Karel Teige’s “Mundaneum” (1929)

Translated from the Czech by Ladislav Holovsky, Elizabeth Holovsky, and Lubamir Dolezel.

From Oppositions Reader: Selected Essays 1973-1984.

(Princeton Architectural Press.  New York, NY: 1998).

• • •


Mundaneum: it is a project to be built near Geneva, on international territory, on the lakeshore and at the foot of the Jura mountains — a city of world culture.  It is a city which should, in the first instance, comprise the five traditional institutions of intellectual creativity: Library, Museum, Scientific Societies, University and Institute.  Besides these, it is intended to be a center for professional, scientific, philosophical and artistic unions, social and artistic movements and the headquarters for educational and hygiene groups, and archives.

The Mundaneum, the idea of which was formulated and promoted by Paul Otlet, and the architectural design of which was prepared by Le Corbusier, is intended to be a center of the modern world, a home for a “wider and more realistic League of Nations.”  It is supposed to be a great work of peace after war, “when the new epoch comes in the history of nations and civilization,” distinguished primarily by cosmopolitanism, internationalism, and mondialism, appropriate to a time when world-wide measures and opinions dominate the lives of nations and individuals more than provincial and personal ones do.  The condition predicted by leading spirits for decades, and even centuries, has happened after six millennia of known development of mankind: the universal interdependence of collectivities and individuals across the borders of nationalities and states, an internationalism of culture and civilization, a victoriously progressing cooperation of the two billion people on the globe.

Concurrent with the development of mankind over and above natural physical and biological life, during the advances of civilizations, occurred the economic, political and intellectual life which is, today, entirely of an international nature.  The League of Nations, which originated after the end of the greatest war in history, is an experiment in organizing and introducing order and permanent peace to a world-wide society, to is indisputably an incomplete organism.  It includes only fifty-four of about sixty states, and it is a diplomatic and political organization.  Great international professional societies and economic and intellectual unions have subsequently joined it.  As only a political and diplomatic union, the League cannot secure world peace and international cooperation.  As Paul Otlet has shown, the League is a union of governments, not nations-an alliance of treaties, not of cultures.  Its base is political, not cultural; it appeals to force, law, and compulsory means rather than to inner conviction and clear opinion.  Peace, which is supposed to be the main occupation of the League of Nations, is a universal concern, not just a political one or, to put it another way, the preservation of security requires a “wider League of Nations,” of which the present League is perhaps just one part.  Otlet understands by a “wider League of Nations” an “internationalist union” of scientific, economic, and industrial associations and federations, several hundred of which currently exist throughout the world (the first international association was founded in 1842).  The aim of these international unions would be to establish, in conjunction with the League of Nations, a center of world intelligentsia.  This center would be the “Mundaneum.”

Otlet worked out an ideological outline for the Mundaneum which could be a monument to contemporary man.  In his view, it would be the modern equivalent of what the Panathenaea, the Biblioteca and Museum at Alexandria, Ancient Chinese encyclopedias, medieval monasteries, abbeys and cathedrals, universities, kings’ courts, escorials, Versailles, the French academy, the Russian academy of science, the encyclopedists and Port Royale were in their times.  It could be an extension of the present highest institutions of intellectual and cultural life, such as the Institut de France or the British Museum, and the scientific institutions of Berlin, Leningrad and Washington.  The Mundaneum as a center of modern world culture would be realized gradually; in the beginning, it would be necessary to build the buildings for the world museum and library, which could provide a temporary residence for the university and international unions.  The existing International Labor Organization could join the Mundaneum (its present building on the Wilson Promenade of Lake Geneva could, according to Le Corbusier’s plan, form an entrance to Mundaneum).  The approach would be from Geneva.  The Olympic committee, Society for Intellectual Cooperation, the Pan-American or Ibero-American Societies, etc. could also be housed there.

The construction of the Mundaneum could initially be [590-591] financed by donations from wealthy individuals, governments, municipalities, and from the funds of interested societies and institutions, in the same way as world exhibitions are created.  The territory of the Mundaneum, an international city, of course has to be international.  Switzerland could donate this territory and give the inhabitants of the Mundaneum permanent extra-territoriality, which would increase substantially the world significance of Geneva which, at present, as the seat of the League of Nations, and the International Labor Organization, is visited by 250,000 foreigners a year.  It is now the seat of forty international unions and religious movements.

Description of the Project

The architectural and planning scheme for the Mundaneum was worked out by Le Corbusier (fig. 1).  It is situated between Grand Saconnex and Pregny, on the plain which dominates the whole Geneva countryside and which offers a beautiful view in all directions.  This plain slopes gradually to the lakeshore; there, a hotel district could be built which would adjoin the great game preserve of Ariana with its parks.  The whole of Mundaneum could be an international park including the present park Mon Repos, the garden of the Palace of the League of Nations, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) and could be connected to Geneva by the Wilson Promenade.  The Mundaneum not only offers beautiful scenery, but also can be seen from all directions — from Geneva, from the lake and the mountains.  The plan involves the extension of the Wilson Promenade and a connection with the road to Lausanne, near the present ILO Palace.  At a circular plaza, the Lausanne route would separate into two branches, a promenade along the present old road, and a highly for quick communication, which would ascend via a semi-circular ramp, up over a parking structure.  This highway is signed as en elevated structure above and along the preset Geneva-Lausanne railway.

The main approach to the Mundaneum goes from the ILO Palace through the middle of residential hotel districts towards the stadium and the Mundaneum precinct itself.  The avenue is connected behind the hotel district to the original road from Geneva to Pregny and Grand Saconnex — this road is being rebuilt, and leads also to Ariana, past the future mineralogical and botanical park.  Finally, the highway through La Faueille, in the direction of Prance, will lead to the airport and to the radio station which will be built on the other side of Grand Saconnex.  The railway station is proposed to be built on the open circular plaza in front of the ILO Palace.  The railway passes underground through the Mundaneum.  A round building for parking and autoservicing, a port for ferries, and a harbor for yachts and motor boats are located on the same plaza.

The Mundaneum itself is located on top of a plateau and has in addition to the main buildings, a large open area for future expansion.  Light towers which illuminate the whole architectural complex at night are located at the corners of the southeast side.

The following buildings would be included within the Mundaneum precinct proper:

I. World Museum.  The purpose of the World Museum, according to Otlet, would be to demonstrate the present state of the world, its complex mechanism, the community and interdependence of the individual phenomena of life, and the general and permanently important problems of life.  Here the world would be divided into three categories according to location, time, and type.  Besides these, there would be sections for the organization of the world, for art, and for education.  The museum would be arranged as follows: (1) National and Geographical sections: a composite picture of the territories, topography, natural resources, population, economic and social circumstances of individual countries, politics and laws, and intellectual life; a picture of the contributions of countries to civilization and to culture and their borrowings from these; (2) Scientific sections: nature, man (physical, intellectual and moral), society, intellectual life, politics, infinity (philosophy, religion); all divided according to geographical and national types; and (3) Historical sections giving a synoptical view of the development of mankind: a short reconstruction of civilizations, a synthetic universal history, more detailed representations of the nineteenth century, ideas of revolution, industrial progress colonization and the twentieth century, world war and revolution, and new social [592] problems.  The section concerning world organization would show the structure and a picture of the League of Nations and its activities.  The section on art could show a universal history of artistic creativity, the development of aesthetic conceptions, the techniques and social mission of art.  The section on education could show details of school systems.

The overall conception on which the World Museum would be based is completely new, differing from the programs of other museums; it would be a synthesis of existing geographical, historical, technical, commercial and social museums.  The only things in common with the traditional idea of the museum would be that the collections would be on view at any time and would be accessible to everyone.  The museum would collect vernacular and characteristic things, not rare and costly objects; copies, casts, facsimiles and reproductions would suffice.  Its aim is not preservation, but systematic exposition and demonstration, an encyclopedic and composite museum, a tool and aid for research and scientific work, the collections of which are accessible at anytime (like school collections).  It would be under continuous critical review and could be reorganized any time, so that its usefulness could really be maximized.  This whole museum is supposed to be a sort of “idearium”; a picture of the thoughts that are hidden under facts.

Le Corbusier worked out the design of the World Museum in accordance with this program formulated by Otlet (figs. 2, 3, 4).  The basis of the museum is threefold in character (categories of place, time and kind), therefore a triple aisle unwinds in a spiral.  The top of the spiral is the prehistoric epoch; descending, it becomes wider and so incorporates more and more space for the detailed collections of recent centuries.  Designed in the shape of a graduated pyramid, the building has no staircase.  Unless one uses the elevator, one enters by spiral ramps 2,500 meters in length from the ground level to the top.  The visitor enters the museum from the top, and as he comes down, the collections unwind before him in chronological sequence.  The museum halls open onto balconies which give a panoramic view of the mountains, of high and airy free space.  Across from the doors to the balconies are located doors which open into the interior space of the pyramid — a great vault with bearing columns.  Located at the bottom is the “Sacrarium,” something like a temple of ethics, philosophy, and religion.  A great globe, modeled and colored, in a scale 1 = 1,000,000 with the planetarium inside, is situated in front of the museum building.

II. The Library of the Mundaneum is intended, according to Otlet, to be the world center of books; an institution to aid international cultural cooperation; at the same time it is supposed to catalog all “problems of ideas,” to establish archives for all those problems, and to be a modern documentary encyclopedia (figs. 5, 6).  The Library is intended to contain a selection of the most important books of the whole world, stored in the safest place away from the thunder of wars, to be accessible in all its areas at all times, notwithstanding the fact that some of its books may be prohibited or confiscated by some states.  Thus the Mundaneum Library could preserve for mankind books and ideas censored even in their own countries, and could give them an assured outlet.  At the same time it would be a temporary asylum for the libraries of states whose territories are the scene of war.  Tb be organized by international unions and scientific societies, it could collect the following: (1) all official state publications; (2) publications of scientific, social and pedagogical societies and institutions; (3) journals; and (4) the most important daily newspapers.  The library could obtain these documents free of charge.  In addition, it could require one compulsory free copy of every book for which exchange is made by the international exchange service; it could get authors’ copies, duplications from libraries, bequests, gifts, etc.  As well as collections of books, the Library could have records of laws, lists of inventions, statistics, manuscripts, modern archive material, sheet music photography, phonograph records, films, etc.  Le Corbusier designed the Library building as a large prism standing on pilotis, the main floor being entirely given over to two entrance halls, one for employees and one for visitors.  The inside of the prism is empty, and there, steel shelves, glass cases, conveyors, a freight elevator, pneumatic chutes, etc. are installed.  The elevator and ramp for visitors are located in a sort of glass cage.  The reading rooms are located on top floors of the building, as are the administration offices, changing rooms and a restaurant with a terrace.

III. The Building for International Associations is intended [593] w be a building to house the permanent secretariats of various international associations or their representative offices; it is a building for congresses, conferences and meetings.  It is the palace of the “estates of culture,” housing, at one and the same time, artists, scientists, educators — a building of peace and social work. During individual congresses, the Mundaneum could organize “world weeks.”  This building is a large structure with permanent offices and a hall for commissions and committees. The building is directly connected with a congress hall for 3,000 people, which is designed according to laws of acoustics (formulated by Gustave Lyon) and visibility.  Here, Le Corbusier has taken advantage of his experience in working on the project for the Palace of the League of Nations at Geneva, and the theater hall for the Palace of the Soviets in Moscow.  Interior circulation is provided only by elevators and ramps, not even this building has staircases.

IV. The World University is the center of international university studies; it is intended to be the world’s highest educational institution, for the purpose of educating students from around the world.  The idea of this university was proposed already in 1920 by the Confederation for International Student Cooperation.  It could be a university of international vacation courses, open to all, without reference to previous education and certificates.  The prime interest of the university would be science and education, with special emphasis on questions of international significance, such as diplomacy, economics, sociology, labor relations, journalism, and welfare.  In addition to this university, it would be necessary to establish in the Mundaneum other international schools or all degrees, from preparatory school on up. Incidentally, there is present in Geneva an International Institute for Advanced Studies and an interesting experimental international school for children.

Le Corbusier has situated the university in the middle of the Mundaneum precinct as close as possible to the museum, library, exhibition halls, congress and international association building, and stadium.  The university has a large garden surrounded by a high wall, with a promenade which opens on to a large lecture hall.  In addition to this lecture and theater hall, concert hall, and cinema, the university building comprises a sequence of small amphitheatrical classrooms which are located on several floors, one above the other.

V. Exhibitions (permanent and temporary) of continents, nations, and cities would be accommodated in five pavilions in parks surrounded by trees.  These would be enclosed by another range of buildings containing study rooms, offices, etc.  These pavilions are built in the center of sorts of courtyards, in the core of large exhibition halls which are covered by shed glass roofs.  International exhibitions of various human cultural activities, for example, exhibitions of architecture and urban planning (up till now mostly incomplete and very expensive, arranged in the big cities of Europe and America) could here be put together economically, comprehensively, and in some cases permanently.  For eventual expansion of these exhibitions or for semi-permanent pavilions, there are free garden spaces to the southwest of the exhibition buildings within the Mundaneum precinct.  The Halls of Modern Times, which are designed for exhibitions of contemporary cultural creativity, and which are supposed to give a changing picture of present creative activity, are situated northwest of the World Museum.

In addition to these halls, in front of the university there is an oval space reserved for buildings, the need for which may appear at a later time, such as the Directory of World Security and Peace Service.  In addition to the buildings designed by Le Corbusier, Otlet suggested a world institute which could be a synthesis of existing university institutes, technical laboratories and offices of social work.  It would be a center of composite knowledge whose aim would be a synthesis of learning, bringing together the sciences, by means of comparative study and criticism of different research methods; it would study plans of social reorganization and transformation, searching for means of their implementation.

Outside the Mundaneum precinct itself, Le Corbusier located a stadium and playing field to be the center of physical culture, equipped for all eighteen sports which are included in the Olympic games.  The offices of the Olympic Committee would be situated nearby; in addition, there would be a botanical and mineralogical garden (with eventual zoological pavilions), an airport and radio-telegraph station.  Connected [594] to the Mundaneum would be hotel and university quarters.  The hotel quarter is situated on the slope below the main precinct and is divided by the avenue which is the main approach.  The hotel buildings are spread symmetrically through the gardens.  Below them, not far from the lakeside, are communication points such as a railway station, a bus station, taxi stands and the harbor.

Criticism of the Project

When we study closely Le Corbusier’s and Jeanneret’s imposing project for the Mundaneum, we can recognize in the whole concept the many well-conceived architectural details of individual buildings (especially in the astonishing solution of the university with its amphitheatrical, tiered classrooms and large lecture hall), which have gained for Le Corbusier’s work the admiration and esteem of an international public and have secured him a leading place in the history of international modern architecture.  However, the whole conception, as we can read from the site plan, gives a puzzling, archaic impression.  The museum building in the shape of a pyramid has no functional justification and produces an effect of an old Egyptian, or rather old Mexican atmosphere.  The spiral organization of spaces, giving ever-increasing areas of space to more recent periods, is achieved at the cost of ending up with a dark interior hall (the Sacrarium makes a virtue of this necessity) and at the cost of extremely difficult access from the top, by means of long ramps, and inadequate elevators.  Then too, the proposal gives light to the collections by slit windows which are disposed without respect for the compass points.

An axonometric view of the Mundaneum gives the effect of an aerial photograph of an archeological site — Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, ancient American (Mayan and Aztec) or Peruvian.  These historical reminiscences are striking.  Remember the important building works of the Mayas, who were the zenith of ancient American civilization.  These well-known ruins (Uxmal, Chichen-Itza, Palenque on the Yucatan peninsula, and Copan in Guatemala) represent a “metaphysical architecture” of special cities of religious cults and burial grounds, cities of rulers and priests; pyramids, cathedrals of the sun, moon and stars; holy places of individual gods; graduating pyramids and terraced palaces with architectural objects conceived in basic geometrical shapes of cube, cylinder, prism and pyramid, the main axis of which is symmetry with emphasis on horizontality.  Le Corbusier’s architecture for the Mundaneum project is not, of course, decorated with masks, ornaments and sculptures as the Mexican ruins are.  It uses, of course, modern construction techniques and apparatus; but how can a work of modern architecture so strikingly resemble an American “antiquity”? Where do the roots of the non-modern, and in fact archaic, character of Le Corbusier’s Mundaneum lie? To what origin should we attribute this architectural error and delusion? Actually, in our view, the first root of this misconception of the program lies in the program, the idea and theory of the Mundaneum.  This idea is not alive, it doesn’t originate from a vibrant, felt need; it is the fruit of the abstract and rarified speculation of intellectual coteries within the League of Nations.  The Mundaneum will not, for precisely this reason, be realized in this form.  In respect to architecture, the League of Nations showed its real face with its controversial decision concerning the Palace of Nations, and rejected, against the protest of all international authorities, and against all sense of honor, of loyalty and law.  Le Corbusier’s design, consenting instead to the most impossible of academic monsters.  Thus it isn’t reasonable to expect that the project for the Mundaneum, even if designed in a more historical and archeological character, would be accepted today with greater enthusiasm.

The whole ideological scheme for the Mundaneum, as explained by Otlet, is an illusion, a vain wish, a utopia; a music of the future about which the only certainty is that if it does happen, it will happen differently than Otlet and Le Corbusier have imagined.  This is not the place to outline in detail the errors in the ideological program for the Mundaneum: To ask how a “Sacrarium” got into a town of modern science (could it just be that the idea of the pyramid led to the idea of a sanctuary?): Tb ask how Otlet imagines international cooperation to be a solution to questions of political, diplomatic and vested interests of individual governments, military and national rivalry: To ask how a world in institute under the supervision of the League of Nations, created from states having different social systems, could elaborate plans for the [595] social transformation of the world.  We can only mention that this ideological proposal of Mundaneum does not have a concrete rationale or a realistic chance of realization, as long as the League of Nations is a society of governments, powers, diplomacy and armies, and not a “wider league”; a union of nations, not a government built up on the basis of cultural work; above all, not an international political alliance of modern mankind, that being a conception which is completely unknown and which is probably not even in the program of the League of Nations, as Otlet and Le Corbusier seem to realize.

Not having an opportunity to analyze more closely the ideological program of the Mundaneum, I will try to analyze it as an architectural project.  It is an oft-repeated and confirmed experience that the architectural investigation of problems and programs which are ideologically unclear, falsely stated, or moribund, cannot produce works of elemenatary clarity and purity.  If the architect doesn’t know what to make of a program, it cannot result in anything other than a half-baked product and compromise leading to mystification.  Modern architecture was born not from abstract speculation, but from actual need, from the dictates of life, not the patronage of some academy or official group.  Real need furnished programs: factories, bridges, railway stations, offices, housing for workers, schools, hospitals, hotels and apartments; from a fundamental understanding and shaping of these problems pure modern architecture was born.  Today we have no architectural solutions for churches, palaces or cast ties, which, in the purity and precision of their creative construction, can match the architecture of modern needs (the Club for New Prague opposed the construction of a great new theater in Prague on the legitimate grounds that as long as the ideological program of the modern theater was not stated from the director’s point of view, it was thereby unimplementable for the architect as well).  Monumental and votive architecture, dedicated to whatever memorial of revolution and liberation; all present-day triumphal arches, festive halls, tombs, palaces and castles result in monstrosities.  Examples of concrete and utilitarian architecture, as well as omens of a new metaphysical, monumental architecture both show clearly that, at the present time, architecture will fail in so far as it is not dictated by the actual needs of social and economic life.  The only aim and scope of modern architecture is the scientific solution of exact tasks of rational construction.  An artistic solution of a metaphysical, abstractly speculative task, by means of monumental composition is the wrong approach, as is shown by the Mundaneum project.  The error of Le Corbusier’s proposal is the error of monumentality (a monumentality different from and less brutal than the German monumentality of the architecture of megalomania), the error of the “palace” It reveals the danger (exposed already in Le Corbusier’s book Une maison, Un palais) of the definition that a palace is a house, a “machine for living in” which is endowed with a certain dignity and architectonic potential.  Le Corbusier sins against harmony; having formulated such a clear and comprehensible notion as the “machine for living in,” he depreciates it by adding vague attributions of dignity, harmony and architectonic potential, through which he can then embrace all aestheticism and academicism (I mentioned in a review of Une maison, Un palais in Stavba, VII, 6, that the slogan “house-palace” can lead to serious error, to the neglect of physical and concrete needs in favor of more or less fictional requirements).  In its obvious historicism and academicism, the Mundaneum project shows the present non-viability of architecture thought of as art.  It shows the failure of Le Corbusier’s aesthetic and formalistic theories, which we, from the point of view of Constructivism, have always fought against: the theories of the Golden Section and of geometric proportion.  In short, all those a priori aesthetic formulae which have formalistic ally been deduced from historical styles, in our times are unproven and unsupported.

Wagner and Le Corbusier, in spite of their understanding of the importance of practical and utilitarian requirements, see the ultimate aim of architecture, which they believe to be “queen of the arts” to be to erect some cathedral or sanctuary; they ponder this cathedral whenever they are not employed in the solving of concrete problems.  Or they ponder “palaces.”  Poelzig wants to build “for the Lord”; there, it is said, is the beginning of architecture.  Meanwhile, Gustave Eiffel, for example, despite his mistrust of all aesthetics, believes that he will equal Phidias, and that it is much more significant to be a great modern engineer than a craftsman of the past.  In our century of machine civilization, which has no time for “art” and monumental architecture, any intention to [596] make art instead of houses, and monuments instead of schools, leads to hybrid shapes and impoverishes that work of natural and modern beauty which is characteristic of real, perfect things.

Measure the proportions of both sides of the rectangle of the Mundaneum’s main precinct and you will find that they form a Golden Section.  Moreover, all other proportions within this rectangle, for the sake of monumental unity and harmonic proportion, also form Golden Sections.  Then too, the four corners of the World Museum’s pyramid point exactly to the four points of the compass.  The rational orientation of the windows of the museum halls, with respect to daylight, is sacrificed for numerical and astronomical symbolism — and this pyramid rises as dominant on the highest point of the Mundaneum.  In its entirety, the Mundaneum is regulated by major axes whose point of intersection is the top of the museum pyramid; these axes again exhibit the proportions of the Golden Section.  The university’s great lecture hall is the symmetric equivalent of the volume of the congress hall of the ILO building.  The university quarters are planned on the axis of the university, the reading rooms and the stadium, i.e., on the axis of the main avenue which symmetrically divides the residential and hotel quarters.  The prisms of individual buildings in their proportions and the whole Mundaneum in its rhythm, are dominated by the Golden Section, the measurements of which, as current art history still believes, determined the harmony of the most famous works.  Thus the Mundaneum is Reissbrett-ornamentik, a project born not from real and rational analyses of the program (because this program would not be capable of such an analysis and solution) but from a priori aesthetics and abstract geometric speculation, following a historic stereotype.  It is not a solution for realization and construction, but a composition.  Composition: with this word it is possible to summarize all the architectural faults of the Mundaneum.

Hannes Meyer wrote:

all things in this world are a product of the formula:

(function times economics)

so none of these things are works of art:

all art is composition and hence unsuited to a

particular end.

all life is function and therefore not artistic.

the idea of the “composition of a dock” is enough to

make a cat laugh!

but how is a town plan designed? or a plan of a

dwelling? composition or function? art or life?????

The Mundaneum is composition; the expression of ideological and metaphysical imagination.  For this visual metaphysics, which aims at “the highest things, the things of the spirit,” at the “Godly mission of architecture,” practical utilitarian aspects mean very little.  The rectangular main precinct in the proportions of the Golden Section; major communication routes creating axes also in Golden Section; the pyramid marking symbolically and monumentally the points of the compass (the huge mass of the museum is supposed to have the function which can be performed by a pocket compass); all this shows that a priori aesthetic speculations were at the root of the architect’s work, rather than analysis of real conditions.  This is the composition of a city, not a solution of it.  It is false to build a castle in the form of a hexagram, the plan of which constricts movement in the house and the lives of the people in it, which does not respect lighting and compass points, just because the wife of the contractor was the Countess Sternberg.  But that is no more false than it is to solve the problem of a city of modem culture without regard for its practical functions, by means of the Golden Section, which art historians consider to be the formula of antique and Renaissance beauty.

Life is neither, of course, symmetrical nor triangular nor star-shaped, nor is it in Golden Section, Le Corbusier, by lengthening a side-front of the villa in Vaucresson, and projecting two small, non-bearing slabs on the front facade, so as to satisfy his “regulating lines,” behaved just like Leon Battista Alberti (De re aedificatori) when he established the dimensions of the windows from the proportions of the façade and spaces without respect for their individually designated purposes; and when he described the staircase, for example, as an element of chaos in the good harmony of construction.  Architecture as “art” cannot free itself from the Hemmung of antiquarianism.  It remains in the tradition of Michelangelo.  It looks to historical architecture for formal conceptions.  It [597] reuses the Golden Section and other compositional recipes, and draws these proportions in small reproductions with lines so thick that in fact they can make several meters of difference to the harmony of such proportions.  This technique could have created the perfect schematic harmony of the façade of Notre Dame, but what if the present street in front is much higher than that for which this facade was composed? According to Le Corbusier, architecture as art believes that its mission begins where construction ends, namely with the rational solution and products of the engineer.  It aspires to eternity, while the engineer responds to actuality.  According to Poelzig, architecture as art begins where it does not submit to any practical purpose; building für den lieben Gott. In short, according to this argument, to become dignified as architecture, there must be added some “plus” to the rational solution.  Now this “plus” can either help purposefulness and strengthen function, In which case it is simply purpose and function and is not a “plus,” or hinder it, in which case it is of course a minus.  Further, it can neither help nor hinder, in which case it is superfluous and unnecessary, and that is a minus as well.  The criterion of puposefulness: The only reliable criterion of quality in architectural production led modern architecture to discard “mammoth bodies of monumentality” and to cultivate its brain; instead of monuments, architecture creates instrument. If aesthetics intervene in the production of utilitarian results, there follows imperfection in architectural creation, and this is its mark.  It obscures the material aspect, it is added to material values (such as comfort, temperature, stability); this being viewed as a necessary sacrifice which up until now people have felt obliged to make, due to cultural tradition, although it is proved that objects which mix practical function with an autocratic art form in one or other respect (more often both) are not gratifying.  Only where no ideological-metaphysical-aesthetic intentions, but only the dictates of practical life direct the architect’s work, does the affection for art stop.

If we have occupied ourselves so carefully with the Mundaneum project, it is because we believe this work, whose author is a leading and foremost representative of modern architecture, should serve as a warning to its author and to modern architecture generally.  The Mundaneum illustrates the fiasco of theories and traditional prejudices, of all the dangers of the slogan “house-palace,” and thus of utilitarian architecture with an artistic “addition” or “dominant.”  From here it is possible to go all the way to full academicism and classicism, or on the other hand, to return to the solid reality of the starting point demonstrated so precisely by the motto, the “house as a machine for living in,” and from there, once again to work towards a scientific, technical, industrial architecture.  Between these two poles, there is space only for half-baked projects and compromised solutions.

[From Stavba, vol. 7 (1929), pg. 145]


~ by Ross Wolfe on October 27, 2010.

3 Responses to “Karel Teige’s “Mundaneum” (1929)”

  1. […] See Teige’s damning indictment of Le Corbusier in his article “Mundaneum,” as well as Le Corbusier’s response, to see just one instance of these turbulent […]

  2. […] See Teige’s damning indictment of Le Corbusier in his article “Mundaneum,” as well as Le Corbusier’s response, to see just one instance of these turbulent […]

  3. […] where it has always been! The year was 1929, the same year Villa Savoye was completed. Here’s a link to Karel Teige’s article ‘Mundaeum’ about what the thing meant, or was supposed to have […]

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