The sociohistoric mission of modernist architecture

The housing shortage, the urban proletariat,
and the liberation of woman


Housing in the Industrial Revolution

Workers’ Housing in the 19th Century

Modernist architecture — Positive Bases


Read the full-text PDF version of
Ross Wolfe’s “The Graveyard of Utopia:
Soviet Urbanism and the Fate of
the International Avant-Garde”

By industrializing the process of building houses and other structures, the avant-garde believed that it could help to solve many of the profound problems that had emerged out of industrial society. The housing question, about which Engels and many others wrote, as well as the divide between town and country, along with the intense overcrowding of the cities and the alienation that came with it — all these confronted the modernists as problems in need of solutions.  For Engels, the problem of housing shortages was more or less perennial.  The peculiarity of the modern crisis consisted mostly in the spectacular rate of its urbanization, the magnitude of the population it affected, and by the fact that it was felt not only by the lower classes but by members of the petit-bourgeoisie as well.[1]  While he correctly rejected the base analogy of the tenant-landlord relationship with the worker-capitalist relationship as Proudhonism,[2] Engels was emphatic that the housing question posed by industrial society could only be overcome by overthrowing capitalism as a whole.  Drawing upon an early theme he had developed in collaboration with Marx, this also meant resolving the “antithesis between town and country.”[3]  Although Engels insisted upon the dissolution of capitalist society, he wisely refrained from offering too much in the way of specifics as to what a postcapitalist solution would entail: “To speculate on how a future society might organize the distribution of food and dwellings leads directly to utopia.  The utmost we can do is to state…that with the downfall of the capitalist mode of production certain forms of appropriation which existed in society hitherto will become impossible.”[4]

The Working Poor in Substandard Housing, 19th Century

Workers’ Housing near Ebbw Vale steelworks in Wales, 19th Century

Engels was not the only one to notice the acute urban housing shortage as well as the widening divide between town and country that was taking place under heavy industrial production.  He himself was reacting polemically to treatments of the problem offered by “Proudhonist” Arthur Mülberger and “bourgeois” Emil Sax.  The problem was recognized by more moderate writers like Alfred Smith, who in his own work on The Housing Question in 1900 wrote that “the grim irony of the situation could not go further — the laboring population, who daily contribute to the wealth and comfort of the city, are for the most part driven on to congested areas and into overcrowded rooms.”[5]  A Christian socialist by the unlikely name of Moritz Kaufmann, who accused Marx of utopianism[6] and later briefly corresponded with him,[7] authored a text in 1907 on The Housing of the Working Classes and of the Poor.  In this work, Kaufmann wrote of the evils of “slumlords,” of rural depopulation, and of the different manifestations of the housing crisis in Germany, France, and Belgium.[8]  Ultimately, Kaufmann’s prescriptions for action in dealing with these matters were not far from what Social-Democratic architects like Ernst May would later put forth.  This mostly amounted to more government oversight in the provision of public programs and the bureaucratic deployment of specialists.[9]  The housing question was exacerbated by the Great War, at least in the estimation of Edgar Lauer and Victor House, members of the New York judicial system, who wrote a treatise on The Tenant and His Landlord in 1921.  “Recent housing difficulties are not a local phenomenon,” they wrote.  “Insufficiency and inadequacy of living accommodation appear to be part of the worldwide aftermaths of the Great War.”[10]

J.J.P. Oud, Industrialized Housing in Rotterdam

J.J.P. Oud’s Housing in Rotterdam (1918-1920)

Like most of the modernists, Mies van der Rohe saw the answer to these problems as residing in the industrialization of architectural construction: “I view the industrialization of the building trade as the key problem of building in our time.  If we achieve this industrialization, then the social, economic, technical, and even artistic questions can be resolved easily.”[11]  Gropius, his colleague at the Bauhaus and fellow student of Peter Behrens, also saw “the industrial mass production problem of our living requirements” as the paramount concern of architecture in the modern age.  Proposing a method of dry assembly to be used in housing construction, Gropius argued that “it becomes possible to assemble…prefabricated component parts of houses at the building site just like machines.”[12]  A decade later, Gropius would make the claim that this industrialization of building was largely on the road to being accomplished.[13]  Perhaps echoing Weber’s notion of modernity, Gropius saw this as all part of a greater process of rationalization that was occurring throughout society at the time.  He thus proudly announced: “We are approaching a state of technical proficiency when it will become possible to rationalize buildings and mass-produce them in factories by resolving their structure into component parts.”[14]  For Le Corbusier, this industrial rationalization would remove much of the confusion that prevailed in older building practices.  “Urban and suburban sites will be vast and orthogonal and no longer horribly misshapen,” he explained.  “[T]hey will allow for the use of mass-produced parts and the industrialization of the construction site.”[15]  Hannes Meyer, Gropius’ successor as director of the Bauhaus (he would later be replaced by Mies van der Rohe), confirmed the industrial character of new housing construction and reiterated Le Corbusier’s point in his programmatic 1928 piece, “building”: “the new house is a prefabricated unit for site assembly and, as such, an industrial product.”[16]  As Teige pointed out clearly, however, this development was only made possible by the prior development of industry and technologies of production carried out by capitalism.  A serially mass-produced house would have been unimaginable in preindustrial times.[17]

Anton Brenner’s Municipal Housing in Vienna (1928)

Mart Stam’s Housing in Frankfurt-am-Main (1928-1929)

All of these architects and theorists stressed the benefit such industrialization could bring to society, but Meyer highlighted this social aspect especially well.  “the new house is a social enterprise,” he asserted.  Architecture could reshape social life itself: “building is the deliberate organization of the processes of life.”[18]  Even more explicitly, in his article on “bauhaus and society” that appeared the following year, Meyer maintained that “building and design are for us one and the same, and they are a social process,” and stressed architecture’s social obligation: “our activities are determined by society, and the scope of our tasks is set by society.”[19]  Behrendt, writing his Victory of the New Building Style just as Meyer was beginning his term as director, made this same point exactly.  “The industrialization of the building industry will certainly find acceptance on an ever-larger scale and at an accelerating pace,” speculated Behrendt, “at least within the field of housing, which provides for the needs of the masses.”  He therefore held the view that the implementation of industrial techniques in architectural construction was “an economic necessity.”[20]  Ginzburg largely shared this sentiment of architecture’s social duty.  This is probably what led him to assert in late 1927 that the preeminent task of the architect was to create “the social condensers of his epoch.”  These would serve, Ginzburg argued, as “spatial repositories for the forms of the new life.”[21]  This became a central concept for the Soviet Constructivists, developed through subsequent issues of their journal, Modern Architecture.[22]  Though the first experimental dwellings OSA designed for mass production would ultimately prove disappointing, Ginzburg still upheld the importance of industrializing construction to à la Gropius in order to solve society’s housing crisis.  In an otherwise apologetic 1929 article on “Problems in the Typification of Housing in the RSFSR,” Ginzburg maintained:

The constructive working-out [prorabotka] of housing must be built on the principle of the maximum standardization of all elements, and must also strive for the industrialization of building production.  The light weight of the elements, the ability to manufacture them by assembly line [fabrichnym putem] during the winter period, and their on-site assemblage by lightly-skilled [malokvalifitsirovannoi] manpower.[23]

Moisei Ginzburg’s & Ignatii Milinis’ Narkomfin Workers’ Collective (1928-1931)

Moisei Ginzburg’s & Ignatii Milinis’ Narkomfin Workers’ Collective for the People’s Commissariat of Finance (1928-1931)

Others also commented on the potential of a universal restructuring of architecture’s ability to transform society, along with Meyer and Ginzburg.  Inspired by the former’s social advocacy, Ernő Kállai thus affirmed: “It is not enough to force industrial mass production…Architecture must strive resolutely to accomplish ‘social, technological, economic, and psychological organization’ (Hannes Meyer).”[24]  Teige, an admirer of the latter’s work, called for “an architecture that will provide the blueprint for a new life, one that builds structures that will become the ‘condensers’ of their epoch (as succinctly put by M.Ia. Ginzburg).”[25]

Promotional Poster for “The Dwelling” Exhibit by the Deutscher Werkbund (1927)

This general feeling of architecture’s social mission, captured most poignantly in such passages, eventually became the basis for a two landmark events for the avant-garde: the modernist projects of the Weißenhof estate that were built in Stuttgart, Germany in 1927, and the program for the CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne) group, founded in 1928 as the brainchild of Le Corbusier and Hannes Meyer.  While the broader social issues arising from housing shortages, overcrowding, and the urban-rural divide could only be addressed at the level of city planning, this had only been dealt with by the English garden city movement and a few isolated modernists before the general turn towards urbanism post-1925.  These issues, which center around the problem of the urban metropolis, will be discussed in the following section.  The Weißenhof Exhibition and the first three CIAM conferences, which merely attempted to tackle the problem of the individual structure, will be dealt with presently.  Insofar as they touch upon the same themes, they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath, given their common focus on “the dwelling” (die Wohnung) and their internationalist emphasis.[26]

Mies van der Rohe’s Quadriplex at Weißenhof in Stuttgart (1927)

The plan to arrange an exhibition at the Weißenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart was the idea of Mies van der Rohe, who was then the vice-president of the Deutscher Werkbund, itself founded some twenty years earlier by Muthesius.  According to the foreword to the official catalog of the newly opened Weißenhof estate, written by Mies, he had simply “invited leading representatives of the modern movement to make their contributions to the problem of the modern dwelling.”[27]  The list of contributors to the exhibit included J.J.P. Oud, Mies van der Rohe, Victor Bourgeois, Le Corbusier, Gropius, A. G. Schneck, Hans Scharoun, Peter Behrens, Mart Stam, Josef Frank, Adolf Rading, L. Hilbersheimer, Max Taut, Bruno Taut, Richard Döcker, and Hans Poelzig[28] — a fairly international selection.  Indeed, as the Werkbund member Wilhelm Lotz noted, part of the aim of the Weißenhof project was to better “draw attention to the generation of architects who in every country are standing up openly and sincerely in support of the new architecture.”[29]  Beyond featuring outstanding international architectural talent, the exhibition received global coverage in the various avant-garde presses of the world.  Remarking upon the thirty-three dwellings erected at Weißenhof, the Soviet architect Gurevich, a member of SA’s editorial staff, wrote in an article on “The Modern Dwelling”: “Modern life, the fast pace of development of modern existence [bytiia], the colossal growth of population compared with the growth of dwellings, have, to begin with, put forward one of the major problems of production — THE ECONOMY OF TIME.”[30]   This is, of course, consonant with the Taylorization of architecture mentioned earlier.  Teige, for his part, was quite impressed with the exhibition’s results, both in terms of its international basis and its commitment to industrialized building:

The 1927 Stuttgart Werkbund Exhibition Die Wohnung and its associated experimental housing colony, the Weißenhof Siedlung, was the most important large exposition of modern architecture dedicated to the reform of housing of the last decade, perhaps even of our own century.  It was organized on an international basis by its director, Mies van der Rohe, and has become an event of international significance for the entire modern world: at a time when modern architecture much too often depended on theoretical, speculative, and hypothetical efforts, it provided a much-needed opportunity to review some of its individual proposals and provide a forum for a critical comparison. The exhibition accomplished that comparison by including modern architectural designs from all civilized countries and by recognizing the reform of housing as a fundamental problem of the new architecture and making it the primary focus of its attention.  It succeeded in shedding a new light on many facets of this problem most effectively: it combined a large exhibition of construction samples in the Gewerbehalle (which displayed the most modern achievements in the areas of construction materials, furniture, lighting, technical and hygienic installations, etc.), with the centerpiece of the enterprise, the Weißenhof model housing colony, where seventeen architects were commissioned to build thirty-three houses, all constructed with modern materials and all relying as much as possible on industrialized methods of construction.[31]

Peter Behrens’ Houses at Weißenhof in Stuttgart (1927)

According to Werner Gräff, one of Doesburg’s disciples and an important commentator on the Weißenhof estate, the social exigency that the exhibition intended to address was palpable.  “[T]he customary dwelling which has served us for centuries seems unbearably ill-suited to the new generation,” wrote Gräff.  For this reason, “the new architecture is striving towards a new way of living, and towards a more rational use of new materials and new constructional methods.”[32]  Mart Stam, whose houses at the site were praised exceptionally, reaffirmed Gräff’s point regarding modern architecture’s cultivation of and adaptation to the new way of life.[33]  Finally, Giedion wrote an occasional piece honoring the opening of the Weißenhofsiedlung, taking note of both the technical innovations it included as well as its potential social aspect: “The Weißenhof Housing Settlement gives evidence of two great changes: the change from handicraft methods of construction to industrialization, and the premonition of a new way of life.”[34]

“Bau und Wohnung” Catalog published by the Deutscher Werkbund, 1927 for the Stuttgart Exhibition

Hans Scharoun’s House at the Weißenhof Stuttgart Exhibit, 1927

And indeed, not only were the houses constructed using prefabricated parts assembled on-site, not only did they promise to create a new spatial environment — they expressed an overall aesthetic.  Most of them formed serial design patterns, painted entirely white and featuring flat-terraced roofs.  Though Doesburg believed “[a] solution for the modern dwelling which is satisfactory in all respects has as yet not been found,…the architects Mies van der Rohe, Scharoun, Stam, and also Gropius…are closest to such a solution.”[35]  In either case, the new houses at Weißenhof inspired a number of similar exhibitions throughout Europe: at Vienna in Austria, two in Zurich in Switzerland,[36] at Brno in Czechoslovakia,[37] and again in Germany at Breslau[38] and Dammerstock.[39] Doesburg, who visited the exhibition at Brno, immediately noted the connection between Stuttgart and its eastern successor.[40]  According to his sources, similar projects were being scheduled to take place in Barcelona, in Rome (organized by Marinetti), in Berlin, Cologne, and then finally Moscow and Warsaw.[41]  In addition to all this, the social mission embodied by the houses at Stuttgart provided a touchstone for the foundation of CIAM the following year.

Founding Members of CIAM at La Sarraz in 1928

Le Corbusier with other Members of CIAM, 1928

Convening at the Château de la Sarraz in the summer of 1928, the group of architects who would come to found CIAM laid down, in broad strokes, the most basic principles of modern architecture.  From the very beginning, CIAM stressed architects’ “professional obligations towards society.”[42]  It could, moreover, count among its members many the major modernist architects of the West.[43]  The La Sarraz Declaration, announcing the group’s existence and program, outlined many of the major positive and negative bases of modern architecture that we have covered so far: the impact of the machine on modern society,[44] the need for standardization and rationalization in building,[45] the stultifying influence of the academies,[46] and a commitment to solving the housing problem.[47]  This final point of CIAM’s statement of purpose culminated in its quest to determine “the minimum dwelling,” which was an ongoing topic of discussion from 1929 to 1931.[48]  This topic, along with the group’s subsequent interest in urbanism and “the Functional City” (covered in the next section), will be our primary concern regarding CIAM.

Promotional Poster for the CIAM-2 Conference in Frankfurt

Ernst May & Emil Kaufmann: Experimental Housing in “New Frankfurt” (1926-1929)

The organization’s second international conference, CIAM-2, explicitly took up the question of the Existenzminimum.  Fittingly, it was held in Frankfurt in 1929, in the midst of one of the most impressive housing experiments taking place at the time, Ernst May’s celebrated Social-Democratic Neue Frankfurt.[49]  May’s experimental settlement, built according to modernist stylistic conventions, would figure prominently into the debates.  Le Corbusier, Gropius, May, and Stam (all participants in the Weißenhof project) were the prime contributors to the Frankfurt summit.  As Teige later noted, in his magisterial 1931 study on The Minimum Dwelling, CIAM here continued the work begun at Stuttgart and expanded its scope to address the wider housing shortage of Russia, Europe, and America.  “The International Congresses of Modern Architecture [CIAMs] have placed the question of theminimum dwelling on its agenda as a top priority,” recorded Teige, “and declared it the most urgent task to be undertaken by the architectural avant-garde in all its practical work and theoretical deliberations, to be coordinated by its members in international cooperation in order to clarify and study the subject in all its complexity and ramifications.”[50]  In terms of its social mission, it was the first modernist effort focused directly on providing housing to low-income families, the working poor and pauperized intellectuals.[51]  As Stam observed, even the houses at Weißenhof had been designed for the middle-class.[52]  At Frankfurt, by contrast, the need to produce standardized models to house the oppressed classes of society was explicit.[53]  In the article that Stam later submitted to Das Neue Frankfurt during the 1929 CIAM conference, he clearly stated his conviction that “the minimum requirements in housing and the standard of living of many thousands of the working population remain unsatisfied.”[54] “[W]e need enough flats of sufficient quality to meet the needs of the poor and homeless,” asserted May, in the article he wrote for the conference.  “We need flats for subsistence living.”[55]

Karel Teige’s masterpiece on “The Minimum Dwelling” (Nejmenší byt), 1931

Le Corbusier’s & Pierre Jeanneret’s Flats for a Subsistence Minimum (1928)

Ernst May’s “Kleinstwohnung”: Propaganda Video of Neue Frankfurt for the CIAM-2 Conference (1928)

With this last point, May highlighted the dual nature of the problem posed by the minimum dwelling.  For the issue was not simply that of the raw shortage of housing, put in terms of numbers.  It was also that much of the housing that did exist was deemed by the modernists to be unlivable.  “[T]he abode of the proletariat and the poor in tenements or workers’ barracks is not a dwelling in the true sense of the word, but merely a shelter,” wrote Teige.  It is not a home, but merely a lodging.”[56]  Such conditions were, for the architectural avant-garde, simply unacceptable.  Le Corbusier therefore felt it necessary to clarify: “By ‘the crisis in housing,’ we mean not only a quantitative crisis but a qualitative one as well.”[57]  For architects like Le Corbusier, May, and Gropius, the question of determining minimum requirements for human habitation was thus (following Meyer) both a biological[58] and sociological matter.[59]  Gropius wrote: “The problem of the minimum dwelling is that of establishing the elementary minimum of space, air, light and heat required by man in order that he be able to fully develop his life functions without experiencing restrictions due to his dwelling, i.e., a minimum modus vivendi in place of a modus non moriendi.”[60]  Above all, this would mean a development of the dwelling’s interior, as well as those elements (doors, windows, walls) through which it was related to its exterior.[61]  According to Le Corbusier and his cousin Jeanneret,our studies…result in a revision of the dwelling’s functions, with this short, concise (and so very revolutionary) phrase as a slogan: ‘breathe, hear, see’ or again: ‘air, sound, light’ or again: ‘ventilation and isothermics (even temperature), acoustics, radiation of light,’ etc.”[62]  In a similar vein, Gropius ecstatically proclaimed: “Maximum light, sun, and air for all dwellings!”[63]  All these basic hygienic functions would contribute to the overall health and livability of the minimum dwelling.

"Shell making, Edinburgh," by Sir John Lavery (1918), depicting women working in industrial jobs

“Shell making, Edinburgh,” by Sir John Lavery (1918), depicting women working in industrial jobs

The Further Dissolution of the Traditional Family Structure: Child Labor in the 19th Century

Beyond merely serving the physiological needs of its inhabitants, the modern house or apartment had to satisfy certain social and psychological requirements that had arisen historically.  Most of the authors who wrote on the problem of minimum dwelling for the CIAM-2 Frankfurt conference were communists (Teige, Stam, Schmidt) or at the least Social-Democrats (May, Victor Bourgeois, Schütte-Lihotzky), and so they expressed a common sense of solidarity with the urban proletariat — sometimes bordering on facile workerism.[64]  Anachronistic tendencies had been carried over from the traditions of rural populations into the contemporary setting of the metropolis.[65]  Moreover, the articulation and elaboration of bourgeois individualism under the conditions of modernity began to undermine the traditional economic unit of the family.  As modern subjectivity asserted itself more within the household, women increasingly felt a sense of independence from their traditional domestic duties.  Teige derived his views from the theories of Marx and Engels (particularly the latter’s Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State);[66] Gropius appealed to the writings of a German sociologist, Franz-Karl Müller-Lyer.[67]  The sociological authorities relied upon by the different modernist architects varied, but their conclusions were largely the same.

The nineteenth-century working-class family

The nineteenth-century working-class family

Frauentag (Women’s Day) Demonstration, Vienna 1930

All these authors agreed with the premise that the traditional roles assumed by men and women had been destabilized by modern conditions.  Not that any of them were sad to see the perennial institutions of marriage and the family disintegrate.  Quite early in his career, Marx made it clear that the division of labor within the family condemned women to “domestic slavery.”[68]  Engels, when he took up the subject thirty years later, did not mince words when it came to the power dynamics involved in monogamous marriage:Monogamous marriage comes on the scene as the subjugation of the one sex by the other.”[69]  Müller-Lyer, in his History of Social Development, similarly described the historic formalization of marital relations in society as tantamount to the enslavement of women.[70]  As Engels explained, the division of labor entailed by the marriage relation and the relegation of woman’s activities to the domestic sphere implied her exclusion from the possession of private property within the family.[71]  Only with the expansion of large-scale industrial capitalism and the participation of women in factory production did the possibility of emancipating women emerge.  “[T]o emancipate woman and make her the equal of the man is and remains an impossibility so long as the woman is shut out from social productive labor and restricted to private domestic labor,” wrote Engels. “The emancipation of woman will only be possible when woman can take part in production on a large, social scale, and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of her time.”[72]  Müller-Lyer argued that “the professional woman and marriage are antithetic and inimical,”[73] and anticipated the modernists’ argument that women could be liberated from the drudgery of household chores by the implementation of labor-saving devices.  He even suggested measures of socializing domestic labor that would later be advocated by the Soviet avant-garde: collective laundries, kitchens, cafeterias.[74]  But according to Müller-Lyer’s analysis, the process of women’s social emancipation was already underway.  “High capitalism,” he wrote, “helped to break up the family and drove many women out of the home into business.”  This in turn gave rise to the modern women’s movement.[75]

Down with Kitchen Slavery! Bring Forth the New Life! (1931)

Social-Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria: Women’s Demonstration, Vienna (1930)

Concerning the structure of the gens itself, Marx and Engels argued that it had been organized in such a manner so as to ensure the patrilineal passage of property from one generation to the next through partible male inheritance, primogeniture, or (more rarely) postremogeniture.[76]  Families also functioned as the most basic unit of socioeconomic organization.[77]  They remained fairly vague as to the specifics of what would replace the family in a postcapitalist society, but generally suggested that the form of the family would be abolished.[78]  Luckily for those architects inspired by political Marxism (like Meyer, Nikolai Miliutin, and Teige), later theorists belonging to the movement made further contributions to the critique of the family and the inequality of the sexes.  This critique was deepened by radical authors like August Bebel,[79] Clara Zetkin,[80] Rosa Luxemburg,[81] Vladimir Lenin, and Aleksandra Kollontai. Millions upon millions of women in…families live (or, rather, exist),” wrote Lenin, “as ‘domestic slaves,’ striving to feed and clothe their family on pennies, at the cost of desperate daily effort and ‘saving’ on everything — except their own labor.”[82]  For Kollontai, the most important aspects of the “woman question” in the modern age were the dissolution of the traditional family structure[83] and the achievement of economic independence.[84]  Ultimately, she concluded that “women can become truly free and equal only in a world organized along new social and productive lines.”[85]

Frauentag (International Women’s Day) 1930: Against Militarism, Against Social and Political Reaction

The New, Hermaphroditic Humanity: El Lissitzky’s Poster for the Russian Exhibit in Zurich (1929)

The social theories developed by Marx, Engels, and their followers, as well as by non-Marxists like Müller-Lyer and others, were invoked by the avant-garde architects in their proposed reforms of the dwelling.  Notions of women’s rights and the changing role of the family influenced their designs.  Gropius, paraphrasing Müller-Lyer’s arguments, thus wrote:

As the family era was ushered in by the rise of man, so the individual era is characterized by the awakening and progressive emancipation of woman.  Woman’s duty of obedience to man vanishes, and the laws of society gradually grant her rights equal to those of men.  As the family transfers numerous domestic chores to the machinery of socialized production, woman’s sphere of domestic activity shrinks and she looks beyond the family for an outlet for her natural need for occupation: she enters the world of business and industry.  In turn industry, rejuvenated on basically new foundations by the machine, shows woman the impractical nature of her domestic hand labor.[86]

KPD (Communist Party of Germany) Journal for Working Women, 1929

Kitchen factory, 1928

Kitchen factory, 1928: Designed so as to eliminate degrading, tedious domestic labor for women

Indeed, many of the efforts to Taylorize the dwelling space were inspired by elements of the feminist movement which were part of the greater social mission of the avant-garde.  True sexual equality could only be achieved, the modernists felt, through the liberation of women from frivolous domestic obligations and their more general subservience to men.  One of the major design concerns of the minimum dwelling at the Frankfurt conference thus centered around the ergonomic arrangement of the kitchen.  Indeed, two new major design proposals for the standard kitchen had been introduced in the year leading up to CIAM-2.  The Stuttgart Weißenhof estate featured a new kitchen layout, and Schütte-Lihotzky’s groundbreaking Frankfurt kitchen (a Taylorist design patterned after railway kitchens)[87] had been unveiled just months prior to the conference.  Both of these models differed from the statistically-average kitchen in terms of their dimensions and the variety of appliances they included.[88]  May commissioned an instructive video showcasing the Frankfurt kitchen to be viewed by the CIAM representatives.  As Teige pointed out, the kitchen was a natural site for the employment of industrial techniques.  “The kitchen is the nerve center of the apartment-household,” Teige maintained.  “It is the best designed and most rationalized room of the modern house, simply because as a place of production, a workshop, or a miniature factory, it was the most obvious place to apply the organizational experiences of modern factory production methods — in this case, to the processes of food preparation.”[89]  The Soviet modernist Nikolai Miliutin, though not in attendance at CIAM-2 in Frankfurt, proposed the following year the “collectivization” of petty household chores through the institution of public kitchens, day-cares, cafeterias, and laundries.[90]  “[C]ollectivization of the life services of the population provides…the freedom of woman from domestic slavery,” wrote Miliutin.[91]  Across the avant-garde, new dwellings were being designed to transform the conditions of family life and work toward achieving the equality of the sexes.[92]

Moisei Ginzburg, blueprint for a “Type K” apartment in his Narkomfin complex

Moisei Ginzburg, bedroom interior of a “Type K” Apartment in the Narkomfin complex (1928)

A Room of One’s Own: Gropius’ Private Bedroom at Bauhaus Dessau, with built-in cabinets (1926)

A concurrent social concern of the modernists when it came to the overall layout of the minimum dwelling was the need to cater to the psychological needs of the atomistic individual engendered by modern bourgeois society.  Privacy within the context of the dwelling was therefore a top priority in its avant-garde designers.  For most of the those who convened at the Frankfurt summit, this meant the provision of separate rooms for each individual living within a single housing unit.  “To allow for the increasing development of more pronounced individuality of life within the society,” wrote Gropius, “and the individual’s justified demand for occasional withdrawal from his surroundings, it is necessary, moreover, to establish the following ideal minimum requirement: every adult shall have his own room, small though it may be!”[93]  Following Müller-Lyer’s lead, Gropius stressed this minimum requirement despite the need for private individuals to develop a broader social consciousness.[94]  Likewise Teige, though a communist, was in favor of partitioned dwelling spaces for every adult individual.  He based this assertion on the breakup of the traditional family described by Marx and Engels as occurring under capitalism.  “The disintegration of the traditional family began with the entry of women in the workforce, along with the establishment of the principle of equality between men and women,” wrote Teige. “As a result, the family has become atomized into independent individuals, which in turn has made it necessary for individuals to maintain a certain psychological distance vis-à-vis each other even in marriage, and therefore at home as well.  For these reasons, any rational solution to the minimum dwelling must posit the following rule as its most basic requirement: each adult individual must have his or her own separate (living and sleeping) space.[95]

Viacheslav Vladimirov’s Workers’ Club for the Compressor Factory (1927-1929)

Ad for Mercedes-Benz, 1927, outside Le Corbusier’s Weißenhof house

Moisei Ginzburg meeting with builders on site for the Narkomfin building (1928)

The methods employed to build these new dwellings were to reflect the industrialized approach that the architectural modernists had been advocating for years.  “We must find and apply new methods, clear methods,” Le Corbusier maintained in his paper for the Frankfurt CIAM, “allowing us to work out useful plans for the home, lending themselves naturally to standardization, industrialization, Taylorization (mass production).”[96]  With reference to the serialized housing he created under France’s Loucheur Laws in 1928, Le Corbusier boasted that “we actually produced the prefabricated house, and we did what the builders of cars and railway carriages do.”[97]  Lissitzky, who was at least an honorary member of CIAM (though visa problems prevented him from attending), proudly asserted in a book written simultaneously with the Frankfurt congress that “a system of easily assembled housing units…could be erected at various locations according to personal preference… — in other words, a prefabricated standard unit for individuals or families, easy to assemble.”[98]  Teige, finally, summarizing his conclusions on the problem of the minimum dwelling, connected the social aspect of providing housing for the masses with the modernist theme of industrialized building.  “Thus, too, the dwelling cell must be considered the primary and essential unit of space provided for every adult working individual,” wrote Teige.  “The living cell is a strictly standardized element: the common basic needs of dwelling and lodging for the masses are therefore served by a mass-produced, standardized abode.”[99]

Still from Hans Richter’s “The New Dwelling” (1930)

Still from Hans Richter’s “The New Dwelling” (1930)

Pierre Chanel’s Architecture d’Aujourd’hui (1930)

Reviewing the positive bases of modernist architecture, then, we can see that it rests on three main pillars: 1. the spatiotemporal properties elucidated by abstract art; 2. the quintessentially modern mode of industrialized production; and 3. a social commitment to the alleviation of the housing shortage and an identification with the politics of class struggle and the fight for sexual equality.  Two final (though not insignificant) points may be briefly noted before passing onto the next subsection.

Le Corbusier and other members of CIAM having some fun at the La Sarraz Conference (1928)

Le Corbusier with the Vesnins in the Soviet Union (1930)

Nikolai Kolli, Le Corbusier, and others in Russia (1930)

First of all, relating to the global/international quality of abstract space as manifested under capitalism — and reflecting the international basis of socialist and working-class politics in general — the modernist movement understood itself to be founded on a basis that transcended national boundaries and particularities.[100]  As early as 1921, at the point when Reyner Banham argued that De Stijl entered its “international phase,”[101] the avant-garde in the arts and architecture worked self-consciously toward a universal aesthetic language bound together by a common social mission.  Le Corbusier thus remarked in 1925: “There are now signs that [modern architecture] is emerging almost everywhere — in America, Russia, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Holland, France — there are houses free from decoration where the problems of proportion and structure are posed.”[102]  From the First International Congress of Progressive Artists that met in Düsseldorf in 1922,[103] all the way up through the founding of CIAM,[104] the modernists in both art and architecture expressed the international ideal.  Giving voice to the abstract spatiotemporal character of the avant-garde’s architectural ideology (and thereby its internationalism), Hannes Meyer thus wrote in his 1926 essay, “The New World”:

“Ford” and “Rolls Royce” have burst open the core of the town, obliterating distance and effacing the boundaries between town and country.  Aircraft slip through the air: “Fokker” and “Farman” widen our range of movement and the distance between us and the earth; they disregard national frontiers and bring nation closer to nation.  Illuminated signs twinkle, loud-speakers screech, posters advertise, display windows shine forth.  The simultaneity of events enormously extends our concept of “space and time,” it enriches our life.  We live faster and therefore longer…The precise division into hours of the time we spend working in office and factory and the split-minute timing of railway timetables make us live more consciously…Radio, marconigram, and phototelegraphy liberate us from our national seclusion and make us part of a world community.  The gramophone, microphone, orchestrion, and pianola accustom our ears to the sound of impersonal-mechanized rhythms…Large blocks of flats, sleeping cars, house yachts, and transatlantic liners undermine the local concept of the “homeland.”  The fatherland goes into decline.  We learn Esperanto.  We become cosmopolitan.[105]

“International Style” Exhibition organized at MoMA in New York by Philip Johnson & others (1932)

Participants at the international CIAM-4 conference in Athens (1933)

Though this sentiment was nearly unanimous amongst the architectural modernists, it is important to reemphasize this point in light of recent historical accounts which have underplayed the role of internationalism in the modernist movement.  William Curtis, author of the influential survey Modern Architecture Since 1900, wrote of avant-garde’s somewhat self-serving cosmopolitan representation of itself: “[B]y packing together things that happened to look like each other and by claiming that they were all part of a unified phenomenon, the proponents of an ‘International Style’ ran the risk of ignoring considerable differences of visual inflection, and great differences of intention and of belief.”[106]  To be sure, this is a welcome corrective to those architectural historians who all too easily run together vernacular differences in stylistic expression or ideological intention.  But no one was more aware of these differences and subtle variations than the modernists themselves.  Fierce, polemical disagreements abounded within modernist architectural discourse.[107]  Nevertheless, they remained committed to the creation of a universal, international language of form and the fulfillment of a common social mission.  This fact is in itself significant.  It is indicative of the abstract spatiality and temporality of capitalism, suggested by Meyer’s cosmopolitanism, his championing of simultaneity and synchronization, and his drive to annihilate the concrete spatial contradictions that exist between town and country and from nation to nation.

Antonio Sant’Elia, sketch of a building and roadway from La Citta Nuova (1914)

Geometric, Sunken Roadways between Columns of Buildings in Le Corbusier’s “Ville Radieuse” (1930)

Fiat Factory Rooftop Test-Track in Italy, 1921

The final way in which the abstract spatiality of capitalism is positively reflected in modernist architectural theory is in its demand for a tabula rasa on which to construct their proposed designs.  Rejecting the topographical unevenness and the peculiarity of geological formations found in empirical reality, the avant-garde called for the reshaping of the earth’s surface to facilitate their architectural visions.  Writing in his prophetic and unprecedented Manifesto of Futurist Architecture, Antonio Sant’Elia wrote in 1914 that “architecture must be more vital…, and we can best attain that…by blowing sky-high, for a start, all those monuments and monumental pavements, arcades and flights of steps, by digging out our streets and piazzas, by raising the level of the city, by reordering the earth’s crust and reducing it to be the servant of our every need and every fancy.”[108]  The terraforming fantasy of Sant’Elia was taken up by the avant-garde more generally.  It was as if they demanded an empty, Cartesian grid on which to build.  “WE MUST BUILD IN THE OPEN,” declared Le Corbusier.  “The layout must be of a purely geometrical kind …The city of today is a dying thing because it is not geometrical.  To build in the open would be to replace our present haphazard arrangements…by a uniform layout.  Unless we do this there is no salvation.”[109]  As Lissitzky also noted, most of the proposals for new buildings by the avant-garde were meant for flat, open spaces.[110]  Through the power of modern technology, the modernists felt that they could literally change the face of the planet.  This enthusiasm for the possibilities of industrial machinery was not limited to the architects, either.  Leon Trotskii, one of the most famous political revolutionaries of the era, himself shared this excitement for reshaping the globe by advanced technology.  “Socialist man will rule all nature by the machine, with its grouse and its sturgeons,” he wrote in 1924, in Literature and Revolution.  “He will point out places for mountains and for passes.  He will change the course of the rivers, and he will lay down rules for the oceans.”[111]  Trotskii continued:

The present distribution of mountains and rivers, of fields, of meadows, of steppes, of forests, and of seashores, cannot be considered final.  Man has already made changes in the map of nature that are neither few nor insignificant.  But they are mere pupils’ practice in comparison with what is coming.  Faith merely promises to move mountains; but technology, which takes nothing “on faith,” is actually able to cut down mountains and move them.  Up to now this was done for industrial purposes (mines) or for railways (tunnels); in the future this will be done on an immeasurably larger scale, according to a general industrial and artistic plan.  Man will occupy himself with re-registering mountains and rivers, and will earnestly and repeatedly make improvements in nature.  In the end, he will have rebuilt the earth, if not in his own image, at least according to his own taste.[112]

Cartesian towers from Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse (1930)

Colored sketch of Le Corbusier’s proposal for his Ville Radieuse (1930)

Geometrical overview of Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse (1930)

This demiurgic impulse, as outrageously utopian as it may seem today, gripped not only modernist architects of the 1920s and 1930s, but some of the most powerful politicians of the period.  In the following section, we will explore the aspirations of the Soviet avant-garde, as well as the international turn toward urbanism and the crossroads of modernism that took place in the USSR.


[1] “What is meant today by housing shortage is the peculiar intensification of the bad housing conditions of the workers as a result of the sudden rush of population to the big cities, a colossal increase in rents, still greater congestion in the separate houses, and, for some, the impossibility of finding a place to live in at all.  And this housing shortage gets talked of so much only because it is not confined to the working class but has affected the petty bourgeoisie as well.”  Engels, The Housing Question.  Pgs. 16-17.

[2] “It is…a complete misrepresentation of the relation between landlord and tenant to attempt to make it equivalent to the relation between worker and capitalist.”  Ibid., pgs. 19-20.

[3] “The abolition of the antithesis between town and country is no more and no less utopian than the abolition of the antithesis between capitalists and wage-workers.  From day to day it is becoming more and more a practical demand of both industrial and agricultural production…Only as uniform a distribution as possible of the population over the whole country, only an intimate connection between industrial and agricultural production together with the extension of the means of communication made necessary thereby — granted the abolition of the capitalist mode of production — will be able to deliver the rural population from the isolation and stupor in which it has vegetated almost unchanged for thousands of years.  To be utopian does not mean to maintain that the emancipation of humanity from the chains which its historic past has forged will be complete only when the antithesis between town and country has been abolished; the utopia begins only when one ventures, ‘from existing conditions,’ to prescribe the form in which this or any other antithesis of present-day society is to be resolved.”  Ibid., pg. 89.

[4] Ibid., pgs. 94-95.

[5] Smith, Alfred.  The Housing Question.  (Swan Sonnenscheim & Co., Ltd.  London, England: 1900).  Pg. 16.

[6] “[Socialism’s] doctrines are now stated in precise formulas by Marx, and its demands in terms bordering on legal technicality in the program of Gotha.  Utopian fictions have developed into Socialist facts, vague speculations have assumed the form of theorems, and the hazy conceptions of the earlier authors of Utopias have been crystallized into hard dogmas.”  Kaufmann, Moritz.  Utopias, or, Schemes of Social Improvement from Sir Thomas More to Karl Marx.  (C. Kegan Paul & Co.  London, England: 1879).  Pgs. 257-258.

[7] Marx, Karl.  “Letter to Moritz Kaufmann.”  Marx & Engels’ Collected Works, Volume 45: Letters, January 1873-December 1879. Pgs. 333-334.

[8] Kaufmann, Moritz.  The Housing of the Working Classes and of the Poor.  (T.C. & E.C. Jack.  London, England: 1907).  On “slumlords,” pgs. 50-58; on “deserted villages,” pgs. 59-67; on Germany, pgs. 116-127; on France and Belgium, pgs. 128-137.

[9] “With a wise and vigilant executive in the central authority, infusing greater vigor into administrative bodies at the extremities, and a wise coordination of powers, combining the advantages of central stimulus with a real decentralization of Local Government, freed from the incubus of local influences, a new order of things will arise.  With the appointment of a health and housing central committee by each County Council in cooperation with sub-committees of the Parish Councils or independent house committees as suggested in the latest Government report, all more or less under the direction of an expert departmental staff, consisting of experienced inspectors, trained specialists, enlightened architects, eminent physicians, and men of superior business habits, some good results may be expected at the not very distant future.”  Ibid., pg. 144.

[10] Lauer, Edgar and House, Victor.  The Tenant and His Landlord: A Treatise.  (Baker, Voorhis & Co.  New York, NY: 1921).  Pg. 5.

[11] Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig.  “Industrial Building.”  Translated by Steven Lindberg and Margareta Ingrid Christian.  G: An Avant-Garde Journal of Art, Architecture, Design, and Film.  Pg. 120.  My emphasis.  Originally published in G, Vol. 2, № 3 (June 1924).

[12] Gropius, “Housing Industry.”  Pgs. 129-130.

[13] “Building, hitherto an essentially manual trade, is already in the course of transformation into an organized industry.”  Gropius, The New Architecture and the Bauhaus.  Pg. 38.

[14] Ibid., pg. 39.

[15] Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture.  Pg. 259.

[16] Meyer, Hannes.  “building.”  Translated by D.Q. Stephenson.  Buildings, Projects, and Writings. (Arthur Niggli Ltd.  New York, NY: 1965).  Pg. 97.  Originally published in 1928.  All lower-case in original.

[17] “The mass-produced house is not merely a problem of planning and construction but above all a burning problem of building technology: it presupposes mass production and an industrialization of building.”  Teige, Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia.  Pg. 109.

[18] Meyer, “building.”  Pg. 97.

[19] Meyer, Hannes.  “bauhaus and society.”  Translated by D.Q. Stephenson.  Buildings, Projects, and Writings. (Arthur Niggli Ltd.  New York, NY: 1965).  Pg. 99.  Originally published in 1929.  All lower-case in original.

Teige remarked upon how Meyer trained his students to be sensitive to the social exigencies of their time: “It is most interesting to study the work of the pupils of Hannes Meyer.  It demonstrates that the director of the Bauhaus is as outstanding a pedagogue as he is an architect, a concordance of abilities that is truly rare.  Hannes Meyer teaches without any formulas.  He wants, as he says, “biologisches entfesseltes lebendiges Bauen” [biological, unleashed, living building].  He teaches the understanding of architecture as a work stemming organically from life and from social conditions; he teaches his students to analyze the environment and the particulars by which each building is determined.  The students analyze, for instance, the conditions of workers’ housing at the periphery of industrial districts: the direction of wind (smoke, soot), visibility, dust from the road, and noise of transportation.  All of this is considered and evaluated before the project itself is undertaken.”  Teige, Karel.  “Ten Years of the Bauhaus.”  Translated by Irena Žantovská Murray.  Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2002).  Pgs. 634-635. Originally published as “Deset let Bauhausu,” Stavba № 8 (1929-30).

[21] “In constructive periods of history, i.e., in periods of the intensive formation of a new culture, what is first of all required first from the architect is the invention and crystallization of social condensers for their epoch, the creation of new architectural organisms, for this epoch of designing and maintaining architectural objects — the spatial repositories for these forms of the new life.”  Ginzburg, Moisei.  “Konstruktivizm kak metod laburatornoi i pedagogicheskoi raboty.” Sovremennaia arkhitektura.  (Vol. 2, № 6.  Moscow, Soviet Union: November 1927).  Pg. 160.

[22] “Constructivist architects are utterly adamant about engaging the task of creating new types of architecture — condensers of the new social relations.”  Sovremennaia arkhitektura.  (Vol. 3, № 1.  Moscow, Soviet Union: January 1928).  Pg. 12.

[23] Ginzburg, Moisei.  “Slushali: Problemy tipizatsii zhil’ia RSFSR.”  Sovremennaia arkhitektura.  (Vol. 4, № 1.  Moscow, Soviet Union: January 1929).  Pg. 6.

[24] Kállai, “Ten Years of Bauhaus.”  Pg. 639.

[25] Teige, The Minimum Dwelling.  Pg. 25.

[26] This pairing of the Weißenhofsiedlung with the foundation of CIAM is not accidental.  I suspect that the modernist scholar Harry Francis Mallgrave made this same connection for similar reasons.  See his chapter on “Weißenhof and CIAM.”  Mallgrave, Modern Architectural Theory.  Pgs. 271-278.

[27] Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig.  “The Policy of the Stuttgart Exhibition.”  Translated by Philip Johnson.  Mies van der Rohe.  (The Museum of Modern Art.  New York, NY: 1947).  Pg. 193.  Originally published in Bau und Wohnung, 1927.

[28] “[I].e., twelve Germans and Austrians, one Belgian, two French, and two Dutch; designers from the Austrian and Swiss Werkbund also collaborated in the furniture division of the exhibition.”  Teige, The Minimum Dwelling.  Pg. 189.

Adolf Loos and Hugo Häring had been considered as well, but arguments with Mies and others kept them from participating.

“I am very surprised that the founder of [functionalism], the architect Häring, is not represented here.”  Doesburg, Theo van.  “Stuttgart-Weißenhof 1927, Die Wohnung: ‘The Dwelling,’ the famous Werkbund exhibition.”  Translated by Charlotte I. Loeb and Arthur L. Loeb.  On European Architecture: Complete Articles from Het Bouwbedrijf, 1924-1931.  (Birkhäuser Verlag.  Boston, MA: 1990).  Pgs. 170-171.  Originally published in Het Bouwbedrijf, Vol. 4, № 24 (November 1927).  Pgs. 556-559.

Curiously, architects from Russia and Czechoslovakia were not represented at Weißenhof.

[29] Lotz, Wilhelm.  “The Weißenhof Exhibition.”  Translated by Tim Benton.  Architecture and Design, 1890-1939: An International Anthology of Original Articles.  (The Whitney Library of Design.  New York, NY: 1975).  Pg. 156.  Originally published in Die Form, Vol. II (1927).  Pg. 251.

[30] Gurevich, I.  “Vystavka zhil’ia v Shtutgarte — Sovremennoe zhil’e.”  Sovremennaia arkhitektura.  (Vol. 3, № 1.  Moscow, Soviet Union: January 1928).  Pg. 28.

[31] Teige, The Minimum Dwelling.  Pgs. 187-189.

[32] Gräff, Werner.  “‘The Dwelling,’ Weißenhof Exhibition.”  Translated by Tim Benton.  Architecture and Design, 1890-1939: An International Anthology of Original Articles.  (The Whitney Library of Design.  New York, NY: 1975).  Pg. 152.  Originally published in Die Form, Vol. II (1927).  Pgs. 259-260.

[33] “[H]ouses designed for use by a large part of the population must be closely adapted to their special habits and way of life.”  Stam, Mart.  “Three Houses at the Stuttgart Exhibition.”  Translated by C. v. Amerongen.  Mart Stam: A Documentation of His Work, 1920-1965. (Royal Institute of British Architects.  London: 1970).  Pg. 12.  Originally published in i, № 10 (1927).  Pg. 342.

[34] Giedion, Sigfried.  “Weißenhof Housing Settlement, Stuttgart 1927.”  Reproduced in Giedion, Time, Space, and Architecture.  Pg. 598.  Originally published as “L’Exposition du Werkbund à Stuttgart 1927.”

[36] “In 1928 the Swiss Werkbund organized the exhibition Das Neue Heim in Zurich; in 1930, the exhibition WoBa (Wohnen und Bauen [Dwelling and Construction]). As part of the same program, the colony Eglisée was built in Basel. It consists of 60 family houses and 120 rental houses with small and medium apartments…In 1932 the Vienna Werkbund organized an exhibition, more or less on the model of the Stuttgart Weißenhofsiedlung, that also includes a group of small family houses designed by various Viennese and foreign architects (Adolf Loos, R.J. Neutra, André Lurçat, Rietveld, Jos. Hofmann, Jos. Frank, Brenner, Grete Schütte-Lihotzky, and others).”  Teige, The Minimum Dwelling.  Pg. 195.

[37] “In Czechoslovakia, the example of Stuttgart was first followed in Brno, as part of the Exhibition of Contemporary Culture in 1928.  [I]t consists of a group of sixteen small houses, called Nový Dům [the New House].  The following architects contributed designs: B. Fuchs, J. Grunt, J. Kroha, H. Foltýn, M. Putna, J. Syřiště, J. Štěpánek, J. Viška, and A. Wiesner.  The project was realized at the private initiative of the builders F. Uhera and Č. Ruller, and sponsored by the Svaz Českého Díla.”  Ibid., pg. 193.

[38] “After Stuttgart, the German Werkbund continued its program with the 1929 exhibition Wu Wa Breslau (Wohnung und Werkraum) in Breslau in Prussian Silesia [now Wroclaw in Poland].  Here, too, the exhibition was divided into three sections: an exhibition of international architecture (plans and photographs), an exhibit of materials and equipment (tracing the historical evolution of urban housing, rural dwelling, workshops, and offices), and the model exhibition colony Grüneiche.”  Ibid., pg. 193.

[39] “Another exhibition of a similar character is the Dammerstock settlement in Karlsruhe, built in 1929; it is distinguished by its progressive site plan, designed by Walter Gropius.  It consists of uniformly executed single rows of attached houses (Einzelreihenbebauung), with streets set at right angles in an east-west direction to the north-south rows.  Windows are oriented east and west.  Row housing is the predominant type used in the Dammerstock colony.  There are only two rows of four-story houses of the open gallery and balcony type, based on the designs of Otto Haesler and Walter Gropius.”  Ibid., pg. 195.

[40] Doesburg, Theo van.  “Brno 1928, Vystava Soudobé Kultury and Nový Dům: Exhibition on Modern Culture and the Colony ‘New Dwelling.’”  Translated by Charlotte I. Loeb and Arthur L. Loeb.  On European Architecture: Complete Articles from Het Bouwbedrijf, 1924-1931.  (Birkhäuser Verlag.  Boston, MA: 1990).  Pg. 173.  Originally published in Het Bouwbedrijf, Vol. 5, № 26 (December 1927).

[41] Ibid., pg. 174.

[42] La Sarraz Declaration.  Translated by Michael Bullock.  Programs and Manifestoes on 20th-Century Architecture.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1971).  Pg. 109.  Originally drafted June 28th, 1928.

[43] Signatories of CIAM’s founding La Sarraz Declaration included H.P. Berlage, Victor Bourgeois, Pierre Chareau, Josef Frank, Gabriel Guévrékian, Max Ernst Haefeli, Hugo Häring, Arnold Höchel, Huib Hoste, Pierre Jeanneret, Le Corbusier, André Lurçat, Sven Markelius, Ernst May, Fernando García Mercadal, Hannes Meyer, Werner Max Moser, Carlo Enrico Rava, Gerrit Rietveld, Alberto Sartoris, Hans Schmidt, Mart Stam, Rudolf Steiger, Szymon Syrkus, Henri-Robert von der Mühll, Juan de Zavala.  Ibid., pg. 113.

El Lissitzky, Nikolai Kolli, and Moisei Ginzburg were supposed to attend from the USSR, but were denied visas by the Swiss government.  Mumford, Eric.  The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism: 1928-1960.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2000).  Pg. 18.

Other members who later joined include Sigfried Giedion, Walter Gropius, Cornelis van Eesteren, Alvar Aalto, Uno Åhrén, Louis Herman De Koninck, and Fred Forbát.

[44] “Conscious of the deep disturbances of the social structure brought about by machines, they recognize that the transformation of the economic order and of social life inescapably brings with it a corresponding transformation of the architectural phenomenon.”  La Sarraz Declaration, pg. 109.

[45] “The most efficient method of production is that which arises from rationalization and standardization.  Rationalization and standardization act directly on working methods both in modern architecture (conception) and in the building industry (realization).”  Ibid., pg. 110.

[46] “[The] academies, by definition and by function, are the guardians of the past.  They have established dogmas of architecture based on the practical and aesthetic methods of historical periods.  Academies vitiate the architect’s vocation at its very origin.”  Ibid., pg. 112.

[47] “The true problems of the dwelling have been pushed back behind entirely artificial sentimental conceptions.  The problem of the house is not posed.”  Ibid., pg. 111.

[48] “[P]roblems of town planning for the working masses engage the Functionalists in a heroic struggle for the minimum house, for the standardization and industrialization of building.”  Zevi, Architecture as Space.  Pgs. 157-158.

[49] Mumford, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism.  Pg. 30.

[50] Teige, The Minimum Dwelling.  Pg. 62.

[51] “The amelioration of housing for people with minimum income, such as workers and the working intelligentsia, has caught the attention of architects only recently — as a matter of fact, only during the Second International Congress of Modern Architecture [CIAM] (in Frankfurt, 1929), which placed the question of the minimum dwelling at the top of its agenda.”  Ibid., pg. 216.

[52] “The [Weißenhof] houses are intended (to judge by the requirements set) for the middle classes.”  Stam, “Three Houses at the Stuttgart Exhibition.”  Pg. 12.

[53] Teige explains: “The genesis of the catch-phrase ‘minimum dwelling’ as the most pressing architectural problem can be traced to a number of causes; among the most important are the changes in the social structure of the population that have taken place during the past few decades and the worsening of the housing crisis after the war, which adversely affected even middle-income groups and impoverished working intellectuals.”  Teige, The Minimum Dwelling.  Pg. 234.

[54] Stam, Mart.  “Scale — Right Scale — Minimum Scale.”  Translated by C. v. Amerongen.  Mart Stam: A Documentation of His Work, 1920-1965. (Royal Institute of British Architects.  London: 1970).  Pg. 21.  Originally published in Das Neue Frankfurt, № 3, 1929.

[55] May, Ernst.  “Flats for Subsistence Living.”  Translated by Tim Benton.  Architecture and Design, 1890-1939: An International Anthology of Original Articles.  (The Whitney Library of Design.  New York, NY: 1975).  Pg. 203.  Originally published in Die Wohnung für Existenzminimum, 1929.  Pgs. 10-16.

[56] Teige, The Minimum Dwelling.  Pg. 158.

[57] Le Corbusier and Jeanneret, Pierre.  “Analysis of the Fundamental Elements of the Problem of ‘The Minimum House.’”  Reproduced in The Radiant City: Elements of a Doctrine of Urbanism to be Used as the Basis of our Machine-Age Civilization.  Translated by Pamela Knight, Eleanor Levieux, and Derek Coltman.  (The Orion Press.  New York, NY: 1964).  Pg. 30.  Originally published in Die Wohnung für Existenzminimum, 1929.

[58] “The dwelling place is a distinctly biological phenomenon.”  Ibid., pg. 29.

[59] “Only respect for the biological and social status of the man which is threatened by the problem of flats for the lower paid workers keeps in from fruitless theorization and draws us nearer to our goal.  We shall build flats which, although let at reasonable rents, will satisfy the material and spiritual needs of their inhabitants.”  May, “Flats for Subsistence Living.”  Pg. 204.

[61] “As far as the ‘minimum house’ (social tool that is indispensable to the present era) is concerned, architecture can center its attention on equipping the inside of the house.  Depending on the problem (capacity), the size of the family, the sort of occupant (his way of life), the exposure to sun and winds, the topographical location (city planning), the architect of equipment can invent biological groupings within a static standard framework.”  Le Corbusier and Jeanneret, “Analysis of the Fundamental Elements of the Problem of ‘The Minimum House.’”  Pg. 32.  My emphasis.

[62] Ibid., pg. 33.

[64] Ernst May perhaps expressed the most naïve workerist standpoint theory: “So much unnecessary paperwork and so many failures would be avoided if every architect involved in building small flats were obliged to spend a few weeks in a working class family before he began to plan and build.”  May, “Flats for Subsistence Living.”  Pg. 204.

[65] “Modern urban industrial population is derived directly from the rural population.  It retains its primitive standard of living, which frequently even decreases, instead of developing expanded requirements corresponding to its new way of life.  The attempt to adapt its housing requirements to its old form of life appears regressive…and altogether incompatible with its new form of life.”  Gropius, “Sociological Premises for the Minimum Dwelling of Urban Industrial Populations.”  Pgs. 100-101.

[66] “‘The modern family is based on both the overt and hidden slavery of women; and modern society is an agglomeration, made up of small families as its individual molecules.  Man, at least in the wealthy classes, generally has to earn enough for the upkeep of the whole family.  That alone assures him a dominant role, without requiring any special laws or official granting of privileges: he is the bourgeois of the family, his wife is the proletarian” (The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State).”  Teige, The Minimum Dwelling.  Pgs. 169-170.

[67] “The history of sociology is the story of man’s gradual evolution from the wilderness through barbarism to civilization.  The late German sociologist Müller-Lyer, whose scientific results are referred to, distinguishes between four major legal eras of human society: 1. The era of kinship and tribal law; 2. The era of the family and family law; 3. The era of the individual and individual law; 4. The future era of co-operatives and communal law.”  Gropius, “Sociological Premises for the Minimum Dwelling of Urban Industrial Populations.”   Pg. 91.

[68] “With the division of labour, in which all these contradictions are implicit, and which in its turn is based on the natural division of labour in the family and the separation of society into individual families opposed to one another, is given simultaneously the distribution, and indeed the unequal distribution, both quantitative and qualitative, of labour and its products, hence property: the nucleus, the first form, of which lies in the family, where wife and children are the slaves of the husband.”  Marx, Karl.  The German Ideology: Critique of Modern German Philosophy According to Its Representatives Feuerbach, B. Bauer and Stirner, and of German Socialism According to Its Various Prophets.  Translated by Tim Delaney, Bob Schwartz, and Brian Baggins.  Collected Works, Volume 5: Fall 1845-Mid-1846.  (International Publishers.  New York, NY: 1976).  Pg. 46.  Originally written in 1846, only published in 1930.

[69] Engels, Friedrich.  The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State: In Light of Researches by Lewis H. Morgan.  Translated by Alick West.  Collected Works, Volume 26: Friedrich Engels, 1882-1889.  (International Publishers.  New York, NY: 1990).  Pg. 141.  Originally published in 1884.

[70] “Marriage is originally nothing else than the earliest form of slavery, the slavery of the woman.”  Müller-Lyer, Franz-Karl.  The History of Social DevelopmentTranslated by Elizabeth Coote Lake and H.A. Lake.  (George Allen & Unwin Ltd.  London, England: 1920). Pg. 208.  Originally published in 1913.

[71] “The division of labor within the family…regulated the division of property between the man and the woman…[T]he domestic labor of the woman no longer counted beside the acquisition of the necessities of life by the man; the latter was everything, the former an unimportant extra.”  Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State.  Pg. 263.

[72] “And only now has that become possible through modern large-scale industry, which does not merely permit of the employment of female labor over a wide range, but positively demands it, while it also tends towards ending private domestic labor by changing it more and more into a public industry.”  Ibid., pg. 264.

[73] Müller-Lyer, The History of Social Development Pg. 228.

[74] “In an organized domestic association, …a tenth part of the women would be able to accomplish all these [domestic] labors in a better, cheaper, and less arduous manner.  If we united…sixty small [kitchen] industries into one organism, one great central kitchen, presided over by a qualified chef, we could offer a richer and more varied fare at much less cost.  Each family might be connected with this center by a lift, which would convey to it regularly the desired meats and drinks…Into this wholesale domestic administration would enter those labor-saving machines, invented long but scarcely taken into use: a washing-up machine cleans in a few minutes hundreds of pots and pans, central heating saves the labor of carrying coals and ashes, a vacuum cleaner keeps the dwelling clean,…gas fires, electric lighting, steam laundries, etc., would relieve the mistress of all those petty depressing occupations under which she now sighs.”  Ibid., pg. 229.

[75] “[T]he late capitalistic phase responded to [the modern woman’s question] with the modern women’s movement.”  Ibid., pg. 302.

[76] “The Alliance of Geneva demanded, above all, the entire abolition of the right of inheritance…There were two forms of inheritance…The testamentary right, or inheritance by will, had come from Rome and had been peculiar to Rome.  The father of the Roman family had exercised absolute authority over everything belonging to his household…German right of inheritance was the intestate right, the family right, which treated an estate as a sort of co-proprietorship of which the father of the family was the manager.  When this manager died, the property fell to all the children.”  Marx, Karl.  “The Right of Inheritance: An Address to the International Workingmen’s Association.”  Transcribed by George Eccarius. Collected Works, Volume 21: Karl Marx, November 1867-mid-July 1870.  (International Publishers.  New York, NY: 1985).  Pg. 65.  Originally delivered in 1869.

[77] “The form of family corresponding to civilization and coming to definite supremacy with it is monogamy, the domination of the man over the woman, and the single family as the economic unit of society.”  Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State.  Pg. 275.

[78] “The family continues to exist even in the 19th-century, only the process of its dissolution has become more general, not on account of the concept, but because of the higher development of industry and competition; the family still exists although its dissolution was long ago proclaimed by French and English Socialists.”  Marx and Engels, The German Ideology.  Pg. 179.

[79] “In the new society woman will be entirely independent, both socially and economically.  She will not be subjected to even a trace of domination and exploitation, but will be free and man’s equal…Her education will be the same as man’s…Living under normal conditions of life, she may fully develop and employ her physical and mental faculties.”  Bebel, August.  Woman and Socialism.  Translated by Meta L. Stern.  (Socialist Literature Co.  New York, NY: 1910).  Pg. 466.  Originally published in 1879.

[80] “The machines, the modern mode of production, slowly undermined domestic production and not just for thousands but for millions of women the question arose: Where do we now find our livelihood? Where do we find a meaningful life as well as a job that gives us mental satisfaction? Millions were now forced to find their livelihood and their meaningful lives outside of their families and within society as a whole.”  Zetkin, Clara.  “Only in Conjunction with the Proletarian Woman will Socialism be Victorious.”  Translated by Kai Schoenhals.  Selected Writings.  (International Publishers.  New York, NY: 1984).  Pg. 73.  Originally published in 1896.

[81] “In advanced capitalist, highly industrialized, twentieth-century Germany, in the age of electricity and airplanes, the absence of women’s rights is as much a reactionary remnant of the dead past as the reign by Divine Right on the throne…[B]oth monarchy and women’s lack of rights have been uprooted by the development of modern capitalism, have become ridiculous caricatures.”  Luxemburg, Rosa.  “Women’s Suffrage and Class Struggle.”  Translated by Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson.  The Rosa Luxemburg Reader.  (Monthly Review Press.  New York, NY: 2004).  Pg. 239.  Originally published in 1914.

[82] Lenin, Vladimir.  “Capitalism and Female Labor.”  Translated by Andrew Rothstein.  Collected Works, Volume 36.  (Progress Publishers.  New York, NY: 1971).  Pg. 230.  Originally published in 1913.

[83] “To become really free woman has to throw off the heavy chains of the current forms of the family, which are outmoded and oppressive.”  Kollontai, Aleksandra.  “The Social Basis of the Woman Question.”  Translated by Alix Holt.  Selected Writings.  (Allison & Busby.  New York, NY: 1977).  Pg. 64.  Originally published in 1909.

[84] “The proletarian woman bravely starts out on the thorny path of labour.  Her legs sag; her body is torn.  There are dangerous precipices along the way, and cruel beasts of prey are close at hand.  But only by taking this path is the woman able to achieve that distant but alluring aim — her true liberation in a new world of labour.”  Ibid., pg. 63.

[85] Ibid., pg. 58.

[87] “For her preliminary design,…Schütte-Lihotzky took for her model the kitchens of the railway dining car company Mitropa.”  Corrodi, Michelle.  “On the Kitchen and Vulgar Odors: The Path to a New Domestic Architecture between the Mid-Nineteenth Century and the Second World War.”  Translated by Bill Martin and Laura Bruce.  The Kitchen: Life-world, Usage, Perspectives.  (Birkhäuser Publishers.  Basel, Switzerland: 2006).  Pg. 31.

[88] “The modern European kitchen has developed into two main types: the Frankfurt kitchen, developed by Grete Schütte-Lihotzky, and the Stuttgart kitchen.  A normal American kitchen has the dimensions 2.7 ´ 3.3m = 8.87m2; the Stuttgart kitchen 8.6 m2; and the Frankfurt kitchen of phase one, 3.44 ´ 1.87m = 6.43m2.  After a few years of use by 6,000 Frankfurt housewives, its dimensions were further reduced to an area of 5.5m2.”  Teige, The Minimum Dwelling.  Pg. 218.

[89] Ibid., pg. 219.

Compare with Bebel: “The kitchen resembles a workshop furnished with all kinds of technical and mechanical appliances that quickly perform the hardest and most disagreeable tasks.  Here we see potato and fruit-paring machines, apparatus for removing kernels, meat-choppers, mills for grinding coffee and spice, ice-choppers, corkscrews, bread-cutters, and a hundred other machines and appliances, all run by electricity, that enable a comparatively small number of persons, without excessive labor, to prepare a meal for hundreds of guests. The same is true of the equipments for house-cleaning and for washing the dishes.”  Bebel, Woman and Socialism.  Pg. 462.

[90] “The creation of good and inexpensive mechanical laundries (placed to best advantage in connection with the public baths) will completely free women from this barbaric task.”  Miliutin, Nikolai.  Sotsgorod: The Problem of Socialist Cities.  Translated by Anatole Senkevich.  (MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1974).  Pg. 76.  Originally published in 1930.

[91] Ibid., pg. 75.

Compare again with Bebel: “To millions of women the private kitchen is an institution that is extravagant in its methods, entailing endless drudgery and waste of time, robbing them of their health and good spirits, and an object of daily worry, especially when the means are scanty, as is the case with most families.  The abolition of the private kitchen will come as a liberation to countless women.  The private kitchen is as antiquated an institution as the workshop of the small mechanic.  Both represent a useless and needless waste of time labor and material.”  Bebel, Woman and Socialism.  Pg. 462.

“As [with] the kitchen, so our entire domestic life will be revolutionized, and countless tasks that must be performed today will become superfluous.  As the central kitchen will do away with the private kitchen, so central heating and electric lighting plants will do away with all the trouble connected with stoves and lamps.  Warm and cold water supply will enable all to enjoy daily baths.  Central laundries and drying-rooms will assume the washing and drying of clothes; central cleaning establishments, the cleaning of carpets and clothes.”  Ibid., pgs. 463-464.

[92] Incidentally, Teige was skeptical of the progress made by the Frankfurt kitchen, so long as it was still based on the family unit: “Whether ‘model house,’ ‘experimental villa,’ ‘minimum house,’ or a modern apartment house for the poor, all are solutions presented at the scale of a family…Assuming that members of a couple are active wage earners and that the woman works in production, then surely a kitchen and a traditional family household are, for all practical purposes, a burden…Thus, the newly perfected ‘Frankfurter kitchen’ does not really solve anything.”  Teige, The Minimum Dwelling.  Pg. 172.

[94] “Egotistical individualism gives way to social individualism.  The fully developed individual becomes the aim of the state and the structure of society the means for its achievement.”  Ibid., pg. 92.

[95] Teige, The Minimum Dwelling.  Pg. 247.

[97] Ibid., pg. 32.

[99] Teige, The Minimum Dwelling.  Pg. 351.

[100] See the string of quotations cited in footnote 28, pg. 7 of the present paper.

[101] Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age.  Pg. 185.

[102] Le Corbusier, The Decorative Arts of Today.  Pg. 135.

[103] From the “Founding Proclamation of the Union of Progressive International Artists”: “From all over the world come voices calling for a union of progressive artists.  A lively exchange of ideas between artists of different countries has now become necessary.  The lines of communication that were torn up by political events are finally reopened.  We want universal and international interest in art.  We want a universal international periodical.  We want a permanent, universal, international exhibition of art everywhere in the world.  We want a universal, international music festival that will unite mankind at least once a year with a language that can be understood by all.

The long dreary spiritual isolation must now end.  Art needs the unification of those who create.  Forgetting questions of nationality, without political bias or self-seeking intention, our slogan must now be: ‘Artists of all nationalities unite.’  Art must become international or it will perish.”  De Stijl, “A Short Review of the Proceedings [of the Congress of International Progressive Artists], Followed by the Statements Made by the Artists’ Groups.”  Translated by Nicholas Bullock.  The Tradition of Constructivism.  (Da Capo Press.  New York, NY: 1974).  Pg. 59.  Originally published in 1922.

Although many of the more “radical” artistic groups split from the initial union proposed by the congress, all of those who rejected the politically ambiguity of the “Founding Proclamation” nevertheless upheld the notion of internationalism: “WE REGARD THE FOUNDING OF AN INTERNATIONAL OF PROGRESSIVE ARTISTS AS THE BANDING TOGETHER OF FIGHTERS FOR THE NEW CULTURE.  Once again art will return to its former role.  Once again we shall find a collective way of relating the work of the artist to the universal.”  Lissitzky, El and Ehrenburg, Il’ia.  “Statement by the Editors of Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet.”  Ibid., pg. 64.

The artists of today have been driven the whole world over by the same consciousness, and therefore have taken part from an intellectual point of view in this war against the domination of individual despotism.  They therefore sympathize with all, who work for the formation of an international unity in life, art, culture, either intellectually or materially.”  “Statement by De Stijl Group.”  Ibid., pg. 65.

“The International must not only support its members, but also create and document a new attitude.  [U]sing all our strength to create the new way of life we so badly need, that is indeed a worthy task.”  Richter, Hans; Eggeling, Viking; and Janco, Marcel. “Statement by the Constructivist Groups of Rumania, Switzerland, Scandinavia, and Germany.”  Ibid., pg. 67.

The editors of the Hungarian periodical Ma likewise called for an “international organization of revolutionary-minded artists.”  Kassák, Lajos; Barta, Sándor; Mácza, János; Gáspár, Endre; Moholy-Nagy, László; Kállai, Ernő; Simon, Jolán; Kudlák, Lajos; and Ujvári, Erzsébet. “The Stand Taken by the Vienna MA Group Toward the First Düsseldorf Congress of Progressive Artists.”  Translated from the Hungarian by John Bátki.  Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2002).  Pg. 400. Originally published as “A bésci MA-csoport állásfoglalása a haladó muveszek elsõ, Düsseldorfban tartott kongresszusához,” Ma Vol. 8, № 8 (August 30, 1922).

[104] “[The modernist architects of CIAM] declare themselves members of an association and will give each other mutual support on the international plane with a view to realizing their aspirations morally and materially.”  La Sarraz Declaration.  Pg. 109.

[105] Meyer, “The New World.”  Pg. 91.

[106] Curtis, William J.R.  Modern Architecture Since 1900.  (Phaidon Press Ltd.  New York, NY: 1996).  Pg. 264.

[107] 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 interchanges.

See further Teige’s criticism of the Le Corbusier’s dichotomy of “Architecture or Revolution” as well as his admiration for the reactionary Baron von Haussmann in The Minimum Dwelling.

[108] Sant’Elia, Antonio.  Manifesto of Futurist Architecture.  Translated by Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, Laura Wittman.  Futurism: An Anthology.  (Yale University Press.  New Haven, CT: 2009).  Pg. 200.  Originally published in 1914.

[109] Le Corbusier, The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning.  Pg. 175.

[110] “On the whole, these planning efforts are intended for flat terrain.”  Lissitzky, The Reconstruction of Architecture in the USSR.  Pg. 60.

[111] Trotskii, Leon.  Literature and Revolution.  Translated by Rose Strunsky.  (Haymarket Books.  Chicago, IL: 2005).  Pg. 205.

[112] Ibid., pg. 204.

3 thoughts on “The sociohistoric mission of modernist architecture

  1. It’s really very useful to see early modernism outlined in this detail! For more critique on modernism I can recommend a five-part interview 2blowhards did with Salingaros about a decade ago:

    The real poor thing of modernist cities is their extremely bad hardware, which claims an energy intensive software to work, as it consists of huge monotonous and anti-fractal units. The city as a computer is much more relevant and in line with modern science, than the city as a machine. Still, a machine works, while modernist cities don’t:

    What’s worse is that Le Corbusier and his disciples have lowered human life to it’s lowest possible esteem, the “abstract human being”:

    And for me it’s even worse that classical liberalism cannot exist within the framework of modernist city planning and architecture, it’s simply impossible. According to permaculture principle 11 life is most rich and vivid on the edges, as permaculturists we shall therefore pay extra attention to the edges, and classical liberalism only existed on the edges of history. Please read more in Charles Siegel’s book on Classical Liberalism:

    Nb! The book is downloadable for free!

    Modernist architecture is the grim face of modernist liberalism, how I hate that face!

    I’m not sure yet how much classical liberalism is aligned with the commons, but I’m sure it’s quite much. Personally I believe that the new architectural paradigm of Christopher Alexander can only become fulfilled within the rising paradigm of the Commons, and without Christopher Alexander can neither the Commons come alive.

  2. Pingback: Animated Spaces: Experience and Context in Interaction and Architectural Design Exhibitions | Words in Space

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