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.

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

  1. Karel Teige was a Czech socialist critic of art and architecture, deeply committed to the Soviet project in the mid-1920s to the early-1930s. He remained enthusiastic about the USSR, though he was deeply disillusioned by Stalin’s official endorsement of a neo-classicist style in the competition for the Palace of the Soviets (1932). After the Second World War, Teige was denounced as a “Trotskyist” and died (reportedly from nervous stress) shortly thereafter.

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