July 23: The Other White City
2016/07/23 § 2 Comments
On this day in 1927 the Deutscher Werkbund opened their latest exhibition in Stuttgart.
The Deutscher Werkbund had already hosted a significant expo in Cologne, back in 1914. That one was all about contemporary products used by its membership of artists, architects, designers and manufacturers. Like the its cousin, the Bauhaus, as the Werkbund matured it shed its interest in the smaller arts and focused on architectural design. The exhibition in 1927, more specifically known by the German name that has frustrated many an architecture major seated for a history exam, Weißenhofsiedlung, was the most pragmatic and real kind of exhibitions possible: actual, livable houses. Designed by over a dozen architects from several countries (famous names like Mies and Corb, others who have fallen to footnotes like Richard Döcker and Josef Frank), it represented the broad sweep of the Neues Bauen. It is a persuasive message of the international spread of this architectural style, until you remember that all the architects represented had self-selected themselves into the mode when they signed up for their Werkbund card.
Even so, there’s no denying the importance of the Weißenhofsiedlung, both architecturally and symbolically. For architects around the world eager for something new to pull them out of their post-war blues, the image of les maison blanche was just the thing: new materials (sort of), new structural methods (sometimes), the general image of newness (image indeed). Although this generation had rejected the formal conventions of another White City–finding Uncle Dan Burnham’s demands for a specific era of historical inspiration, specified cornice height, and certain color scheme to be too constricting to the artist’s imagination–they eagerly adopted conventions that demanded an absolute rejection of historical imagery, offered a limited scope of building materials, and approved such aesthetic devices as tube railings and frameless ribbon windows. They did allow a few shocks of color here and there, but no one (especially the Americans poking around MOMA in 1932) knew that looking at black and white pictures of the thing.
The sure sign that a movement has some legs is not the handfuls of followers it might inspire, but the significance of power brokers it offends. In this case, the Werkbund hit a home run. Not much of a fan of modernism, Hitler’s propaganda crews dressed up photos of the Weißenhofsiedlung with camels and turbaned people to align its architecture with maligned cultures.
Image: the estate after opening (follow this link for interesting construction shots too