Werner Gräff’s “‘The Dwelling,’ Weissenhof Exhibition” (1927)
Translated from the German 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).
• • •
According to its most significant pronouncements, the new architecture is striving towards a new way of living, and towards a more rational use of new materials and new constructional methods. These are more important than the creation of a new form or style.
We say ‘according to its most significant pronouncements’ advizedly, since inevitably the mass of its fellow-travelers has fallen a prey to the seductions of formalism, without making the slightest contribution to the essential process of change. This must be emphasized all the more because it is naturally the unusual form which first hits the eye, and resistance to new developments in architecture is always directed primarily against the external appearance.
If the opposition were to seek some clarification of what is meant by a reform of living standards and rationalization of construction methods, the dispute would no doubt be more fruitful.
It cannot be denied that during the course of the last decade the way of life not only of an intellectual elite but also of the large mass of the population, and especially the younger generation, has undergone extensive changes. The more obvious factors in themselves — an increased appreciation of fresh air, color and mechanical aids, the upsurge in sporting activity, social mobility and economic needs — are bound to cause radical changes in our way of living in the long run. But it has hitherto been impossible to create decisive new forms for domestic architecture, since the process of transformation is still in full swing. Indeed the customary dwelling which has served us for centuries seems unbearably ill-suited to the new generation — almost as if they were given frock coats to wear. Yet we have  absolutely no idea of their wishes, not even a tolerably clear indication of the direction they wish to take. What is worse, neither have most of the modern architects. Only a few of them have the necessary frankness, freedom, and visionary strength — the rest, in this present and decisive moment, must content themselves with the role of fellow-travelers.
Frank Lloyd Wright had the necessary qualities twenty years ago. He knew the way to a new kind of living. But his compatriots have so far been unwilling to follow him, and he will have to be patient for another ten years.
Even the vanguard in Europe see that they must have patience for some time yet (although the fellow-travelers in particular have an unfortunate tendency to run ahead of the pack). Obviously a new domestic culture cannot be forced on people. But if the majority of the population are as yet unclear as to the direction they wish to take, one can at least try to sharpen their senses, break down prejudices, awaken instincts, and carefully observe their impulses.
Perhaps the new generation do not know how they want to live purely because they have no idea that they have a choice. In that case they must be shown the new technical postulates of domestic architecture, they must be acquainted with the most practical domestic equipment and machines; they must be made aware of the fact that the most talented architects throughout the world are striving after something new, even if their schemes prove merely fanciful. And so long as one gives practical examples of the different types of dwelling, it is preferable to fix things as little as possible, to show on the contrary that everything has yet to be given its final shape, which will be developed out of the way it is used. This is the reason for the variable ground plans in the skeleton building of Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Mart Stam. In this way we can help to discover people’s preferences in their domestic arrangements.
And this, in outline, is the aim of the Werkbund ‘Dwelling’ exhibition, Stuttgart, 1927.