Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s “The New Era” (1930)
Translated from the German by Philip
Johnson. From Mies van der Rohe.
(Museum of Modern Art. New York, NY: 1947).
• • •
[Speech delivered at a Werkbund meeting in Vienna]
The new era is a fact: it exists, irrespective of our “yes” or “no.” Yet it is neither better nor worse than any other era. It is pure datum, in itself without value content. Therefore I will not try to define it or clarify its basic structure.
Let us not give undue importance to mechanization and standardization.
Let us accept changed economic and social conditions as a fact.
All these take their blind and fateful course.
One thing will be decisive: the way we assert ourselves in the face of circumstance.
Here the problems of the spirit begin. The important question to ask is not “what” but “how.” What goods we produce or what tools we use are not questions of spiritual value.
How the question of skyscrapers versus low buildings is settled, whether we build of steel and glass, are unimportant questions from the point of view of spirit.
Whether we tend to centralization or decentralization in city planning is a practical question, not a question of value.
Yet it is just the question of value that is decisive.
We must set up new values, fix our ultimate goals so that we may establish standards.
For what is right and significant for any era — including the new era — is this: to give the spirit the opportunity for existence.
[From Die Form, 1930]