technical contrivances, replacing symbols and other fancies with a respect for the positive needs of an individual or of a collective community.  The possibility of achieving these aims was provided for by modern techniques and modern products, i.e, by material factors, and under this influence the majority of architects turned towards scientific socialism, especially as they clearly understood that the aim of constructions of a higher cultural and spiritual value is easily achieved by the right control and use of materials.  The majority of vanguard architects in contemporary architecture are convinced that their service to the community must be socially fair, i.e. it must be socialist.  Thus we can say that the thesis of scientific Marxism is reflected in the architectural vanguard of the entire world…

When we examine contemporary architecture in the world we find that in some countries governed by reactionary political systems, e.g., Germany and Italy, architecture was virtually forced by political and not formal reasons to abandon the vanguard position.  In other countries the crisis of social organizations is reflected in architectural retrogression, and only in a few cases is it possible to concede that this particular contemporary architecture follows and continues to develop without interruption the principles of the vanguard movement.  Czechoslovak architecture belongs to the latter group and we see here a stupendous progress as compared with the past…

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~ by Ross Wolfe on October 20, 2010.

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