Ludwig Hilberseimer’s “Construction and Form” (1924)

Translated from the German by Stephen Bann.

From The Tradition of Constructivism.

(Da Capo Press.  New York, NY: 1974).

• • •

Identity of construction and form is the indispensable prerequisite of all architecture.  At first sight, both appear to be opposites.  But it is precisely in their close conjunction, in their unity, that architecture consists.  Construction and form are the material prerequisites of architectonic formation.  They are in continual interplay.  So Greek architecture consists of the alternation of horizontals and verticals that is necessitated by construction in stone.  It makes perfect use, in maintaining the unity of the material, of the possibilities of freestone.  A Greek temple is a perfect piece of engineering in stone.  Through the construction of the arch and the vault, the Romans substantially enriched the simple alternation of horizontals and verticals; however, they abandoned unity of material.  As a measure of the separation into structural parts, filling-in work and façadism have created the method of architectural composition that has remained characteristic right up to our times, implying especially the framing of openings and the marking of divisions between stories with freestone.  Through the vertical accumulation of several stories, articulated in terms of orders of columns, there emerged the conventional horizontal-articulation of [121] multistoried buildings.  A principle that Michelangelo was the first to break with.  He for the first time included several stories together within one order.  Thus begins the totally decorative use of building forms derived from the ancient world.  Increasingly they lost their significance in constructive articulation.  They became mere appendages: nineteenth-century architecture!

Because of its new types of building requirement, city architecture was the first to create the need for new forms of construction and materials as an inevitable requirement.  City architecture can use as building materials only those that facilitate the greatest utilization of space and combine the most intensive resistance to wear and tear and the effects of weather with the greatest stability.  Iron, concrete, and reinforced concrete are the building materials that make possible the new forms of construction necessary for the requirements of cities: forms of construction for covering wide-reaching spaces, for the largest possible number of stories stacked one on top of another, and for cantilevering.

Concrete and ferroconcrete are building materials that set virtually no limits to the architect’s fantasy.  By this we do not imply their plasticity, the possibility of surmounting all material limitations through casting; on the contrary, we are referring to their constructive consequences, the possibility of producing a completely homogeneous piece of architecture, a combination of carrying and supported parts, a development that allows a pure system of proportional limitations, dispensing with all articulation through frames and claddings.

Through the constructive possibilities of concrete and ferroconcrete building, the old system of support and loads, which permitted building only from below to above and from the front backward, has been superseded.

Both permit building toward the front as well.  Cantilevering out over the supports.  They permit a complete separation into carrying and supported parts.  A resolution of the architectural work into a carrying skeleton and noncarrying — just enclosing and dividing — walls.  Thus there arise not merely new problems of technique and materials, but also above all a new architectonic problem.  A total transformation of the seemingly so firmly founded static form of appearance of the architectural work.

[122]

These new forms of construction permit the logical elaboration of the office building from the basis of its requirements and preconditions.  The meaning and form of this type of building is determined by the fact that the ground plan can be easily surveyed and changed and by the fact that maximum entry of light is obtained.  While the Berlin office buildings of Alfred Messel revert in their essential traits, both of ground plan and structure, to the Renaissance palace, Hans Poelzig seeks to make use in a Breslau office building of the possibilities of the new type of construction.  So he has vertically staggered the single stories in a way reminiscent of the wooden structure of the Middle Ages and achieved an essential structural transformation of the building.

Erich Mendelsohn has concerned himself with the same problem in his extension to the Mosse Building in Berlin.  But in an indirect, rather than a direct way.  Paraphrasing it symbolically, to a certain extent.  By means of a lateral, slanting staggering of single stories, he aims at giving expression to his emancipation from plunging verticals.

Mies van der Rohe was the first to recognize the new possibilities of formation latent in the new notions of construction and to find an architectonic solution to them in his project for an office building.  His form of construction is based on a two-handled system of frames with rows of projections on both sides.  At the end of the cantilevers the cover plate is vertically applied at an angle onto the outer skin, which serves at the same time as a back wall for the stacks transferred from the internal space to the outer walls in accordance with functional considerations.  Above these stacks lies an unbroken continuous horizontal band of windows extending almost up to the ceiling with no walls and supports appearing on the front.  Thus the horizontal stratification of the tiered building is accented in a most energetic way.  Through the dominant horizontal in combination with the lack of supports on the façade, the structural character of the building is totally transformed, so that an architecture of suspension and lightness arises from the lack of supports.

The ground plan and elevation of this office building are of rare clarity.  It amounts to a complete fulfillment of purpose.  It has been developed from the essence of the task with the methods of our time.  The constructive function is synonymous with architecture.  From the [123] constructive principles the formal elevation is developed.   Construction and form have become one — clear, logical, simple, unequivocal, strictly regular.

[From G (Berlin), No. 3, June 1924]

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~ by Ross Wolfe on October 20, 2010.

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