Mies van der Rohe

Lud­wig Mies van der Rohe hardly needs any in­tro­duc­tion to read­ers of this blog, or in­deed to any­one more than cas­u­ally fa­mil­i­ar with the his­tory of twen­ti­eth cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture. Still, a few words might be in­cluded here for those who haven’t yet had the pleas­ure. He was the third dir­ect­or of the le­gendary Bauhaus art school, after the pi­on­eer­ing mod­ern­ist Wal­ter Gropi­us and the con­tro­ver­sial Marx­ist Hannes Mey­er. Des­cen­ded from stone­ma­sons, Mies entered the build­ing trade at a young age. Pri­or to his ten­ure at the Bauhaus, he was an ap­pren­tice along with Gropi­us in the stu­dio of Peter Behrens, who also later su­per­vised a Swiss prodigy by the name of Charles-Édouard Jean­ner­et (ali­as Le Cor­busier). Un­der the Ger­man mas­ter’s tu­tel­age, Mies gained an en­dur­ing ap­pre­ci­ation for the Prus­si­an clas­si­cist Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Be­sides Behrens, the oth­er mod­ern in­flu­ence on Mies dur­ing this early phase of his ca­reer was the Dutch­man Hendrik Pet­rus Ber­lage, through whom Europe learned of the ground­break­ing designs of Frank Lloyd Wright in Amer­ica.

Mies’ turn to full-fledged mod­ern­ism came in the 1920s, after he came in­to con­tact with Kurt Schwit­ters and oth­er mem­bers of the in­ter­na­tion­al av­ant-garde. Al­though his com­mis­sions earli­er in the dec­ade still came from cli­ents whose taste was rather more tra­di­tion­al, Mies nev­er­the­less began writ­ing bold art­icles and mani­fes­tos for the con­struct­iv­ist journ­al G. Oth­er con­trib­ut­ors to this peri­od­ic­al were artists and crit­ics such as El Lis­sitzky, Wern­er Gräff, and Wal­ter Ben­jamin. Jean-Louis Co­hen, au­thor of The Fu­ture of Ar­chi­tec­ture (2012), de­tails the vari­ous ex­per­i­ments Mies con­duc­ted around this time. In 1926, he was se­lec­ted to design the monu­ment to Rosa Lux­em­burg and Karl Lieb­knecht in Ber­lin. Fol­low­ing the suc­cess of the 1927 Wießenhof ex­hib­i­tion, spear­headed by Mies, a num­ber of more dar­ing projects now opened them­selves up to him. Villa Tu­gend­hat in Brno, Czechoslov­akia and the Wolf House in Gu­bin, Po­land were only the most fam­ous of these projects. In 1929, Mies was chosen to design the Ger­man pa­vil­ion for the world’s fair in Bar­celona, which re­ceived wide­spread ac­claim. You can read more about these works in an ex­cerpt taken from Alan Colquhoun’s his­tor­ic­al sur­vey Mod­ern Ar­chi­tec­ture (2002).

portriat-of-german-born-american-architect-ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-1886-1969-as-he-sits-in-a-chair-in-his-home-chicago-illinois-1956 mies-van-der-rohe_casa-de-campo-de-ladrillo-1924-mies-van-der-rohe portriat-of-german-born-american-architect-ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-1886-1969-as-he-peers-from-between-a-model-of-his-26-story-twin-apartment-buildings-located-at-860-on-the-right-and-880-lake

In any case, just as Mies was be­gin­ning to make a name for him­self, Gropi­us asked Mies to step in and re­place Mey­er over at the Bauhaus in Des­sau. At the time, Mey­er was em­broiled in a scan­dal con­cern­ing his com­mun­ist sym­path­ies. He ex­ited, along with many of his left-wing stu­dents, to plan new cit­ies in the USSR. (Eva For­gacs has writ­ten ex­cel­lently about the polit­ics that sur­roun­ded this de­cision). With the rise of Hitler in 1933, Gropi­us’ icon­ic Des­sau build­ing was com­mand­eered by the Nazis and the school moved to Ber­lin. Mies’ choice to stay in Ger­many, and in­deed col­lab­or­ate with the fas­cist au­thor­it­ies, has been chron­icled at length by Elaine Hoch­man in her 1989 study Ar­chi­tects of For­tune. Co­hen dis­misses this book as a bit of journ­al­ist­ic sen­sa­tion­al­ism, but its charges are worth tak­ing ser­i­ously. Sibyl Mo­holy-Nagy, for her part, nev­er for­gave him for this. “When [Mies] ac­cep­ted the com­mis­sion for the Reichs­bank in Ju­ly 1933, after the com­ing to power of Hitler, he was a trait­or to all of us and to everything we had fought for,” she wrote. In a 1965 let­ter, she fur­ther re­but­ted the his­tor­i­an Henry-Rus­sell Hitch­cock:

Mies van der Rohe seemed to be wholly a part of that slow death when he fi­nally ar­rived in this coun­try in 1937. His first scheme for the cam­pus of the Illinois In­sti­tute of Tech­no­logy is pain­fully re­min­is­cent of his deadly fas­cist designs for the Ger­man Reichs­bank, and the Krefeld Fact­ory of 1937 proved the old Ger­man pro­verb that he who lies down with dogs gets up with fleas. Yet he was the only one of the di­a­spora ar­chi­tects cap­able of start­ing a new life as a cre­at­ive de­sign­er fol­low­ing World War II, be­cause to him tech­no­logy was not a ro­mantic catch­word, as it had been for the Bauhaus pro­gram, but a work­able tool and an in­es­cap­able truth.

Per­son­ally, I am in­clined to agree with the judg­ment of Man­fredo Tafuri and his co-au­thor Francesco Dal Co. Mies was for the most part apolit­ic­al; i.e., “not con­nec­ted with any polit­ic­al ideo­logy.” Either way, as Mo­holy-Nagy her­self noted, he en­joyed great fame and prestige throughout the post­war peri­od, in which he con­sol­id­ated the form­al prin­ciples of the in­ter­na­tion­al style of the twen­ties and thirties, des­pite his op­pos­i­tion dur­ing those dec­ades to form­al­ism or “prob­lems of form.” However, Tafuri was right to deny this ap­par­ent vari­ance: “There is noth­ing more er­ro­neous than the in­ter­pret­a­tion of Mies van der Rohe in his late works as con­tra­dict­ing the Mies of the 1920s, or the read­ing of his late designs as re­nun­ci­at­ory in­cur­sions in­to the un­ruffled realm of the neoaca­dem­ic.” In many ways, it was only dur­ing this later phase of his ca­reer that Mies was able to real­ize the pro­gram­mat­ic vis­ion he laid out between 1921 and 1923. One need only take a look at the apart­ments he de­signed in Chica­go or Lake Point Tower, posthum­ously real­ized by his pu­pils John Hein­rich and George Schip­por­eit, to see the em­bod­i­ment of the spec­u­lat­ive of­fice build­ing and the sky­scraper he en­vi­sioned back in the 1920s. Really, it is a shame that Mies’ sig­na­ture style has lent it­self so eas­ily to im­it­a­tion, be­cause the fea­tures which seem rep­lic­able con­ceal the subtler secret of their pro­por­tions.

At any rate, you can down­load a num­ber of texts which deal with the work of Mies van der Rohe be­low. Fol­low­ing these there are a num­ber of im­ages, sketches and de­lin­eations of vari­ous proven­ance (most come from MoMA’s col­lec­tion), as well as pho­to­graphs of both Mies and build­ings which were real­ized. Texts on Mies writ­ten by Co­hen, Colquhoun, and Tafuri/Dal Co fin­ish these off.

Continue reading

Jan Tschichold and the new typography

.
Like many of his con­tem­por­ar­ies, Jan Tschich­old ad­hered to a kind of “apolit­ic­al so­cial­ism” dur­ing the 1920s. Wal­ter Gropi­us, Lud­wig Mies van der Rohe, and nu­mer­ous oth­ers shared this out­look. He helped design books for the left-wing “Book Circle” series from 1924 to 1926. Tschich­old quoted Trot­sky’s Lit­er­at­ure and Re­volu­tion (1924) with ap­prov­al in the in­aug­ur­al is­sue of Ty­po­graph­is­che Mit­teilun­gen, pub­lished that same year:

The wall di­vid­ing art and in­dustry will come down. The great style of the fu­ture will not dec­or­ate, it will or­gan­ize. It would be wrong to think this means the de­struc­tion of art, as giv­ing way to tech­no­logy.

Dav­id Crow­ley and Paul Job­ling sug­gest that “Tschich­old had been so en­am­ored of the So­viet Uni­on that he had signed his works ‘Iwan [Ivan] Tschich­old’ for a peri­od in the 1920s, and worked for Ger­man trade uni­ons.” Some of this en­thu­si­asm was doubt­less the res­ult of his con­tact with El Lis­sitzky and his Hun­gari­an dis­ciple László Mo­holy-Nagy, a le­gend in his own right.

In 1927, a pen man­u­fac­turer ac­cused Tschich­old of be­ing a com­mun­ist, which promp­ted fel­low ty­po­graph­er Stan­ley Mor­is­on to rise to his de­fense. From that point for­ward, his work be­came even less overtly polit­ic­al.

jan-tschichold-sonderheft-typographische-mitteilungen-1925

Yet he re­mained cog­niz­ant of the re­volu­tion­ary ori­gins of mod­ern or­tho­graphy. “At the same time that he was pro­mul­gat­ing the de­pol­it­i­cized func­tion­al­ism of the New Ty­po­graphy,” writes Steph­en Eskilson. “Tschich­old still re­cog­nized his debt to Con­struct­iv­ism’s Rus­si­an, com­mun­ist roots.” Chris­toph­er Burke thus also writes in his study of Act­ive Lit­er­at­ure: Jan Tschich­old and the New Ty­po­graphy that

Tschich­old’s com­pil­a­tion con­tains the Con­struct­iv­ists’ Pro­gram in an ed­ited and abridged — one might even say adul­ter­ated — Ger­man ver­sion ad­ap­ted by Tschich­old him­self. The Marx­ist-Len­in­ist rhet­or­ic of the ori­gin­al is sig­ni­fic­antly toned down: for ex­ample, the pro­clam­a­tion in the ori­gin­al that reads “Our sole ideo­logy is sci­entif­ic com­mun­ism based on the the­ory of his­tor­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism: loses its ref­er­ence to sci­entif­ic com­mun­ism in Tschich­old’s ver­sion. He was ob­vi­ously tail­or­ing the text for his read­er­ship in Ger­many, where the Novem­ber Re­volu­tion im­me­di­ately after the First World War had been ruth­lessly sup­pressed. The Ger­man Com­mun­ist Party lead­ers, Karl Lieb­knecht and Rosa Lux­em­burg, were murdered in cold blood on 15 Janu­ary 1919 by right-wing, coun­ter­re­volu­tion­ary troops with the ta­cit ac­cept­ance of the So­cial Demo­crat gov­ern­ment of the Wei­mar Re­pub­lic it­self.

Tschich­old him­self called for an ob­ject­ive, im­per­son­al, col­lect­ive work destined for all, es­pous­ing a vaguely left-wing but not overtly com­mun­ist point of view com­mon to many state­ments from this peri­od of In­ter­na­tion­al Con­struct­iv­ism in Ger­many. Des­pite quot­ing Trot­sky in Ele­ment­are Ty­po­graph­ie, Tschich­old did not be­long to the Ger­man Com­mun­ist Party, nor was he as­so­ci­ated with any par­tic­u­lar “-ism” or group, apart from the Ring neue Wer­begestal­ter later in the 1920s and 1930s, which had no polit­ic­al di­men­sion.

Re­gard­less, the Nazis sus­pec­ted Tschich­old of har­bor­ing com­mun­ist sym­path­ies. Continue reading

Architectural compositions by Iakov Chernikhov, 1924-1931

Iakov Chernikhov, composition (1920s), 30 x 23,8cm Iakov Chernikhov, architectural fantasy 1929, 30 x 24 cm Iakov Chernikhov, experimental composition from Foundations of Contemporary architecture 1920-1928, watercolor and india ink on paper 29,9 x 23,8cm

Iakov Georgievich Chernikhov was one of the most outstandingly original artists of a period which produced many great talents. He was born on December 17, 1889 in the Ukrainian provincial town of Pavlograd, and studied first at Odessa College of Art, from which he graduated in 1914, and then at Petrograd’s famous Imperial Art Academy, now the Russian Academy of Art. Here he studied painting and education before switching to the architectural faculty in 1916. One year later, Chernikhov completed his teacher training and his degree thesis on methods of teaching drawing. He was called up for military service in 1916, but managed to continue studying, working, and teaching, though he was unable to resume his studies at the architectural faculty of VKhUTEMAS [the Higher Art and Technical Studios, previously the Academy of Art] until 1922. By the time he completed his degree in 1925, he had gained many years’ experience of educational theory and practice.

From 1927 to 1936 he worked for various architectural firms, designing and building a large number of projects. Until his death in May 1951, Chernikhov also continued to teach a wide variety of graphic arts subjects, including representational geometry and construction drawing. He became a professor in 1934, and was granted tenure the following year. By the standards of his time, he was simply a successful and fulfilled architect. His publications earned him a favorable reputation among his colleagues between 1927 and 1933, but after the Stalinist era his name disappeared from the scene. Only now, many decades after his death, are some of his books and examples of his wide-ranging graphic art being republished, and the magnitude of his unique creative genius becoming more widely recognized. Chernikhov’s first book, The Art of Graphic Representation, was published in 1927 by the Leningrad Academy of Arts. It was a textbook for the drawing course which he had devised but, despite its title, its purpose was not to teach readers how to draw. Even in Chernikhov’s time, the title had an old-fashioned ring to it, but he wrote the book with much more modern aims in mind. It is about graphic, spatial, and abstract compositions, and seeks to encourage students to use lines, planes, and solid to express beauty and movement without depicting anything known or recognizable, experimenting with all the boundless possibilities open to them. This thin volume is actually an extract from Chernikhov’s wide-ranging work. It was aimed at young secondary school and university students with no training in (or experience of) drawing or painting, and was ambitious in its aims. Publications like this were very unusual, since for the previous fifteen years, modern art had been used to express slogans, manifestoes, and statements of principle.

Chernikhov second from the right, Odessa 1910 Iakov Chernikhov standing in center in Odessa, 1910s Chernikhov at a construction site, 1928

Pedagogy

.
Few of the leading figures in modern art were teachers, but as a passionate educationalist, Chernikhov regarded his books primarily as textbooks, and his superb graphics simply as illustrations. He used his exceptional talents in the service of education and, unlike many other gifted and famous artists and architects, did not prescribe specific styles or techniques, instead focusing on such down-to-earth subjects as the use of materials or ways of depicting form and space. The importance of the imagination to Chernikhov is apparent in the title of the first chapter: “Fantasy and Object.” The Art of Graphic Representation is primarily a way of depicting imaginary spaces, something at which he excelled, and his drive toward systematization compelled him to share this knowledge with others. To his mind, the ability to sketch and draw were essential, but the most important thing was imagination. Chernikhov’s work, which even his harshest critics freely admitted was unique, provides impressive evidence of the dominance of the imaginary over the factual and representational. Continue reading

Theo van Doesburg, Grundbegriffe der neuen gestaltenden Kunst (1925)

.
Below is an article written in memoriam of De Stijl founder Theo van Doesburg upon his death in 1931. It discusses his pivotal intervention in the life of the Bauhaus, where Dexel was a student. In between there are reproduced all 72 pages from his Grundbegriffe der neuen gestaltenden Kunst (1925), published as part of the Bauhausbücher series.
.

Theo van Doesburg

Walter Dexel
Das Neue Frankfurt
Vol. 4, №. 6 (1931)

.
On March 7, Theo van Doesburg died at Davos. He was a highly significant and almost a tragic figure, since the opportunity to realize his potential to the full was largely denied him — a fact that is hard to understand if one looks at some of those who are permitted to work.

He was a painter, an architect, a typographer, and from 1917 the founding editor of the magazine De Stijl, the first ever to campaign consistently for new formal design. (The cover of De Stijl remains an exemplary piece of modern typography — think of the visual changes that have overtaken our periodicals in the past decade, and you have one small illustration of Van Doesburg’s startling anticipation of present-day design principles.). He fought in the foremost ranks of the Dutch shock troops alongside Mondrian, Oud, Rietveld, Wils, Huszár, Van t’Hoff and others. What they stand for is well known. Now that he is dead, let us reflect for a moment on what we in Germany owe to Doesburg. Historical justice and the memory of an important man demand that we remember.

In 1921 Theo van Doesburg came to Weimar, with his vital energy and his clear critical mind — Weimar, where the Bauhaus had been in existence since 1919, and where a considerable number of modern artists were living, attracted by the wind of progress that used to blow — in those far-off days — through Thuringia. The credit for inviting Doesburg to Weimar goes to Adolf Meyer; straightforward, phlegmatic, and consistent, Meyer never diverged from the straight line that led from the buildings designed in cooperation with Gropius in Cologne and Alfeld to the works of his later, mature period in Frankfurt. The teaching appointment as such was not a success, since it proved impossible to bridge the gap between Doesburg’s views and those of the then dominant Bauhaus personalities. Continue reading

Bauhausbücher covers, № I-XIV (1925-1930)

.
Below are the covers to the books in the Bauhausbücher series, № 1-14.

  1. Walter Gropius, Internationale Architektur. Bauhausbücher 1, München 1925
  2. Paul Klee, Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch. Bd. 2, München 1925
  3. Adolf Meyer, Ein Versuchshaus des Bauhauses in Weimar. Bd. 3, München, 1925
  4. Oskar Schlemmer, Die Bühne im Bauhaus. Bd. 4, München 1925
  5. Piet Mondrian, Neue Gestaltung. Neoplastizismus. Bd. 5, Eschwege 1925
  6. Theo van Doesburg, Grundbegriffe der neuen gestaltenden Kunst. Bd. 6, München 1925
  7. Walter Gropius, Neue Arbeiten der Bauhauswerkstaetten. Bd. 7, München 1925
  8. Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Malerei, Fotografie, Film. Bd. 8, München 1925
  9. Wassily Kandinsky, Punkt und Linie zur Fläche: Beitrag zur Analyse der malerischen Elemente. Bd. 9, München, 1926
  10. Jan Peter Oud, Holländische Architektur, Bd. 10, München 1926
  11. Kasimir Malewitsch, Die gegenstandslose Welt, Bd. 11, München 1927
  12. Walter Gropius, Bauhausbauten Dessau. Bd. 12, München 1928
  13. Albert Gleizes, Kubismus. Bd. 13, München 1928
  14. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Von Material zu Architektur. Bd. 14, 1929

Enjoy.

Bauhausbucher1200252.w.1280bauhausbucher 3867502_4_lLászló Moholy-Nagy Bauhaus Books No. 5- %22Neoplasticism%22 by Piet Mondrian, 1925bauhausbucher 6Bauhausbucher 7bauhausbucher 8 moholy-nagyBauhausbucher 9 Kandinsky8868072_1_lBauhausbucher 11 MalewitschLászló Moholy-Nagy Bauhaus Books No. 12- %22Bauhaus Buildings, Dessau%22 by Walter Gropius, 1930Bauhausbucher 13laszlo_moholy-nagy-dust_jackets_for_2_of_the_series_of_14_bauhaus_books-19291317188312990moholy-nagy-brochure_cover_for_the_series_of_fourteen_bauhaus_books-19291317188247231

The transformation of the Aubette in Strasbourg (1926-1928)

Theo van Doesburg
Het Bouwbedrijf: Vol. 6, № 6
March 1929, pgs. 116-122
.
.
.

The mass, the opposition of the colors, the play of light give depth to certain surfaces, instill infinite values in all modulations of I don’t know what secret architecture, which is the gift of genius.

— H.A.C., in Les demières Nouvelles

.
The structure on the Place Kléber in Strasbourg, named “Aubette” is the remnant of a large but straggling monastic complex, dating from the thirteenth century; most of the buildings were demolished in the sixteenth century (1552). The remaining ones were adapted to military use. In 1764, in connection with the construction of new highways, the French architect Blondel was commissioned to build a structure on the Place Kléber which could serve as a model for the style of that time. Blondel, nicknamed “The Straightener,” encompassed the entire straggling complex in the enormous façade, which even now occupies nearly the full Northern side of the Place Kléber. This complex was named “Obet,” later “Aubette.” For nearly a century the building was used for military purposes, until in 1845 a café (Café Cade) was established there, to which in 1867 a concert hail was added, which served for quite a long time as a music school. In 1869 the Aubette was acquired by the city, which turned it partly into a museum in which paintings by famous masters were housed. A year later it was burned by the Germans, not a single artwork being saved. Only Blondel’s façade survived.

Aubette, Place Kléber, Straatsburgstrasbourg-place-kleber-petain-troops-25-11-1918 1Fi26_3

In 1911 the Place Kléber was to undergo an important renovation, in which no less than 46 architects would take part. However, the plans, now kept in the city archives, were never executed and thus the Aubette remained an undistinguished, neglected building, disgracing the square rather than enhancing it.

Just as the Aubette in Strasbourg was transformed in the course of time in accordance with the circumstances and the needs of the time, so the building presently has had to conform to contemporary needs. The Aubette, and primarily the right wing, has changed into an amusement center. In 1921 the developers Horn and Heitz Brothers leased the building from the city for a period of ninety years. The city stipulated, however, that no essential changes could be made in the façade, this being a Monument historique. Except for the marquee over the terrace, 53 m in length, which links the halls looking out on the square, and for the modern electric light sign on the façade, nothing on the exterior was changed. Nevertheless, the tall plate glass panes of the Five O’clock and the adjoining cafés, which are mounted in thin iron frames, give the façade a modern look. Originally, I had wanted the neon sign to run the length of the entire façade, but the city government, which is even now in litigation with the developers because the strictly horizontal, dominating marquee over the terrace does not correspond to the style of the eighteenth century, refused Its permission.

Plattegrond van de kelder, Aubette Plattegrond van de café-ruimtes, AubettePlattegrond van de entresol, Aubette

The developers — one of them, Mr. Paul Horn, is himself an architect — originally did not know what to do with the many halls. The projects designed during the first five years with the assistance of many architects-decorators were not executed. Among these there were all kinds of “modern” and “classic” style variations, with Biedermeier prevailing. On paper, the Aubette traversed all styles, from Empire to Jugendstil, and as they say, the realization was mainly prevented by the high costs and by the monetary instability of that time. Mr. Paul Horn had seen to it that the foundations were reinforced and had combined many smaller rooms into a few large ones. In short, the rough work had already been prepared when I got involved with the Aubette in September 1926. The Horn brothers invited me to come to Strasbourg and, encouraged by the possibility to realize my ideas about interior design on a grand scale and without restrictions, I accepted the commission to transform the principal halls in a modern sense, architecturally as well as aesthetically.

The first task was the design of new floor plans in accordance with the location and purpose of the various halls. These designs were approved by the city as well as by the developers without important changes. Here I operated in the most functional manner, but how could one possibly define a priori the whole life and activities in such a building before learning how they actually develop. The floor plans undeniably bore the mark of metropolitan activities, while I avoided defining function and purpose too strictly.

Theo van Doesburg, Sophie Tauber-Arp, and Jean Arp in Strassburg (1926)

I set myself the task of creating a galeria, aiming at connections between the spaces, which would allow the public to come and go, without the necessity of remaining in any one of the halls for a long time. The existing arcade, which separates the right wing from the left, connecting the main entrance at the square with one of the main streets in the center, facilitated this task. This arcade gives entrance to the spaces on the ground floor: cafés, restaurants, the Five O’clock (with decorations by Mrs. Täuber-Arp), pastry shop, bar, and service quarters with elevator.

Also to the stairwell, leading to the Caveau-Dancing and the upper floors. In order to assist the public in finding their bearings I placed an information chart at the main entrance of the arcade. Every section bears a number of a definite shape and color, while this same sign is clearly visible at the entrance to each room.

Located on the ground floor are the arcade, café-brasserie, café-restaurant, tearoom, the Aubette bar and a service area. In the basement are the telephone booths, toilets, coat rooms, the American bar and the Cabaret-Dance hall, painted by Hans Arp. On the mezzanine are located: toilets, coat rooms and a billiards room. On the first floor above ground level are the Cinéma-Dancing-Cabaret,a small and a large function room, and a service area. On the level above that are located the apartments of the director and the permanent staff; also the store rooms for provisions. In the adjoining rooms are the offices, while the enormous kitchens and the cooling installations are on the mezzanine.

The principal materials used for the interiors, in accordance with modern requirements, are: concrete, iron, plate glass, aluminum, nickel, hard caoutchouc (used for the first time by me for stair banisters and bars on doors), terrazzo, rabitz, linoleum, parquet, tiles, duralumin, lincrusta, ripolin, frosted glass, rubber, leather, enamel, silver leaf etc, I avoided the use of wood as much as possible: the doors are all executed in iron and plate glass without subdivisions. The windows and doors giving onto the arcade were extended up to the ceiling, making for maximal light, transparency and orderliness. Hereby the annoying space between ceiling and window and between ceiling and door was eliminated. Continue reading

El Lissitzky’s Soviet pavilion at the Pressa exhibition in Cologne, 1928

The revolution on display
.

El Lissitzky was one of the great masters of Soviet avant-garde art and architecture. Besides Malevich, Tatlin, and Rodchenko, Lissitzky is probably the most famous Russian modernist from this period. He was certainly the most internationally renowned. Part of the reason for this was his numerous expeditions abroad, throughout Western Europe, usually sent there by the USSR’s Commissar of Enlightenment, Anatolii Lunacharskii.

International constructivism followed him, as he met and worked closely with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, J.J.P. Oud, Mart Stam, and a host of others. Journals, too: VeshchGABC.

El Lissitzky, The Constructor (self-portrait, 1925)

El Lissitzky, The Constructor (self-portrait, 1925)

After 1926, Lissitzky began to design pavilions for the Soviet Union for international exhibitions. Konstantin Mel’nikov’s striking pavilion from the 1925 Paris Expo set a very high standard for formal dynamism and innovative use of materials. Many looked to the Soviets to continue to lead the way. (De Stijl impresario Theo van Doesburg was only impressed by Mel’nikov’s building and one other at the 1925 show). Lissitzky’s crowning achievement as far as exhibition displays went was the 1928 “Pressa” exhibition in Cologne. “Pressa” was meant to showcase the journalistic culture of the various countries that participated.

What follows are a number of rare images from that show. Some of them are extremely high resolution. A few translated passages of reviews in the German and British press are also included along with some of Lissitzky’s own remarks.

With Lissitzky, all the possibilities of a new exhibition technique were explored: in place of a tedious succession of framework, containing dull statistics, he produced a new purely visual design of the exhibition space and its contents, by the use of glass, mirrors, celluloid, nickel, and other materials; by contrasting these newfangled materials with wood, lacquer, textiles and photographs; by the use of natural objects instead of pictures…by bringing a dynamic element into the exhibition by means of continuous films, illuminated and intermittent letters and a number of rotating models. The room thus became a sort of stage on which the visitor himself seemed to be one of the players. The novelty and vitality of the exhibition did not fail: this was proved by the fact that this section attracted by far the largest number of visitors, and had at times to be closed owing to overcrowding.

Jan Tschichold, “Display that has
dynamic force: Exhibition rooms by
Lissitzky,” Commercial Art (1931)

A trip to the individual displays, and around the pavilion as a whole, will give the viewer an idea of the tremendous results achieved during ten years of Soviet activity.

— Die Welt am Abend
Berlin (5/25/1928)

The Soviet pavilion at the “Pressa” exhibition is a towering achievement, unique in its imaginative content, and unparalleled in its power of illustrative effect.

— Freiheit
Dusseldorf

5.26.1928

Katalog des Sowjet-Pavillons auf der Internationalen Presse-Ausstellung Köln 1928, pgs 3-5Katalog des Sowjet-Pavillons auf der Internationalen Presse-Ausstellung Köln 1928, pgs 6-8Katalog des Sowjet-Pavillons auf der Internationalen Presse-Ausstellung Köln 1928, pgs 9-11

My most important work as an artist began in 1926: the design of exhibition rooms. That year I was asked by the committee of the International Art Exhibition in Dresden to create the room of non-objective [Suprematist] art and was sent there by “Voks” [the commissariat/embassy that works with countries abroad]. After an educational trip — the new architecture in Holland being the subject — I returned to Moscow in the autumn.

El Lissitzky (1932) Continue reading

Color and light in modern architecture

.
In 1929, the Soviet avant-garde journal Modern Architecture (Современная архитектура, or СА) published a special issue devoted to color and light in design. Below is an embedded link to the full issue on Scribd, as well as some lower-quality scans of individual pages. More later. Enjoy these for now.

The modernism of Charlotte Perriand

.
Charlotte Perriand is one of those rare figures from history (not just architectural history) about whom it is possible to say immediately and without reservation was a genius. By age 23, she had already designed the chaise longue for which she would become famous and established herself as a prominent collaborator alongside one of the most notoriously demanding architects of the age: Le Corbusier. What follows are a number of images — photos, sketches, drawings — of her work along with a brief reflection by the historian Mary McLeod on Perriand and the broader discourse of feminist historiography in architecture as a whole.

I include McLeod’s essay not because it offers a standard feminist reading of architecture in general or Perriand in particular. Quite simply, it doesn’t. Besides, I never found accounts such as Flora Samuel’s Le Corbusier: Architect and Feminist all that convincing, whatever her intentions might have been. Though McLeod remains committed to feminism in the context of architecture, she raises a number of issues that complicate simplistic approaches such as Beatriz Colomina’s which seek to “rescue” the neglected contributions of women in architecture and design from historical obscurity. Moreover, she challenges the “strategic essentialism” of poststructuralist accounts of gender, which tend to accept men’s self-identification with rationality, industry, and functionality and counterpose emotionality, domesticity, and formality as feminine alternatives. On the contrary, rather than cede these flattering associations to masculinity, McLeod demonstrates that Perriand was every bit as formalistically spare and ergonomically attuned as her male counterparts.
.

La femme au Salon des Artistes Décorateurs, article de Gaston Derys, 1926

“La femme au Salon des Artistes Décorateurs,” by Gaston Derys (1926)

Perriand: Reflections of feminism and modern
………..…architecture

Mary McLeod
Harvard Design
Magazine
(2004)

.
In the United States today, feminist architecture history — like feminism in general — has nearly disappeared. The flood of publications during the early 1990s (Sexuality and Space, The Sex of Architecture, Architecture and Feminism) has by now ground to a halt; few schools continue to offer classes on “gender and architecture”; and scholars in their twenties or thirties tend to find other subjects — sustainability, digitalization, and globalization — more compelling. In addition to the larger social and political forces that seem to militate against feminist scholarship these days, its very success over the past three decades may have contributed to its decline. Names of once-forgotten women have been resurrected, the reputations of architecture’s male heroes have been taken down a notch or two, and blatant examples of sexual inequity and discrimination in the profession have been exposed, if not resolved. However, most feminist architecture historians and critics would reject any assessment of their project as complete, or its viability as dependent upon academic fashion. Although this lull is undoubtedly considered a setback, one positive byproduct may be that it offers a period of relative calm, removed from the heated polemics of an earlier period, to reflect on feminist historical writing and to reexamine its methods and premises.

Recently, I had just such an opportunity as the editor and one of the authors of a book on the French designer Charlotte Perriand.(1) Perriand is often grouped together with Eileen Gray and Lilly Reich as one of the unsung “heroes” of the European Modern Movement, whose design accomplishments have been eclipsed by those of the acknowledged giants: Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Aside from the three tubular-steel chairs that she designed with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret as a member of their firm, Perriand’s work was little known, even though her career spanned three-quarters of a century and extended to locales as diverse as Brazil, Congo, England, France, Japan, French New Guinea, Switzerland, and Vietnam. My initial interest in undertaking this book was sparked by a desire to redress this “wrong” and to make certain that her innovative designs would be removed from the shadow of Le Corbusier’s towering presence. However, the frequently collaborative nature of her work — like that of Reich, Ray Eames, and Alison Smithson — has made it more difficult to assess her contributions. In addition, like many successful women architects of her generation, Perriand did not wish to perceive herself first and foremost as a woman designer; nor did she particularly identify with the feminist movement in France, thus complicating efforts to cast her as a “role model” for contemporary women practitioners. Her career necessitated a more complex reading of the ways that gender intersected with Modern architecture than I had originally envisioned and raised several issues about the assumptions underlying many feminist readings of that architecture.

The first of these is the tendency to see women architects as victims, whose talent and vital contributions have been suppressed by their male collaborators or associates. This interpretation had a certain strategic value in the 1970s and 1980s, alerting architects to the shortcomings of the “Modern masters” and bringing the issue of gender discrimination to the fore. No doubt there were disturbing inequities in the profession, as is clearly evident in Le Corbusier’s oft-quoted, dismissive response to Perriand — “We don’t embroider cushions in my atelier” — when she first asked him for a job there. However, Perriand’s deep admiration for Le Corbusier, her insistence that being a woman did not interfere with her career, and her pleasure in seeing her work as part of a collaborative process all suggest that this characterization of women designers as victims, at least in Perriand’s case, has been overstated.

Here, a personal anecdote might be relevant. When I interviewed Perriand in 1997 and mentioned the photograph of her reclining on the chaise lounge with her head turned away from the camera, she responded angrily to a question about Beatriz Colomina’s reading of the image as representing Le Corbusier’s denial of her authorship and creative vision.(2) Perriand told me that she herself had set up the shot, that Pierre Jeanneret took the photo, and that Le Corbusier played no role in its conception and in fact was not there at the time. She insisted that it was her choice to turn her head in order to emphasize the chaise rather than its occupant, and that it was also her choice to use that image in her photomontage of the model apartment that she designed with Le Corbusier and Jeanneret for the 1929 Salon d’Automne apartment building. Continue reading