Vol. 2, No. 1,
May 1997

Modernity of Architecture.
A Critical Recognition



Pruitt-Igoe: Take 3

25 years ago in the town of St Louis the first three buildings of the apartment block Pruitt-Igoe were demolished. The attempt to restore the city with simplistic recipes ended in disaster.
The immediate neighbourhood proved that popular or perhaps "post-modern" design was obviously not a suitable means of rescuing the city. Laclede Town was colourfully built in the mid 1960's with a very good infrastructure and with the intention of providing people with decent living accomodation. These buildings began to decay in the 1970's which finally led to their total demolition in the 1990's.
The area adjacent to the former Pruitt-Igoe building, which was the first residential area in the USA to be totally demolished and which has been deserted ever since, is only now in the process of being rebuilt.
It is no longer a question of choosing between "modern" or "post-modern" but that of finding a sustainable urban strategy. It is no surprise that architecture has now been assigned a humble role in view of the fact that their former contributions have been somewhat disappointing.

Philosophical Comments

Erhard John


Modern - Modernism - Architecture and Art
Concerning Terms, Relation and Problems

Thinking on one hand about modern arcitecture and its position between fine art and reality and on the other hand about the relationship between architecture and the "Moderne", we need to realize that, in the light philosophy, there are both of these difficult facts to describe in reality and differences in forming the exact terms.
The "Moderne", when used as a term of an epoch, is faced with severe difficulties, wether its beginning should already have been terminated in the Renaissance or in the age of Enlightenment, as a variety of styles existed in european architecture during the 19th century.
In our times, the word "modern" is easier used to represent an event which has just been carried out or is expected in the near future. But even this caused problems.
In order to consider the position of architecture between art and life it means recognizing the double meaning of the indication "Kunst".
On one side art contains every mastership, from the art of cooking to the state art, but on the other side it contains the aesthetic form of the consciousness of society too.
Both art as mastership and as expression of spiritual relations between men and reality could come together, but they don´t.

Theoretical Positions



The Cultural-Historical Approach to Modern Architecture as a Contribution to the Self-awareness of the Modern Movement

It is a fact that the objects and matters produced by man are becoming more and more complex. It appears to the cultural historian as an essential characteristic of the modern movement. Modern architecture on the other hand is marked by a radical reduction in complexity: The architectural bodies are reduced to elementary geometric figures; ornaments are banished; similar constructive elements are used in series; structural elements are consciously emphasized. These structural elements are determined by the transition from traditional to industrial building techniques. The reduction in complexity concerns the field of construction itself, insofar as the multifunctional combination of structural elements (common e.g. in pre-modern half-timbered building) is succeeded by their monofunctional relation. All of this leads us to the question why there is this deviation in this particular field of modern culture.
In the conventional perspective this question is hardly ever raised: the modern movement is generally seen as a cultural formation characterized by the domination of rationality and functionality. This is seen to determine the modern movement in architecture and expresses itself radically in the buildings and designs created by classical modern artists, e.g. the Bauhaus and the constructivists. This pattern of explanation, however, remains within the borders of the modern movement's self-image. Thus, pursuing the question of the peculiarities of the modern movement in architecture means contributing to the self-enlightenment of modern culture.

Claus Dreyer


On Aesthetics of Architectural Modernism after Postmodernism

Architectural modernism, for a long time, was condemned by the one-sided critisism of functionalism (Adorno, Mitscherlich) or, the complete opposite, was celebrated as a sensation of social utopias or constructive phantasies (Gideos, Joedicke). Only after passing through postmodernism, classic" architectural modernism can be perceived as a complete aesthetic movement, spreading in the 1920s as "International Style" for example. The aesthetics of modernism now appears as a formal aesthetics, and is determined by e.g.:

  • demonstrative gesture of abstract (cubistic) forms
  • organizing geometry of formal composition
  • fluctuating arrangement of transparent or open space
  • exposed use of new materials and technologies

Although some aesthetic of content is neglected, it is revived through postmodernism by e.g.:

  • the topic of formal elements (Ungers)
  • the fiction of pictoral arrangements (Klotz)
  • the semiotics and (plural) coding of forms and elements (Jencks)
  • the contextualizing, regionalizing and historicism of architectonical language (Frampton).

The aesthetics of classical modernism is a condition of postmodernism and was extended by the phenomenons mentioned above. In this way the artistic character of architecture recovers that, which classical modernism attempted to fight, (although not really being able to or not wanting to entirely dispose of it).
At present this artistic character of architecture is under threat of changing into a surface aestheticism whilst the retracted aesthetics of classical modernism is holding against it as a corrective (e.g. as "new plainness" by Lampugnani).
The result is the assumption of an undeceivable "dialectics of modernism and postmodernism" which might bring about a thorough investigation and further development of architectural aesthetics.


(St.- Petersburg)

Avantgardism. A Phenomen of the 20th Century

At the beginning of the century a group of avantgardistic artists destroyed the normativity of aesthetic rules and generated many new aesthetic activities and developments.
During this much discussed and criticized process culture is generally substituted by civilization. Architecture shifted from ‘Fine Arts’ to ‘Environmental Design’.
The new definition of quality in architecture was no longer based on the traditional value of composition, but rather on (formal) design and good shape. One of the new aesthetic aims for shaping architecture was dematerialization.
The avantgarde hoped that technology would solve all of these problems.

Specific Conceptions

Gerd Kähler


Housing and Modernism - Housing for Masses in the 1920s

History of architecture after World War II was for a long time fixed on modernism. Meanwhile a change of views has taken place, those which praise the conservative architects but only partially and inappropriately. Due to the background of these views, being built and published during the 1920s, both views cannot be maintained. In fact, the stylistic form and political convictions cannot be clearly determined; in fact, "the moderns" were never one specific group as generally suggested; in fact, the discussions about particular questions concerning architecture or urban development took place across all " fractions"; in fact, the famous modern architects such as Mies von der Rohe and Le Corbusier hadn´t in the slightest played a dominating role in the discussion of housing.
Only by overstressing the point can it be said that: In the 1920s there was a characteristic way of architecture for housing, being developed in the stylistic triangle of traditionalism, plainness and a new way of building.
The crucial aspect though is that: Housing was so intensely and extensively discussed and experimentally tested like it never was ever again. What was accomplished in this respect during those 10 years today, hasn´t even today been reappraised .



Ecological Change in Urban Planning - Psychology´s call on Industrial Society´s Housing and Settlement Design

Thinking about the persistent economic crisis with unemployment of around 10% and more as well as the force to reduce pension and social security for old, sick and handicapped people, plus the claim for sustainability of consuming accomodation we come up with two demands. We think that their fulfillment would not only help to solve the above mentioned problems but also support sustainability of consum in general and therefore reduce the exploitation of a) the poor countries by the wealthy countries and b) the future generations by the recent generations.
The first demand refers to the economic system: the regular working time of around 40h per week should be reduced to 20 hours and the predominant market economy should be completed by a "quartary self support structure" (introduction of a dual economic system).
The second demand refers to housing development: Formation of "small networks" and "eco-neighborhoods" should be supported. In those self administrated quartary support structures everything gets produced for and consumed by the inhabitants, (1) given the qualification and needs and (2) given the familarity, the care and feelings of responsibility of a functioning neighborhood.
First ideas are developed about how the recent physical and social structures one by one can transformed into sustained ecological ones.

Criticism of the Criticism of Modernism

Olaf Weber


The 815th Modernism .
Away with the Acceleration Rule

The extremely important claim of post- modernism and the logical phenomenal approach of the contemporary theory of architecture are being disproved by the second theory of modernism (Heinrich Klotz). Jencks had already implied a date for the `conclusive and complete` death of modern architecture during the year of 1972. We are now experiencing their resurrections as `second modernism`. The date of death and the birthdate do not seem to fit together, because the electicism, during the latter half of the 19th century, was already developing many elements of the industrial aesthetics, whose basic model to this day has aimed at including post modernism, deconstructivism and 815. modernism. The acceleration and amplitude of aesthetic processes is decaying more and more architecture. Modernism is the epoch of fashion. Everything is either oldfashioned or fashionable. The latest acceleration rule of the state levels out the requirement structure of the outline to an unknown extent. Construction will be more and more an anonymous event, whereby the abstractness of the people included in the construction corresponds to the abstract use of forms of "second Modernism". This means that the formal principles of the Industrial age is developing excessively once again. Concrete architecture would be an architecture of proximity, an Utopia.



The Construction of an Enemy

In the current discourse on the history of architecture and planning in Germany increases the tendency to assess the programme and realisations of "Neuem Bauen" on the standard of postmodern historical revision. It is of no importance whether the authors class themselves as belonging to these argumentations or not; the border between literary journalistic casualness and scientific seriousness has also shifted. The result is that the statements have become more meaningful with reference to the intentions of the authors rather than with reference to the explanation of the modern movement. This shift from objective statements to moralistic assessments is presented by three themes: the connection of Walter Gropius to the early Werkbund, the term and meaning of "Modernism" in the time of national socialism and the urban planning of "classical"- and post-war-modernism in Berlin.

Criticism of Modernism



Modern Architecture, Abstraction, and the Poetic Imagination

The generation of architectural order cannot simply be mimesis of a cosmos. Such cosmos, the "great chain of being," is gone forever; we are condemned to live in the absence of gods. The "composition"of architectural elements or fragments with assumed absolute semantic contents is therefore a fallacious form of representation. An architecture to transcend our cultural crisis must still be primarily embodied in projects that question implicitly the very possibility of their transformation into "real buildings" by being true constructions. In order to attain the inveterate symbolic status of architecture, these projects must furthermore be revealed as a mimesis of history; a history whose function is precisely to open up possibilities for the future. Meaningful contemporary architecture must refer back not to the order of "nature" which will ultimately remain alien to man, but to the order in history, the order unquestionably evident in that which humanity has already made, that which man can truly know.

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Further issues Issue 1/96:Architecture in the Realm between Art and Everyday life