Karel Teige’s “Contemporary International Architecture” (1928)

The most modern and consistent solutions achieved by contemporary architects are still confined within the bourgeois way of living.  All contemporary buildings, even the most modern ‘separate mansions’ (villas, palaces) as well as housing estates for the exploited poorer classes use the most modern building materials and techniques promoting a rational daily family life and improving hygienic standards.  All this activity is still based nevertheless on the bourgeois concept of a family, in particular on the concept: one family, one home, one kitchen.  Also the individual whims of the owners are excessively respected.  Luxury, diverse equipment, unnecessary artistic furniture, splendor and abundance for the rich and only certain facilities available for the poor…

Men who try to create a new architecture, a free architecture for a free people, anticipate the creation of a new social order in which private ownership, family, and nationality will be unknown.  Anticipation is now, however, the tactic of a revolutionary.  It is now necessary to prepare the community, to accustom it to new ideas, to revolutionize architecture, architectural production and include the hypotheses of a new organization of a new world.  This statement applies especially to architecture since architecture is the creation of organization.

The revolutionary liberation of architecture will produce the concept of housing for people not burdened by family or nationality, where a companionship and a collective way of life will exist replacing sumptuous drawing-rooms and private gardens by social district clubs and public parks.  Housing will no longer be ‘home, sweet home’ or ‘my castle’…The balance of present achievements in the field of housing is not yet clear and the standards for modern living not yet formulated.  The Weissenhof estate does not provide any final solutions; its achievements are at present subordinate to the ideas of a bourgeois society [201] within whose boundaries all aims cannot be achieved.  In the Weissenhof estate for example, in spite of all technical progress, separate kitchens are provided in each flat and only one bedroom for both husband and wife.  In the present economic conditions of a divided class society, it is impossible to hope for a final solution to the housing problem for equality and a new way of life of a new free people.  In housing, economic and financial class interests still predominate.  Nevertheless the experience gained in the construction of contemporary buildings may be used to attempt a theoretical investigation and a determination of hypothetical standards for socialist housing.  In order to outline a hypothesis for socialist housing it is first necessary to analyze the means actually available and to examine the needs of modern man in relation to housing.  The examination of a building involves the following questions: might the dwelling be smaller? should it consist of only one room which simultaneously serves as a boudoir, study, living-room? Is it actually admissible to reduce the dwelling to only on room which is adapted to complex ends? Do we require the separation into particular premises for particular needs? If so, then what premises and what purposes? Another problem: what degree of comfort can be provided by a socialist community for the disposal of an individual and what comforts shall be reserved for the collective?

The hypothesis of socialist housing must profess that freedom consists of leaving the home.  Socialist architecture must reject the concept of rented family houses which must disappear together with ownership (rented accommodation) and family.  Our idea is based on present achievements and on the critical assessment of present forms; it outlines modern housing for socialist citizens as an open-plan construction.  Recent socialist inventions are dwellings without imprisoning walls, providing a living space which is deprived of furniture rather than encumbered by it, which is full of light and bright colors with free access of light.  Even the sun is a desirable commodity.  Diogenes, who lived in a tub and renounced everything that he considered superfluous, said to Alexander the Great, ‘Move away from the sunlight.’  Well then, out with the unnecessary paraphernalia of our daily life but let us have the sun…

The housing complex in socialist towns should be composed of single cells designed to fit the people (husbands or wives), but never in accordance with the concept of a family.  Its ‘standards’ depend upon a very extensive change of living habits which must be brought about by social revolution.  The new society will no doubt be compelled to reform its customs which already begin to oppress the modern man.

The contemporary concepts of reformed life shown to the public at the Werkbund exhibition by Le Corbusier, Mart Stam, Mies van der Rohe, J.J.P. Oud (especially the equipment, not the design of houses), and Walter Gropius must not be considered as the final achievement but merely as a transitory stage.  The most far-reaching solution of the housing problem is still on paper and cannot yet be realized.  Le Corbusier’s plan of ‘immeubles villas’ represent a collective cooperative complex composed of single units — villas or cottages.  It seems that from now on the future development will follow a different road: a cooperative complex elimination of kitchens, hotel-like organization of living providing restaurants, canteen, flats for single persons and a collective comfort: cafeterias, restaurants, festival hall, dancing, baths, playgrounds, reading room, and library for the disposal of the collective.  Modern architects who build up a socialist community are not satisfied with orders and limitations imposed by the means available at present.  Using explicit methods they prepare theories and hypothetical solutions for the architecture of the future.  An ideal design for housing is not yet attained; it is said that utopia and ideal are the same thing and both can never be reached.  (We would like to say that they can be reached but the way is very hard).  The setting up of an ideal standard for new housing and new architecture must encourage us towards the utopian goal.  At present not the utopia but a hypothetical architecture, is important.  Changes in architecture cannot be effected without changes in the organization of production and society, in other words without a social [202] revolution.  The theories and hypotheses of the new architecture are the ‘battle for tomorrow.’  According to Saldow the endeavors in the study of housing are still the ‘dreams of a happy future,’ but these dreams are supported by a number of historical probabilities.  Here the renaissance of architecture begins.

A Modernist Architectural and Aesthetic Theory Database

Over the next couple weeks, I’m planning to post a flurry of full-text books and articles from the annals of modernist architectural and aesthetic theory.  After they’re all up, I’m going to catalog it so that it’s easily searchable.  They’re all going to be translated primary source documents that (at least to my knowledge) aren’t already up on the web.  With the Russian texts, I’m going to post the Russian along with my own translations, which will be forthcoming.  A lot of this material has never been translated.  All non-Russian sources are translated by someone else or were originally written in English.

Louis Proyect is again “provoked by the platypus”; again fails to say anything meaningful in response

Louis Proyect (of the blog The Unrepentant Marxist) is upset over the publication of a translation of the Antideutsch article “Communism and Israel” in the Platypus Review.  This isn’t the first time Proyect has devoted a blog entry to discussing Platypus only to turn out to have nothing to say.  Back in April, he made a weak attempt to peg Platypus’ critical stance toward the existing Left as an American version of Eustonism.  A few months later, upon some reflection, he came to the profound conclusion that the Platypus group was nothing more than a bunch of eschatological leftists awaiting the final dispensation.  With characteristic banality, Proyect then ended his piece by dismissively conceding that “[i]f you think of the left in biological terms, the Platypus is something necessary for the healthy functioning of the body.”

Two days ago, he found himself again “provoked by the Platypus” — this time by the translated article mentioned above.  Proyect, though aware of the fact that the Platypus Review publishes views that do not necessarily match the views of its members, nevertheless assumed that Platypus tacitly agreed with the ISF position laid out in “Communism and Israel.”  According to him, Platypus simply lacked the “courage” to come out and say so.  Even then, instead of discussing the more substantive points raised by the article, Proyect chose to seize upon a rather ugly (and apparently Islamophobic) book cover published by the ISF’s press so that he could avoid taking on the organization’s position altogether.  He wrote off the ISF as a group of “fanatical anti-Muslim [sic] racists,” therefore unworthy of a critique.  I was unaware that the Muslims were now a “race,” but oh well.

Now there are certainly problems and limitations to the Antideutsch movement’s seemingly exclusive focus on anti-fascist politics and Marxist critiques of anti-Semitic undercurrents prevailing on the Left.  But to refuse to engage it at all, as if it had nothing to offer, is indicative of Proyect’s reluctance to face any challenge to the conventional wisdom of anti-Zionist, anti-imperialist leftism.  Proyect remains blind to the problematic tendency of leftists today to reduce all questions of Marxist anti-capitalist politics to the issue of opposition against U.S. imperialism and Israeli Zionism.

Though Proyect’s blog occasionally offers some insights and interesting perspective, it’s fairly clear to anyone who reads it that he’s unwilling to depart from the same shallow, predictable outlook that’s become so common on today’s Left.  But when he’s not just making vague appeals to common sense in order to justify his own dreary position, he claims the real reason he’d rather not seriously engage Platypus is that they’re “schmucks.”

Most normal people, like the subscribers to Doug Henwood’s mailing list, view Platypus and Chris Cutrone in particular as a bunch of schmucks.  Who wants to waste time debating schmucks?

For someone who talks a lot about Platypus’ supposed lack of “courage,” it seems that Proyect himself doesn’t have the chutzpah to try and actually respond to their criticisms.  Perhaps this is the better part of valor, though, since he would probably just wind up embarrassing himself anyway.