Sunday, September 12, 2021

Book Review: Programs and Manifestos on 20th-Century Architecture

While this falls under the category of a book review what we really have here, as the title suggests, is a collection of curated excerpts from manifestos, essays, letters, and the like from the who's who of the Modernist architectural avant-garde. It begins with an out of context figure associated with Art Nouveau, Henry vad de Velde, but quickly moves on to the grandfather of architectural Modernism, Adolf Loos with an excerpt from his essay Ornament and Crime. From there it briskly moves on to a number of founding figures of Modernism with pride of place given to the trinity of leaders of the Bauhaus and CIAM: Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and of course Le Corbusier. The intellectual aspirations of the movement seems decidedly tempered following World War II yet a few manifestos and essays are on offer through the early 1960s.

So what is a book review of Modernist manifestos doing on a blog devoted to traditional architecture? Primarily because early Modernist thinkers went to great lengths to define their movement in opposition to generally traditional and specifically Classical architecture. That said, in reading these manifestos it becomes evident that the aesthetics of architectural form is only an aspect of what was being rejected. There is an openly hostile attitude towards traditional craft and artisanship, seeing the mass industrialisation as the welcome means of supplanting it. Likewise, traditional town planning was aggressively derided as they laid down the rationale for what became know as Euclidean zoning, suburban sprawl, and the gutting of traditional city centres. In fine, is you want to know why the global, industrialised built environment looks and functions as it does, you'll find most of the intellectual foundations for it here.

Below is a series of selected excerpts though 'enjoy' may not be the right word...


“Not only is ornament produced by criminals but also a crime is committed through the fact that ornament inflicts serious injury on people’s health.” - Adolf Loos: Ornament and crime 1908



“Standardisation, to be understood as the result of a beneficial concentration, will alone make possible the development of a universally valid, unfailing good taste.” - Hermann Muthesius: Werkbund theses and antitheses 1914


“The surface of the Earth would change greatly if brick architecture were everywhere displaced by glass architecture. It would be as though the Earth clad itself in jewellery.” - Paul Scheerbart: Glass architecture 1914



“I oppose and despise all classical, solemn, hieratic, theatrical, decorative, monumental, frivolous, pleasing architecture.” - Antonio Sant’Elia: Futurist architecture 1914





“Destruction of artistically valueless monuments as well as of all buildings whose artistic value is out of proportion to the value of their material which could be put to other uses.” - Demand #5 of the Work Council for Art: Under the wing of a great architecture 1919




“Naturally, this era will not be brought into being by social classes in the grip of tradition.” - Erich Mendelsohn: The problem of a new architecture 1919



“Smash the shell-lime Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns…to the garbage heap with all that junk!” - Bruno Taut: Down with seriousism! 1920



“We must create the mass-production spirit.
The spirit of constructing mass-production houses.
The spirit of living in mass-production houses.
The spirit of conceiving mass-production houses.” - Le Corbusier: Towards a new architecture: guiding principles 1920



“In carrying out this industrialisation, the social, technical, economic and also artistic problems will be readily solved.” - Mies van der Rohe: Industrialised Building 1924 


“The city of speed is the city of success!” - Le Corbusier: Guiding Principles of Town Planning 1925

“We can no longer derive any benefit from the literary and historical teaching given in schools.” - Le Corbusier: Five points towards a new architecture 1926



“The Bauhaus fights against the cheap substitute, inferior workmanship and the dilettantism of the handicrafts.” - Walter Gropius: Principles of Bauhaus Production 1926



“It is urgently necessary for architecture, abandoning the outmoded conceptions connected with the class of craftsmen, henceforth to rely upon the present realities of industrial technology.” - CIAM: La Sarraz Declaration 1928



“Traffic control must take in all the functions of collective life.” - CIAM: La Sarraz Declaration 1928






“We examine the daily routine of everyone who lives in the house and this gives us the function-diagram for the father, the mother, the child, the baby, and the other occupants.” - Hannes Meyer: Building 1928




“The new house is a prefabricated building for site assembly; as such it is an industrial product and the work of a variety of specialists: economists, statisticians, hygienists.” - Hannes Meyer: Building 1928



“The machine is nothing more than the inexorable dictator of the possibilities and tasks common to all our lives.” - ABC demands the dictatorship of the machine 1928


“In the creation of every great work the architect’s part is visible and the community’s part latent.” - El
Lissitzky: Ideological superstructure 1929



“Destruction of the traditional…war has been declared on the aesthetic of chaos. An order that has entered fully into consciousness is called for.” - El Lissitzky: Ideological superstructure 1929



“Let us also not overestimate the question of mechanisation, standardisation and normalisation. And let us accept the changed economic and social conditions as fact. All these things go their destined way, blind to values.” - Mies van der Rohe: The new era 1930


“Lack of appreciation of the difference between the appliance and life is to blame for the choicest of pseudo-horrors in America…applying brick or stone envelopes to steel frames.” - Frank Lloyd Wright: Young architecture 1931


“All ‘individuals’ are an obstacle in the path of development, and in fact progress takes place in spite of them.” - Hugo Häring: The house as an organic structure 1932


“ART = net resultant of momentarily (time fix) dominant articulability of ego’s cosmic sense.” - Buckminster Fuller: Universal architecture 1932



“The principles of modern town planning have been developed by the work of countless technicians: technicians in the art of building, technicians of health, technicians of social organisation.” - CIAM: Charter of Athens 1933


“The cities studied today present a picture of chaos: these cities in no way fulfill their destiny, which is to satisfy the primordial biological and psychological needs of the inhabitants.” - CIAM: Charter of Athens 1933


“The cities are inhuman and the ferocity of a few private interests has given rise to the suffering of
countless individuals.” - CIAM: Charter of Athens 1933



“Town planning is a three-dimensional science, not a two-dimensional one. By introducing the element of height it will become possible to solve the problems of modern traffic and of leisure, through utilising the free spaces thus created.” - CIAM: Charter of Athens 1933


“The architect, who possesses a perfect knowledge of man, who has abandoned designs based on illusory aesthetic considerations, and who , by precisely adapting means to the desired ends, will create an order that bears within it its own poetry.” - CIAM: Charter of Athens 1933


“New townships should settle along super-highways and be connected by fast feeder roads with the old city centre.” - Martin Wagner: A programme for city reconstruction 1943



“The heritage that has been destroyed must not be reconstructed historically; in order to fulfill new tasks it must be rebuilt in a new form.” - Alphons Leitl: A post-war appeal; fundamental demands 1947



“Technology and architecture are so closely related. Our real hope is that they will grow together, that some day the one will be the expression of the other. Only then will we have an architecture worthy of its name: architecture as a true symbol of its time.” - Mies van der Rohe: Technology and architecture 1950


“The material uninhabitability of the slums is preferable to the moral uninhabitability of functional, utilitarian architecture. In the so-called slums only man’s body can perish, but in the architecture ostensibly planned for man his soul perishes.” - Friedensreich Hundertwasser: Mould Manifesto against rationalism in architecture 1958


“We live today in a chaos of straight lines, in a jungle of straight lines. Anyone who doesn’t believe this should take the trouble to count the straight lines all around him and he will understand; for he will never finish counting.” - Friedensreich Hundertwasser: Mould Manifesto against rationalism in architecture 1958


“It is time people themselves rebelled against being confined in box constructions, in the same way as hens and rabbits are confined in cage-constructions that are equally foreign to their nature.” - Friedensreich Hundertwasser: Mould Manifesto against rationalism in architecture 1958


“Creative art is unthinkable without a spiritual clash with tradition. In this clash existing form must be smashed in order to find the pure expression of one’s own time.” - Reinhard Gieselmann: Towards a new architecture 1960



“A new condition of human intimacy will exist. The inhabitants live naked. The former patriarchal family system will no longer exist. The community will be complete, free, individual, impersonal. The inhabitant’s main occupation: pleasure.” - Werner Ruhnau: Project for an aerial architecture 1960


“Automation of production and socialisation of essential goods will increasingly reduce work as an external necessity and will finally give the individual complete freedom.” - Situationists: International Manifesto 1960



“The ever-growing army of machines and automata will relieve man of an ever-increasing proportion of manual labour; electronic brains are taking over intellectual drudgery.” - Eckhard Scultz-Fielitz: The Space City 1960


“The possibility of greater density, building over traffic areas and watercourses, keeping whole stretches free for flowing or stationary traffic, the strict segregation of types of traffic, make possible solution of the problems of circulation in centres of traffic.” - Eckhard Scultz-Fielitz: The Space City 1960


“The present task of the artist can only be to prepare the way for a future mass culture. For if there is still to be any talk of culture it will have to carry a mass society, and then the means can be sought only within mechanisation.” - Constant Nieuwenhuys: New Babylon 1960


“Architecture is the law of those who do not believe in the law but make it. It is a weapon. Architecture ruthlessly employs the strongest means at its disposal at any given moment. Machines have taken possession of it and human beings are now merely tolerated in its domain.” - Walter Pichler: Absolute architecture 1962


“Architecture is not the satisfaction of the needs of the mediocre, is not an environment for the petty happiness of the masses. Architecture is made by those who stand at the highest level of culture and civilisation, at peak of their epoch’s development. Architecture is an affair of the élite.” - Hans Hollein: Absolute architecture 1962


Contributed by Patrick Webb