1920 A new popular residence is born in Germany

After World War I, the housing crisis hit Germany hard, leading to a dramatic economic recession. The stability given at the end of hyperinflation made possible the start of large real estate projects from 1924 onwards. In dealing with emergencies, a double requirement of efficiency and economy is essential, for which new methods of construction must respond. It does not forbid, on the contrary, to reflect the evolution of habitat in terms of both hygiene and comfort. And it involves both the proponents of modernity and the proponents of tradition gathered at Stuttgart schools.


Two people under construction

If the history of architecture under the Weimar Republic is inextricably linked with the Bauhaus school built by Walter Gropius, two individuals played a central role in mass construction and the rise of rationality and standardization: Ernst May (1886-1970) and Martin Wagner (1885-1957). First appointed head of the Municipal Building Office in the city of Frankfurt in 1925. About 15,000 housing units will be built in the next five years under his charge.

Exhibition scene at Pompido, the center of Paris, dedicated to Germany in the 1920s: Marcel Brewer, Piscetter Chair, 1927 © ASLM

In particular, he led the Das New Frankfurt project, which saw the construction of the Romarstadt, Pronheim, Westhausen and Heheenblick housing estates. In Römerstadt, if the city plan, adapted to the topography of the site, is a traditional inspiration, the city presents an original physiology. Since prefabrication was not planned on this site, the first simplification effort was related to design, development of a small number of standard plans, and rationalization of space use. Thus the city consists of three- or four-story two-story houses and buildings, with the same plan being applied for each type of size. But this relative similarity exists with the diversity of the second work: tents, stairs …

Werner Mantz, Cité Kalkerfeld, Cologne: Residential Building, circa 1930, print 2013, Bonn, LVR-LandesMuseum.  ASLM

Werner Mantz, Cité Kalkerfeld, Cologne: Residential Building, circa 1930, print 2013, Bonn, LVR-LandesMuseum. ASLM

A desire for rationality

May and his team’s plans generalize to the inventions invented by architect Otto Heisler, who pioneered not only strip housing in Sale’s estate near Hanover, but also a new way of thinking about space. In fact, against the use of Wohnküche, this common house organized around the kitchen, Haesler introduced separate kitchens, which included the housing estate in Frankfurt. On this reduced space of about six square meters, the desire for rationalization is centered. To do this, May hired Margaret Schutte-Lihotzki (1897-2000).

From Burnheimer Hang Housing Estate to Frankfurt Cuisine Ernst May, Pestalozistrabe, Frankfurt am Main, 1926 © ASLM

From Burnheimer Hang Housing Estate to Frankfurt Cuisine Ernst May, Pestalozistrabe, Frankfurt am Main, 1926 © ASLM

The dining car takes its cue from the kitchen, its fully equipped kitchen is designed as a place of production where all functions are considered from the angle of efficiency and ergonomics. Schütte-Lihotzky added several new accessories, such as electric cookers, built-in storage units and folding ironing boards. In Prohnheim and Hohenblue, Ernst, since May 1927, was able to implement construction using “May system” prefabricated concrete panels, marking the depth of rationalization. It is also at the center of Martin Wagner’s work and reflection. Responsible for the planning of Greater Berlin since 1926, he was also the director of GEHAG, a cooperative construction company later founded by the Social Democratic Union.

Low cost construction

The construction of one thousand housing units in the Berlin-Britz sector serves as a showcase for designs preserved by GEHAG. There, the goal is to reduce construction costs by playing on three variables: a limited number of plans, standard building materials and a reasonable organization of the site, or ideas promoted at the same time in Frankfurt. Designed according to the principle of garden towns, the Cité du Fer à Cheval apartment building and combines individual houses into strips.

Building with shop at Carl-Hermann Rudolph, Romerstad, Hendrianstraus, about 1930, photograph, 21.5 x 11.3 cm, Frankfurt am Main, Ernst-May Gesellschaft.  ASLM

Building with shop at Carl-Hermann Rudolph, Romerstad, Hendrianstraus, about 1930, photograph, 21.5 x 11.3 cm, Frankfurt am Main, Ernst-May Gesellschaft. ASLM

Architect Bruno Tout (1880-1938), known for his utopian project, occupies a central place in this project. He applied the principles of jilenbau or row construction: the houses were strictly lined up in parallel rows along the north-south axis, perpendicular to the main entrance, to ensure maximum sun, wind and tranquility of the inhabitants. Historian Richard Pomer has seen it right. “ The human metaphor is transformed into a mechanical object, and the number of hours of sunlight, cubic meters of air and the cost of road construction are measurable (20s).

A technical, economic and aesthetic challenge

In this project, and later for the Berlin-Zehlendorf sector, Standardization first raised concerns about a variety of housing plans. As historian Christine Mengin points out (roof warfare and architectural modernity), ” Housing organization, of moderate size, a replica, on a reduced surface, bourgeois housing. In contrast to traditional low-income housing and working-class housing (without an entrance, without a toilet, on a one-way street), each residence has an entrance, an independent kitchen, a bathroom, a living room and intimate space for everyone: a married bedroom and a small children’s bedroom. . A

Carl-Hermann Rudolph and Ernst May, Am Forum Street, Romerstadt, Frankfurt am Main, circa 1929 © ASLM

Carl-Hermann Rudolph and Ernst May, Am Forum Street, Romerstadt, Frankfurt am Main, circa 1929 © ASLM

The standardization effort also applies to finishing work and is part of a national policy. Indeed, since 1918, the National Standardization Commission has been creating standard standards for doors, windows, stairs, beams, sewers, and so on. And the master builders in Berlin comply with these requirements for windows and doors, while the staircase designed by Tout is a model specifically designed for GEHAG. Again, not everything is monotonous in this town of horse-drawn carriages. “ 472 houses, made of brick, rendered in different colors: red, yellow and blue, observed by Christine Mengin. Row houses are paired with escape pairs and mirror variations and effects from any systematic schedule. The brick frame unites the two mirrored houses. Apartment buildings, on the other hand, present a more uniform face by eliminating color.

Craft business

Berlin’s iconic construction sites still fall short of the ambitions of its promoters. In fact, the expected industrialization was not possible, as many craft companies working on the site showed no interest in it and preferred to stick with traditional masonry. The search for a scientific site of the building site inspired by Tellorism, however, remains a desire shared widely by architects like Walter Gropius. In the experimental district of Desau Tarten, which he built between 1928 and 1930, he relied on the logical breakdown of the production chain of industrial models: on the one hand, specialized brigades built several houses simultaneously at the same stage of construction; On the other hand, construction elements like concrete beams are made on site and transported by a small wagon and crane.

Ernst May, a modern residence, incarnation, 38th year, n ° 1, 1927 © ASLM

Ernst May, a modern residence, incarnation, 38th year, n ° 1, 1927 © ASLM

Considering all these achievements, it seems clear that the issue was not only technical and economic, but also aesthetic. An aesthetic that expresses rationality and looks at the purity of industrial production that is so vaunted by Le Corbusier in France: automobiles, aircraft, sea liners … as critics of the time, “ Quiet facades, dense settlements, straight lines, flat roofs match the low sensitivity of that time


“Germany – 1920 / New Purpose – August Sander”
Center Pompidou
Gallery 1, Level 6, 75004 Paris
www.centrepompidou.fr
Until September 5, 2022

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