Hannes Meyer, The new world [Die neue Welt] (1926)

The flight of the “Norge” to the North pole, the Zeiss planetarium at Jena and Flettner’s rotor ship represent the latest stages to be reported in the mechanization of our planet. Being the outcome of extreme precision of thought, they all provide striking evidence of the way in which science continues to permeate our environment. Thus in the diagram to the present age we find everywhere amidst sinuous lines of its social and economic fields of force straight lines which are mechanical and scientific in origin. They are cogent evidence of the victory of man the thinker over amorphous nature. This new knowledge undermines and transforms existing values. It gives our new world its shape.

Motor cars dash along our streets. On a traffic island in the Champs Elysées from 6 to 8 p.m. there rages round one metropolitan dynamism at its most strident. “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. We have a keener sense of speed than ever before, and speed records are a direct gain for all. Gliding, parachute descents and music hall acrobatics refine our desire for balance. 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. With swimming pools, sanatoria, and public lavatories, hygiene appears on the local scene and its water closets, faience washbowls and baths usher in the new line of sanitary fittings in earthenware. Fordson tractors and v. Meyenburg cultivators have resulted in a shift of emphasis in land development and sped up the tilling of the earth and intensive cultivation of crops. Borrough’s calculating machine sets free our brain, the Dictaphone our hand, Ford’s motor our place-bound senses and Handley Page our earthbound spirits. 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: “His Master’s Voice,” “Vox,” and “Brunswick” see to the musical needs of millions. Psychoanalysis has burst open the all too narrow dwelling of the soul and graphology has laid bare the character of the individual. “Mazdaism,” “Coué” and “Die Schönheit” are signs of the desire for reform breaking out everywhere. National costume is giving way to fashion and the external masculinization of woman shows that inwardly the two sexes have equal rights. Biology, psychoanalysis, relativity, and entomology are common intellectual property: France, Einstein, Freud, and Fabre are the saints of this latterday. Our homes are more mobile than ever. Large blocks of flats, sleeping cars, house yachts, and transatlantic liners undermine the local concept of the “homeland.” The fatherland goes into a decline. We learn Esperanto. We become cosmopolitan.


The steadily increasing perfection attained in printing, photographic, and cinematographic processes enables the real world to be reproduced with an ever greater degree of accuracy. The picture the landscape presents to the eye today is more diversified than ever before; hangars and power houses are the cathedrals of the spirit of the age. This picture has the power to influence through the specific shapes, colors, and lights of its modern elements: the wireless aerials, the dams, the lattice girders: through the parabola of the airship, the triangle of the traffic signs, the circle of the railway signal, the rectangle of the billboard; through the linear element of transmission lines: telephone wires, overhead tram wires, high-tension cables; through radio towers, concrete posts, flashing lights, and filling stations. Our children do not deign to look at a snorting steam locomotive but entrust themselves with cool confidence to the miracle of electric traction. G. Palucca’s dances, von Laban’s movement choirs, and D. Mesendieck’s functional gymnastics are driving out the aesthetic eroticism of the nude painting. The stadium has carried the day against the art museum, and physical reality has taken the place of beautiful illusion. Sport merges the individual into the mass. Sport is becoming the university of collective feeling. Suzanne Lenglen’s cancellation of a match disappoints hundreds of thousands, Breitensträter’s defeat sends a shiver through hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of thousands follow Nurmi’s race over 10,000 meters on the running track. The standardization of our requirements is shown by: the bowler hat, bobbed hair, the tango, jazz, the Co-op product, the DIN standard size, and Liebig’s meat extract. The standardization of mental fare is illustrated by the crowds going to see Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks, and Jackie Coogan. Grock and the three Fratellini weld the masses — irrespective of class and racial differences — into a community with a common fate. Trade union, co-operative, Lt., Inc., cartel, trust, and the League of Nations are the forms in which today’s social conglomerations find expression, and the radio and the rotary press are their media of communication. Co-operation rules the world. The community rules the individual.

Each age demands its own form. It is our mission to give our new world a new shape with the means of today. But our knowledge of the past is a burden that weighs upon us, and inherent in our advanced education are impediments tragically barring our new paths. The unqualified affirmation of the present age presupposes the ruthless denial of the past. The ancient institutions of the old — the classical grammar schools and the academies — are growing obsolete. The municipal theaters and the museums are deserted. The jittery helplessness of the applied arts is proverbial. In their place, unburdened by classical airs and graces, by an artistic confusion of ideas or the trimmings of applied art, the witnesses of a new era are arising: industrial fairs, grain silos, music halls, airports, office chairs, standard goods. All these things are the product of a formula: function multiplied by economics. They are not works of art. Art is composition, purpose is function. The composition of a dock seems to us a nonsensical idea, but the composition of a town plan, a block of flats…?? Building is a technical not an aesthetic process, artistic composition does not rhyme with the function of a house matched to its purpose. Ideally and in its elementary design our house is a living machine. Retention of heat, insolation, natural and artificial lighting, hygiene, weather protection, car maintenance, cooking, radio, maximum possible relief for the housewife, sexual and family life, etc. are the determining lines of force. The house is their component. (Snugness and prestige are not leitmotifs of the dwelling house: the first resides in the human heart and not in the Persian carpet, the second in the attitude of the house-owner and not on the wall of a room!) Today we have new building materials at our disposal for building a house: aluminium and duralumin in plates, rods, and bars, Euboölith, Ruberoid, Forfoleum, Eternit, rolled glass, Triplex sheets, reinforced concrete, glass bricks, faience, steel frames, concrete frame slabs and pillars, Trolith, Galalith, Cellon, Goudron, Ripoliin, indanthrene paints, etc. We organize these building elements into a constructive unity in accordance with the purpose of the building and economic principles. Architecture has ceased to be an agency continuing the growth of tradition or an embodiment of emotion. Individual form, building mass, natural color of material, and surface texture come into being automatically and this functional conception of building in all its aspects leads to pure construction [Konstruktion]. Pure construction is the characteristic feature of the new world of forms. Constructive form is not peculiar to any country; it is cosmopolitan and the expression of an international philosophy of building. Internationalism is the prerogative of our time.

Today every phase of our culture of expression is predominantly constructive. Human inertia being what it is, it is not surprising that such an approach is to be found most clearly at first where the Greeks and Louis XIV have never set foot: in advertising, in typographical mechanical composition, in the cinema, in photographic processes. The modern poster presents lettering and product or trademark conspicuously arranged. It is not a poster work of art but a piece of visual sensationalism. In the display window of today psychological capital is made of the tensions between modern materials with the aid of lighting. It is display window organization rather than window dressing. It appeals to the finely distinguishing sense of materials found in modern man and covers the gamut of its expressive power: fortissimo = tennis shoes to Havana cigarettes to scouring soap to nut chocolate! Mezzo-forte = glass (as a bottle) to wood (as a packing case) to pasteboard (as packing) to tin (as a can)! Pianissimo = silk pajamas to cambric shirts to Valenciennes lace to “L’Origan de Coty”! 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


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 city as a regulated industry: Cornelis van Eesteren and urban planning

Umberto Barbieri
Urbanista revista
№ 8, June 1989

to be completely elementarily experienced again, and only by elementary means can beauty be attained again. In the first place it is a question of proportion, not of form. (…)

The drawings only indicate an idea of the form, the embryo of the form.

Cor. v. Eesteren, “Moderne Stedebouwbeginselen
in de Practijk,” De Stijl, vol. VI. № 10/11 (1925)

Cornelis van Eesteren won the 1921 Prix de Rome award for architecture with his design for an Academy of Sciences, Literature and Arts in Amsterdam. This design, made while he was still a student, has a classical layout, characterized by symmetry, monumentality, and decorative elements. His prize was a bursary to travel to Germany and Scandinavia in order to study the use of brick in architecture.

Van Eesteren’s stay in Berlin, one of the stops on his European trip, provided his first confrontation not only with the reality of the big city, but also with the culture of the avant-garde.

He met Hans Richter and Adolph Behne, who advised him to continue his studies at the Bauhaus in Weimar. That is where he met Theo van Doesburg for the first time, marking the start of a “relationship” that was to last until 1925. Van Eesteren’s interim report to the Prix de Rome commission for the purpose of extending his bursary demonstrated his interest in the subject of urban construction: his reflections on Berlin, for instance, revealed his specific observation of that city, focussed on the way traffic functioned and on city zoning.

In 1923 a number of parameters could already be observed in van Eesteren’s work pertaining to ideas about urban planning such as the differentiation of residential and working districts, a redefinition of the historical center, the links between the various functions and the regulation of the use of land. A start to putting this approach to the urban phenomenon into actual practice was made in 1929, the year van Eesteren was given a job at the recently-established Department of Urban Development in Amsterdam. In the meantime he had experimented on various scales and in various situations with constructing and deconstructing architectonic material.

His collaboration with van Doesburg was of crucial importance for this examination.

As stated above, the Weimar encounter of May 4th 1922 between van Eesteren and the founder of De Stijl marked the  start of an intense association in theoretical and design matters. Together they developed the famous Stijl models (the Rosenberg house, a private residence and an artist’s house) which were exhibited in 1923 at the Stijl show in Rosenberg’s Paris gallery. They composed manifestos for the occasion, heralding the second, constructive period of De Stijl. The first declaration proclaimed the end of destruction and the beginning of the great age of construction. It was folio wed by the manifesto Towards a Plastic Architecture, published in 1924, in which van Doesburg announced the new architecture to be elementary, i.e. developed from elements of construction in the widest sense. These elements such as: function, mass, plane, time, space, light, color, material, etc., are also plastic elements. Continue reading

Bury me beneath the Black Square

The Suprematist funeral
of Kazimir Malevich

Image: Malevich’s funeral procession,
his coffin carried by Suetin and others (1935)


On the death of Kazimir Malevich

Daniil Kharms

Ripping the stream of memory,
You look around and your face is pride-stricken.
Your name is — Kazimir.
The sun of your salvation wanes and you look at it.
Beauty has supposedly torn apart your earth’s mountains,
No area can frame your figure.
Give me those eyes of yours! I’ll throw open a window in my head!
Man, why have you stricken your face with pride?
Your life is only a fly and your desire is succulent food.
No glow comes from the sun of your salvation.
Thunder will lay low the helmet of your head.

Daniil Kharms, aburdist Soviet poet

Daniil Kharms, aburdist Soviet poet

Pe — is the inkpot of your words.
Trr — is your desire.
Agalthon — is your skinny memory.
Hey, Kazimir! Where’s your desk?
Looks as if it’s not here, and your desire is — Trr.
Hey, Kazimir! Where’s your friend?
She is also gone, and your memory’s inkpot is — Pe.

Eight years have crackled away in those ears of yours.
Fifty minutes have beat away in that heart of yours.
Ten times has the river flowed before you.
The inkpot of your desire Trr and Pe has ended.
“Imagine that!” you say, and your memory is — Agalthon.
There you stand, pushing apart smoke with your hands supposedly.
The pride-stricken expression on that face of yours wanes,
And your memory and your desire Trr disappear.

May 17, 1935
Translated by
Ilya Bernstein Continue reading

The Soviet Avant-Garde: International Reflections of the OSA-ASNOVA (Constructivist-Rationalist) Split

Architectural Experiment from Nikolai Ladovskii's Studio at VKhUTEMAS, 1924



In his landmark structural analysis of the antinomical tendencies existing within Russian culture (broadly termed “Culture One” and “Culture Two”),[1] Vladimir Paperny locates a subset of contradictions operative in the context of the former considered by itself.  This second-order oppositional pair he identifies corresponds to the two main positive bases of modernist architecture we have already set forth: the contours of abstract art on the one hand, and modern industrialism (and more specifically, the machine) on the other.  While it is difficult to see how this opposition fits into Paperny’s broader scheme of Russian history as a whole — for he claims that these cultural patterns recur, and the existence of this particular binary in earlier epochs seems unlikely — his conceptual division of these two tendencies is entirely correct with reference to the 1920s.  He explained this internal tension within Soviet avant-garde culture as follows:

In Culture One there is yet another pair of opposing tendencies…One element in this pair is bespredmetnichestvo (nonfigurative art), the rejection of any resemblance between an artistic creation and life and thus the affirmation of the right of art to speak in its own language.  The other element is zhiznestroenie (life-building), the complete blending of art with life.

The first tendency in Culture One led to the appearance of abstract painting, the montage in cinematography, the experiments of Kandinsky and Ladovskii regarding the perception of forms and colors, the arkhitektons of Malevich, El Lissitzky’s PROUNs (Projects for the Affirmation of the New), and, ultimately, to rationalism [or formalism] in architecture.

The second tendency led to Maiakovskii’s political posters for the ROSTA (Russian Telegraph Agency) windows, Tatlin’s chair and flying device called Letatlin, the documentary films of Dziga Vertov and Esfir’Shub, the designs for a city of the future by the sculptor Anton Lavinskii, and, ultimately, to constructivism (or functionalism) in architecture.

Both these trends, as with the two preceding ones, barely existed in a pure form, and every position presented itself as an intervening point between the two poles…Culture One succeeded in seeing abstract beauty in efficacious structures and efficacy in abstract compositions.[2]

Cover of the Publication "Architecture of VKhUTEMAS" (1927), Designed by El Lissitzky

Cover of the Constructivist Journal "Modern Architecture," Tenth Anniversary of October 1917 Edition (1927), Designed by Aleksei Gan

Although many have made the point that in their realized structures — that is, in those buildings that were actually built — the works of the Rationalists in ASNOVA and of the Constructivists in OSA bear an undeniable resemblance to one another,[3] the theoretical differences between the two groups were by no means insignificant (even if they seemed to produce similar results).  Indeed, visiting the Soviet Union in 1929, no less an architect than Bruno Taut admitted that “it is really very difficult for an outsider to understand the difference between the so-called ‘constructivists’ and the ‘formalists.’”[4]  Even Moisei Ginzburg, who would come to be one of the staunchest representatives of Constructivist architecture, sought early on to minimize the differences between the two tendencies.  In 1923 he thus asserted: “‘Rationalism,’ ‘Constructivism,’ and all such nicknames are only outward representations of a striving for modernity, one which is more profound and fertile than might seem the case at first glance and which is engendered by the new aesthetic of a mechanized life.”[5]

Despite such admissions, there are still many good reasons for taking this split within the Soviet architectural avant-garde seriously.  Their differences were both presented on consistently principled grounds and were, moreover, symptomatic of a broader and more basic contradiction within modernist theory as a whole.  Though professional rivalries and personal antipathies no doubt played a role in these groups’ relations, it is important to examine their points of disagreement on their own terms, as historians like Catherine Cooke and Anatole Kopp have to some extent.[6]  The suggestion that such deep-seated disputes were motivated simply by jealousy, dislike, or competition over commissions fails to hold up when placed under scrutiny.  Too many other factors intervene: parallel developments in the arts (particularly in theater) and sciences (particularly in the field of industrial psychology), similar divisions along international lines (between, for example, the Dutch Neoplasticists and the German Functionalists), and the privileging of one set of positive principles over another (as with the emphasis on abstract form versus concrete function).  What is more, the inherently totalizing and systematic nature of modernist architectural thought, which will be the specific focus of the next subsection, prevented the members of these rival avant-garde factions from readily compromising their ideals or making concessions.  They rejected any approach they felt was incompatible with their own doctrines.  This all-or-nothing mentality of the modernists is further evidenced in the turn towards city planning, which gave rise to even greater disagreements and divisions within both OSA and ASNOVA.  Such later fragmentations as these will be dealt with in the course of our discussion of the international avant-garde’s eventual turn towards urbanism in the second half of the 1920s.

J.J.P. Oud's Cafe de Unie (1925) retains Neoplasticist overtones long after his split from De Stijl

Rietveld's very Neoplasticist Schroderhuis (1923)

Beyond those who were themselves involved in Soviet modernist architecture, there were a number of observers and commentators at the time who recognized these rival tendencies.  “[I]n Russia two tendencies can be discerned…: one of aesthetic experiment, and one of constructive functionalism,” noted Theo van Doesburg in his 1928 article, “Abstraction, Dream, and Utopia: Conflicting Movements in Russian Architecture.”[7]  This split he identifies, which corresponds to the distinction between the Rationalists and Constructivists in architecture, was in some sense mirrored in his own experience.  For while the division between painterly-aesthetic formalist tendencies on the one hand and industrial-constructive functionalist currents on the other was nowhere more pronounced than in Russia, especially at a national level, this tension could be seen at work in modern architecture elsewhere.  In some sense, this runs counter to Paperny’s thesis that no equivalent opposition existed in the West, but only superficially.[8]  Van Doesburg had witnessed firsthand the division between rigorous formalism based on abstract painting as practiced by himself and his countrymen — Robert van’t Hoff, and to a lesser extent, Gerrit Rietveld and Mart Stam — and rigorous functionalism based on industrial design as practiced by the (predominantly German) proponents of the Neue Sachlichkeit.  Even earlier, within the ranks of van Doesburg’s journal De Stijl, a similar feud had broken out between the architect Oud, who favored the examples of industrial machinery,[9] and the painter Mondrian, who favored his own Neoplasticist abstractions.[10]  Oud departed De Stijl in 1921 after van Doesburg sided with Mondrian on this issue,[11] though Oud would remain (at least tacitly) more committed to the aesthetic dimension of architecture than his more severe counterparts in German functionalism.[12]  At least in theory, the De Stijl architect Rietveld attempted to reconcile these two poles of modernist architecture by aiming “to determine the relationship between beauty and art, as well as the relationship between these two and utility and construction.”  He proposed (by way of negation) that architecture should seek a middle ground, choosing to take the somewhat safer position of neutrality: “It seems just as wrong to me to accept or reject constructional forms for aesthetic reasons as to accept or reject aesthetic elements on constructional or economic grounds.”[13]  And in practice, Rietveld was rather successful in compromising between the two poles, as his famous Schröderhuis attests.  Despite his earlier affiliation with De Stijl and painterly Neoplasticism, however, Rietveld eventually ended up identifying with the “international style” of functionalism by the beginning of the 1930s.[14]

Walter Gropius' famous Bauhaus Building at Dessau (1926)

The Bauhaus Dessau Building (1926) with notes

Scharoun's 'Panzerkreuzer' block at Siemmensstadt (1929-1934)

The rift that existed in Soviet avant-garde architecture between its positive basis in abstract art and its positive basis in industrial design was reproduced in miniature in the debates between van Doesburg and his followers and Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus school at both Weimar and Dessau.  In 1921, after being denied a position at the newly opened Bauhaus, van Doesburg set up shop in Weimar as a competitor to its course of design.[15]  While he praised the school’s stated goal of unifying the various arts under the rubric of architecture,[16] van Doesburg was highly critical of its actual achievements.[17]  Following the emergence of the Neue Sachlichkeit in German architecture around the Bauhaus, van Doesburg swiftly wrote an article “Defending the Spirit of Space: Against a Dogmatic Functionalism.”  As its title would suggest, this piece defended the spatiotemporal basis of architecture imparted by abstract art against the overzealous application of industrial forms and ideas.  “Undoubtedly, a so strictly functionalistic layout of the spaces will be considered the most appropriate and most economical one,” he admitted.  “In reality, though, this is not true.  Already from a purely practical perspective this architecture, because of its individual shape, does not lend itself to spatial expansion.”[18]  Later, van Doesburg derided the overly Taylorized, industrialist approach to architecture as creating “an absolute rigidity and sterilization of our lives.”[19]  Likewise, his former collaborator Rietveld (whom Gropius did end up hiring for the Bauhaus) — although he eventually came to embrace the mantle of functionalism — also took aim at what he identified as German functionalism’s peculiar inflexibility.  Rietveld did not blindly endorse every sort of functionalism: “Not only in Holland, but in Austria and France (and maybe Japan and Russia, currently very much influenced by Germany, will soon follow), people now see very clearly that the German program for a new functionalism is much too narrow, uncompromising, and lacking in flexibility.”[20]  Mondrian, though long since estranged from Rietveld and van Doesburg, also stressed the abstract formal properties of the new architecture over utilitarian considerations.  “At present, I see no chance of achieving perfect plastic expression by simply following the structure of what we build, studying its utility alone…,” wrote Mondrian.  “We therefore need a new aesthetic based on the pure relationships of pure lines and colors, for only pure relationships of pure constructive elements can result in pure beauty.”[21]

Theo van Doesburg and Cornelis van Eesteren, Architectural Sketch (1924)

Frederick Kiesler's "Cité dans l'espace" (1925)

Though Teige rightly credited the early De Stijl influence on the Bauhaus as helping “to eradicate [its] surviving expressionist tendencies,” the German functionalists coming out of this school toward the end of its years in Weimar and its first years in Dessau were mutually critical of the Dutch movement’s aesthetic adherence to “the new ‘orthogonal’ formalism.”[22]  In Gropius’ reflective 1934 “Appraisal of the Development of Modern Architecture,” he acknowledged its initial influence while dismissing its overall value, writing: “The ‘Stijl’ movement had a marked effect as propaganda, but it overemphasized formalistic tendencies, and so…made ‘cubic’ forms fashionable.”[23]  Indeed, though he viewed movements like the Neue Sachlichkeit as too limited and one-sided,[24] Gropius’ evolution from an organicist and expressionist architectural ideology to a functionalist approach can be witnessed by comparing his 1919 “Program of the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar” to his programmatic 1926 piece, written shortly after moving their operations to Dessau, “Principles of Bauhaus Production.”  In this latter essay, Gropius asserted that an object produced at the school “must serve its purpose perfectly, that is, it must fulfill its function usefully, be durable, economical, and ‘beautiful’.”[25]  Shortly thereafter, one of the great theoreticians of functionalism and Sachlichkeit in architecture, Adolf Behne, rejected the aestheticism of form to make way for purely functional construction.  “The surest guiding principle to absolutely sachlich, necessary, extra-aesthetic design,” wrote Behne in 1926, “seemed to be adaptation to technical and economic functions, which with consistent work must in fact lead to the dissolution of the concept of form.”[26]  On this point, Hannes Meyer, correctly noting the profound development of Bauhaus theory from Weimar to Dessau,[27] continued in his predecessor’s vein by warning against any “modishly-flat plane-surface ornamentation divided horizontally and vertically and all done up in Neoplastic style.”[28]

ABC Beiträge zum Bauen, designed by El Lissitzky (1925)

Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam by Mart Stam, Johannes Brinkman, and Leendert van der Vlugt

Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam by Mart Stam, Johannes Brinkman, and Leendert van der Vlugt (1928)

The final non-Russian example of this internal division within the international avant-garde between aesthetic formalism and utilitarian functionalism centers around the Swiss architectural journal ABC, edited primarily by Mart Stam and El Lissitzky.  In a way, this can be seen as a recapitulation of the controversy surrounding Lissitzky’s involvement with the earlier periodical Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet, as van Doesburg aptly remarked.[29]  This was intimately connected with theoretical formulas advanced in Russia by the group ASNOVA, which had close personal and editorial ties to Lissitzky.  At the same time, it was bound up with subsequent developments within Dutch architectural modernism, as Stam’s growth reflected this broader pattern.[30]  Insofar as Lissitzky was one of the four founding members of ASNOVA,[31] he used ABC as an organ through which he could disseminate the ideas of architectural Rationalism from Russia.[32]  However, the ideals espoused by Stam, the second-ranking member of the group, would have logically placed him more in alliance with the hyperfunctionalist OSA current of Soviet architecture than with ASNOVA.[33]  Though the journal ABC was initially quite supportive of ASNOVA’s architectural agenda,[34] the Swiss group that published it later distanced itself from this early alliance.  “In 1927, [the members of ABC] realized that their alliance with Lissitzky and ASNOVA was the core of their problem, steering them in a direction that deterred Western clients.”[35]  Of course, on a political level, Stam and the other radicals of ABC remained committed to the ideals of communism, and so they were still connected with Lissitzky after rejecting “the impractical ASNOVA approach.”[36]

[1] See above, pgs. 139-140.

[2] Paperny, Architecture in the Age of Stalin: Culture Two.  Pg. 207.

[3] Hudson maintains (wrongly) that the theoretical differences between OSA and ASNOVA were of little importance, considering the closeness of their results.  Hudson, Hugh.  Blueprints and Blood.  Pgs. 30-50.

Though Paperny offers a much more nuanced view of this division within the Soviet avant-garde, he does mention “the frequently noted similarity of these tendencies’ [Rationalism’s and Constructivism’s] formal results.”  Paperny, Architecture in the Age of Stalin: Culture Two.  Pg. 207.

Paperny explains this similarity of formal results as follows: “Bespredmetnichestvo and zhiznestroenie are identical in the respect that both are a symbolic and positive reaction to the scientific-technological civilization that arrived in Russia from the West.  Similarly, rationalism and constructivism are identical in the respect that both, as formulated by M. Ginzburg, ‘are only external expressions of the striving of contemporary life…of the birth of a new aesthetic by mechanized life.’  The same forms, introduced by the new civilization, were standing directly in the line of vision of both the rationalists and the constructivists — hence, the similarity of formal results.”  Ibid., pg. 210.

[4] Taut, Bruno.  “Russia’s Architectural Situation.”  Translated by Eric Dluhosch.  Russia: An Architecture for World Revolution.  (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 1984).  Pg. 170.  Unpublished manuscript originally written in 1929.

[5] Ginzburg, Style and Epoch.  Pg. 102.  This is the same quote cited by Paperny.

[6] Kopp, a Russian-born French architect and historian, wrote: “It would appear that the differences between the OSA and ASNOVA were based at least as much on the almost inevitable spirit of contention between different and rival organizations as on fundamental points of doctrine.  Moreover, the views of each of these two groups on the action that needed to be taken to bring about an architectural renewal, the temperaments of their respective members, and their various attitudes, militant and didactic on the one side, less extrovert and more reflective on the other, also played an important part in the clashes and confrontations of the period.”  Kopp, Anatole.  Town and Revolution: Soviet Architecture and Town Planning, 1917-1935.  Translated by Thomas E. Burton.  (G. Braziller.  New York, NY: 1970).  Originally published as Ville et Révolution: Architecture et Urbanisme Soviétiques in 1967.  Pg. 76,

[7] “In the periodical Gegenstand, the text of which was dictated by Moscow, these two tendencies came into conflict.  Here, machine parts and illustrations of modern airplanes were to serve as incentives to build, manifesting the desire to impress and demonstrate the capacity for great achievements.  All these efforts ‘on paper’ and ‘in the sky’ showed very clearly that architecture had to serve here as a cover for disguising aesthetic fantasies, which were useless from the perspective of functional architecture, but, on the other hand, were most significant from a modern aesthetic viewpoint, as incentives, and beneficial to new building forms and constructions.”  Doesburg, Theo van.  “Abstraction, Dream, and Utopia: Conflicting Movements in Russian Architecture.”  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. 197.  Originally published in October 1928, Vol. V, № 22.  Pgs. 436-441.

[8] Paperny relates this claim through a very entertaining story: “Western civilization also went through various phases of an artistic assimilation of machine civilization (William Morris, Walter Gropius), but a sharp collision with a patriarchal culture, such as occurred in Russia in the 1900s (or in Japan after 1868), never happened in the West.  Therefore, the Western avant-garde never agreed with the extreme position of the Russian productionists — the full rejection of the aesthetic in favor of the efficacious.  Le Corbusier could say that the house is a machine for living, but after seeing the gloomy result with which his Russian sympathizers tried to embody his vision, he was compelled to remind them that architecture, all the same, ‘begins where the machine ends.’”  Paperny, Architecture in the Age of Stalin: Culture Two.  Pgs. 209-210.

[9] Oud asserted the primacy of machine-based architecture over the abstractions of Mondrian, though he claimed that painting was finally catching up with architecture: “Where architecture has already long been achieving plastic expression through the machine (Wright), painting is being impelled inevitably towards the same plastic means and a unity in the pure expression of the spirit of the age is making a spontaneous appearance.”  Oud, “Art and Machine.”  Pg. 97.

[10] Mondrian saw the utilitarian example of the machine as paving the way for a new aesthetic, but found that this aesthetic should be taken from abstract painting: “Architecture was purified by utilitarian building, with its new requirements, technology and materials.  Necessity, therefore, is already leading to a purer expression of equilibrium and to a purer beauty.  But without new aesthetic insight, this remains accidental, uncertain; or it is weakened by impure concepts, by concentration upon non-essentials.

“The new aesthetic for architecture is that of the new painting.  A purer architecture is now in a position to achieve the same consequences that painting, purified through Futurism and Cubism, realized in Neoplasticism.  Thanks to the unity of the new aesthetic, architecture and painting can merge into a single art and can resolve into each other.”  Mondrian, Piet.  “Is Painting Secondary to Architecture?” Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé.  De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York: 1971).  Pg. 184.  Originally published in De Stijl 1923, Vol. VI, № 5, pp. 62-64.

[11] “The basis of the quarrel between van Doesburg and Oud, in terms of the group, was an ongoing rivalry between the painters and the architects.”  White, Michael.  De Stijl and Dutch Modernism.  (Manchester University Press.  New York, NY: 2003).  Pg. 56.

[12] Banham brilliantly observes: “[The] idea of using concrete to create a purely apparent unification of load and support shows how much aesthetic parti-pris lurks even in the practicalities of a man like Oud who left De Stijl because he felt its aesthetics were becoming too precious.”  Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age.  Pg. 161.

[13] Rietveld, Gerrit.  “Utility, Construction: (Beauty, Art).”  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. 162.  Originally published in 1-10 1927, Vol. 1, № 3, pgs. 89-92.

[14] “The new functionalism in Dutch architecture is no different from that of other countries; when people talk about ‘international architecture’ there, they mean the same thing.”  Rietveld, “New Functionalism in Dutch Architecture.”  Pg. 33.

He posed the problem of functionalism as follows: “The program of the new functionalism is as follows: to determine scientifically the correct requirements for good housing; to ascertain the best systems for insulation, absorption, reflection, drainage, etc., including all these aspects in the construction of a single operation; and, finally, to industrialize the as yet primitive activities on construction sites.”  Ibid., pg. 35.

[15] Teige recalled: “At this time [1921] the Bauhaus betrayed a very strong influence from members of the De Stijl group.  Theo van Doesburg went so far as to found a kind of counterschool in Weimar.”  Teige, “Ten Years of Bauhaus.”  Pg. 633.

“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.”  Dexel, Walter.  “Theo van Doesburg.”  Translated by David Britt.  Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2002).  Pg. 724.  Originally published in Das neue Frankfurt in 1931.

[16] “The Bauhaus strives to bring together all creative effort into one whole, to reunify all the disciplines of practical art — sculpture, painting, handicrafts, and the crafts — as inseparable components of a new architecture.”  Gropius, Walter.  “Program of the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar.”  Translated by Michael Bullock.  Programs and Manifestoes on 20th-Century Architecture.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1971).  Pg. 50.  Originally published as a four-page leaflet in 1919.

[17] “[T]he results of this [the Bauhaus] Institute during the five years of its functioning as a state institution leave much to be desired.”  Doesburg, Theo van.  “Teaching at the Bauhaus and Elsewhere: From Copy to Experiment.”  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. 71.  Originally published in Het Bouwbedrijf, October 1925, Vol. II, № 10.  Pgs. 363-366.

[18] Doesburg, Theo van.  “Defending the Spirit of Space: Against a Dogmatic Functionalism.”  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. 89.  Originally published in Het Bouwbedrijf, May 1926, Vol. III, № 5.  Pgs. 191-194.

[19] “Assume for a moment that city planning and housing construction would be reduced to only those elements which would gratify our material requirements in the most economical way.  In that case it would be necessary, for instance, to define precisely the amount of cubic meters required for every practical need and to cut out all superfluous space.  The architectural shape would become totally dependent upon our movements, which then could be checked by means of a Taylor-system.  Would this not lead to an absolute rigidity and sterilization of our lives?” Ibid., pg. 91.

[20] Rietveld, “New Functionalism in Dutch Architecture.”  Pg. 35.

[21] Mondrian, Piet.  “Home — Street — City.”  Translated by Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James.  The New Art — The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian.  Pgs. 208-209.  Originally published in i, № 10, January 1927.

[22] “The influence of the Neoplasticism of De Stijl on the Bauhaus and on Gropius himself was healthy in the sense that it helped to eradicate the surviving expressionist tendencies, but at the same time this imbued its work with the new ‘orthogonal’ formalism.”  Teige, “Ten Years of Bauhaus.”  Pg. 633.

[23] Gropius, Walter.  “Appraisal of the Development of Modern Architecture.”  Translated by Roger Banham.  The Scope of Total Architecture.  (MacMillan Publishing Company.  New York, NY: 1980).  Pg. 63.  Originally published in 1934.

[24] “Catch phrases like ‘functionalism’ (die neue Sachlichkeit) and ‘fitness for purpose = beauty’ have had the effect of deflecting appreciation of the New Architecture into external channels or making it purely one-sided.”  Gropius, The New Architecture and the Bauhaus.  Pg. 23.

[25] “The Bauhaus fights against the cheap substitute, inferior workmanship, and the dilettantism of the handicrafts, for a new standard of quality work.”  Gropius, Walter.  “Principles of Bauhaus Production.”  Translated by Michael Bullock.  Programs and Manifestoes on 20th-Century Architecture.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1971).  Pgs. 95, 97.  Originally published in 1926.

Compare this new attitude toward mechanical production, standardization, and so on, with Gropius’ more atavistic statements in his 1919 “Program”: “Architects, sculptors, painters, we all must return to the crafts!…There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman.  The artist is an exalted craftsman.”  Gropius, “Program for the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar.”  Pg. 49.

[26] Behne, The Modern Functional Building.  Pg. 119.

Behne keenly noted the way that German functionalism or Neue Sachlichkeit mirrored Constructivism in Russia: “At the time of the Russian Revolution artists in Russia and Germany began to negate the concept of ‘art.’  They no longer wanted to be producers of luxuries, they wanted to fulfill a necessary function in the life process of society.  They rejected decoration entirely, committed themselves to construction and artistic production, and opposed any sort of aesthetics or concern with form.”  Ibid., pg. 119.

[27] “I have various reasons for wanting to make a few more remarks on the years in Weimar.  It was the postwar period of revolution and romanticism.  All those who participated, feeling like the ‘children of their time,’ were right to do so.  It would not have been merely unnatural but indeed wrong not to have been moved in such stirring times.  But now the conflict for these people [which makes it difficult for them] in finding their way to us is [this]: They have not been aware that a new age has begun.  They should, for once, open their eyes and look around at their environment; then they would notice that conditions have changed radically.”  Meyer, Hannes.  “Address to the Student Representatives at the Bauhaus.”  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. 169.  Originally delivered in 1928.

[28] Meyer, “bauhaus and society.”  Pg. 99.

[29] See footnote 478 on pg. 143.

[30] “In the short time that has elapsed since the world war, a certain clarification of views as well as of creative directions has taken place in Dutch architecture.  Oud, van der Vlugt, [Johannes] Brinkman, and Mart Stam abandoned earlier architectural cubism and Neoplasticism and founded their work on the scientific basis of constructivism.  Even among the Neoplasticists an evolutionary rift has taken place: van Doesburg, C[ornelis] van Eesteren, and G[errit] Rietveld now proclaim ‘elementarism,’ whereas the architect Jan Wils, the interior design [Vilmos] Huseár, and the painter Mondrian have remained faithful to Neoplasticism.  It is worth noting that even the current work of van Doesburg is by its a priori formalism and aestheticism still close in its substance to Mondrian and thus very foreign to the tendencies of the constructivists.”  Teige, Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia.  Pg. 157.

[31] In a 1925 piece, Lissitzky introduced ASNOVA to the West, writing: “In order to concentrate the new forces, an Association of New Architects (ASNOVA) was formed in Moscow in the summer of 1923.  The first paragraph of their articles reads: ‘ASNOVA unites the architects-rationalists and the workers affiliated to them in all fields of architecture and experimental building, to raise architecture as an art to a level corresponding to the present-day position of technology and science.’  The founders are the directors of the new faculty of architecture and a few noteworthy engineers.  Contact has also been established with some modern architects abroad.”  Lissitzky, “Architecture in the USSR.”  Pg. 373.

Lissitzky himself recorded this history of ASNOVA’s emergence: “The elaboration of new methods for the scientific-objective elucidation of the elements of architectural design — such as mass, surface, space, proportion, rhythm, etc.  — was decisive in establishing the distinctive character of the new schools.  A new methodology had to be created.  This work, begun by such pioneers as Ladovskii, Dokuchaev, and Krinskii [co-founders of ASNOVA], was continued by men of the younger generation, such as Balikhin, Korshev, Lamtsov, and others.”  Lissitzky, The Reconstruction of Architecture in the Soviet Union.  Pg. 30.

[32] Although it is true that Lissitzky identified his own artwork of the early 1920s as “Constructivist,” his architectural proposals were most certainly not, especially insofar as OSA later defined Constructivist architecture.  Sima Ingbergman, author of an overview of the ABC group in Switzerland, thus wrongly calls the works of ASNOVA “Constructivist,” when they clearly categorized their own work as “Rationalist.”  Still, Ingbergman’s account is otherwise accurate: “El Lissitzky was obligated to publicize Constructivist architecture [because]…he owed it to his fellow ASNOVA architects to promote their work.”  Ingbergman, Sima.  ABC: International Constructivist Architecture, 1922-1939.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1994).  Pg. 13.

“With Stam’s help, Lissitzky’s new European friends become converts [to ASNOVA]; Lissitzky wasted little time in educating them to the merits of ASNOVA constructivism in particular.”  Ibid., pg. 17.

[33] Ingbergman notices this as well: “The ABC-ASNOVA alliance should have been a most contradictory one.  Mart Stam was, by all accounts, a radical functionalist whose ideas were at odds with some of ASNOVA’s fundamental principles.”  Ibid., pg. 19.

[34]ABC’s ideological support of Lissitzky and ASNOVA was quite pronounced in the first issues.”  Ibid., pg. 54.

[35] Ibid., pg. 79.

[36] Ibid., pg. 134.

The spatiotemporal dimensions of abstract art and the genesis of modern architecture


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

Modernist Architecture — Positive Bases

The theory and practice of modernist architecture were positively based on two primary phenomena that developed under capitalism: the abstract sense of space and time created by the internal dynamic of capitalism, and the more concrete process of industrialization that took place in Europe over the course of the nineteenth century. The former of these developments, the abstract side of capitalism’s spatiotemporal dialectic, first manifested itself spatially in the medium of Cubist and post-Cubist abstract painting (Neo-plasticism, Purism, Suprematism) and temporally in the simultaneous representation of motion and light by movements such as Futurism and Rayonism. This abstract temporal dimension was deepened and refined by the avant-garde’s appropriation of Taylorism, the system of “scientific management” in industry founded in America just prior to the First World War.[211] A discussion of Taylorization’s impact on modernist architecture will lead into a more general discussion of the inescapable influence that European industrialization had on its overall development. Specifically, it will examine the modernists’ fascination with machine technologies, efficiency, and the principle of standardization. All these aspects of modern society had been brought into existence by nineteenth-century capitalism in the shift from more primitive manufacturing techniques to full-blown industrialism. In this way, modernist architecture can be seen in its positive connection to the forces and logic unfolding out of capitalist modernity, in addition to its negative bases that were outlined in the previous subsection. Modernism captured in its architecture the greater project of “rationalization” that was taking place throughout the Western world during this time, as theorized by thinkers such as Weber, Adorno, and Horkheimer.

A tertiary influence may be cited alongside these two main positive bases of avant-garde architecture: the working class. In some sense, the modernists’ identification with the European proletariat can be traced to their general disgust with bourgeois society, coupled with the widespread leftist idea that the working class could play a revolutionary role in the construction of a new and more rational society. But in another sense, the modernists’ valorization of working class must have stemmed from its association with industrial production, which held an obvious positive appeal for avant-garde architects. Though this affirmation of the laboring masses of Europe thus had its sources in both positive and negative aspects of modern society, its general character should be seen as positive. Either way, the avant-garde expressed its solidarity with workers in its quest to provide them with adequate dwelling conditions, and, more broadly, to overcome the chronic shortage of urban housing. The modernists’ efforts to this end can be seen in their commitment to the creation of a standard Existenzminimuml’habitation minimum, Kleinstwohnung,or “minimum dwelling.”[212]




































FIGURE 1: The Spatiotemporal Dialectic of Capitalism and Architecture

Before detailing this more social component of modernist architectural ideology, it is proper to examine the formal properties imparted to it by the abstract spatiotemporal dimension of capitalism. Referring back to the characteristics established beforehand as belonging to the abstract forms of space and time manifested under capitalism,[213] the extent to which these qualities were expressed by modernist art and architecture will be made clear. The scientific, cyclical, and synchronous character of its temporality; the geometric, centrifugal, and global/international character of its spatiality; their mutual homogeneity — all these categories will be important to bear in mind moving through the following analysis. For these traits, generated by the inherent dynamism of modern society, would embed themselves in the artistic unconscious of a generation of painters and architects. These then would bubble to the surface in the works of the modernists, which expressed the new spatiotemporal sensibility of their age. Such expressions of this new aesthetic orientation should be seen as manifestations of the latent social dynamic of capitalism, however, mediated perhaps by the genius of individual artists.[214]

Ivan Kudriashev’s “Construction of a Rectilinear Motion” (1925)

Iakov Chernikhov’s “Architectural Fantasy 11” (1925-1931)

In his groundbreaking 1938 lectures on Space, Time, and Architecture, the modernist and insider historian of the avant-garde movement Sigfried Giedion credited the rise of the new architecture to a newfound sense of “space-time” that congealed around the turn of the twentieth century. According to Giedion, this modern aesthetic[215] sensibility described an abstract, four-dimensional unity of temporalized spatiality, much like the kind outlined in physics by Albert Einstein in 1905. This placed a heavy emphasis on the notion of “simultaneity.”[216] Giedion could have easily added the work that was taking place in philosophy in the writings of Henri Bergson around the same time.[217] In either case, he claimed that explicit awareness of this new sense of space and time appeared first in the works of abstract art, years before the artists’ insights were later taken up and applied by modernist architects. In the first decade of the century, Giedion asserted, “[p]ainters very different in type but sharing a common isolation from the public worked steadily toward a new conception of space. And no one can understand contemporary architecture, become aware of the feelings hidden behind it, unless he has grasped the spirit animating this painting.”[218] 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.