Building in empty spaces (1959)

New houses and real clarity
Ernst Bloch, translated by
Frank Mecklenburg

Obstetric forceps have to be smooth, a pair of sugar-tongs not at all.

— Ernst Bloch, The Spirit of Utopia (1918)

Today, in many places, houses look as if they were ready to travel. Although they are unadorned, or precisely because of that, they express their farewell. Their interior is bright and sterile like hospital rooms, the exterior looks like boxes on top of mobile poles, but also like ships. They have flat decks, portholes, gangways, railings; they shine white and to the south, and as ships they like to disappear. Western architecture is so sensitive that for quite some time it has indirectly sensed the war that is the embodiment of Hitler, and it gets ready for that war. Thus even the form of a ship, which is purely decorative, does not seem real enough for the motif of escape that most people in the capitalist world of war have. For some time now there have been projects in this world to build houses without windows, houses that are artificially illuminated and air-conditioned, that are completely made of steel; the whole thing is like an armored house. Although during its creation, modern architecture was basically oriented toward the outside, toward the sun and the public sphere, there is now a general increasing desire for an enclosed security of life, at least in the private sphere.

The initial principle of the new architecture was openness: it broke the dark cave. It opened vistas through light glass walls, but this will for balance with the outside world came doubtlessly too early. The de-internalization (Entinnerlichung) turned into shallowness; the southern delight for the world outside, while looking at the capitalist external world today, did not turn into happiness. For there is nothing good that happens on the streets, under the sun. The open door, the wide open window is threatening during the era of Fascisization (Faschisierung). The house might again become a fortress if not the catacombs. The wide window filled with a noisy outside world needs an outside full of attractive strangers, not full of Nazis; the glass door down to the floor really presupposes sunshine that looks in and comes in, not the Gestapo. And certainly not with a connection to the trenches of World War I, but definitely with the Maginot Line of World War II, even though it was futile, the plan of a subterranean city developed — as a city of safeguard. Instead of skyscrapers, the projects of “earth-scrapers” invite, the shining holes of groundhogs, the rescuing city that consists of basements. Above, in the daylight, on the other hand, the less real but decorative escape plan of a flying city occurred, utopia-ized in Stuttgart and also in Paris: the houses rise as bullet-like forms on top of a pole, or as veritable balloons they are suspended from wire ropes. In the latter case, the suspended buildings seem particularly isolated and ready for departure. But also these playful forms only demonstrate that houses have to be dreamed of, here as caves, there on top of poles.

But what if under such conditions a jump toward brightness is to be demonstrated? That has indeed been tried in architecture, but with the affirmedly uncomfortable desire for many windows and equally sterile plain houses and instruments. Certainly, those things presented themselves as the cleansing from the junk of the last century and its terrible decorations. But the longer that lasted, the more it became clear that the mere elimination was all that remained — within the limits of late bourgeois emptiness — it had to be that way. The longer that lasted, the clearer the inscription above the Bauhaus and the slogan connected to it emerged: Hurray, we have no ideas left. When a lifestyle is as decadent as the late bourgeois one, then mere architectural reform can no longer be shrouded but must be without soul. That is the result when between plush and tubular steel chairs, between post offices in Renaissance style and egg boxes there is no third thing that grips the imagination. The effect is the more chilling as there is no longer any hiding place but only illuminated kitsch, even if, which is indisputable, the beginning had been ever so clean, that is to say, vacuum clean. Continue reading

Lev Rudnev’s “City of the Future” (1925), before his turn to Stalinist neo-Classicism

Modernist architecture archive

IMAGE: Lev Rudnev’s City of the future (1925),
before his turn to Stalinist neoclassicism


An update on the Modernist Architecture Archive/Database I discussed a couple posts ago.  I’ve begun work on it, and have uploaded almost half of the documents I intend to include.  Only a few of the Russian ones are up yet, but I’m hoping to post them over the next couple days.  There are many more on the way.

Anyway, anyone interested in taking a look at this archive (arranged as a continuous text) can access it here.

However, this might not be the most convenient way to browse through it all.  For a more manageable overall view of each of the individual articles (detailing the author, title, and year of publication), click here.