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Building Culture

Ernst May and the New Frankfurt am Main Initiative, 1926–1931


Susan R. Henderson

This book is a history of the initiative, its projects and actors, notably the architect and planner Ernst May, and its achievements, set within the turbulent context of the Weimar decade. It chronicles its many accomplishments: the construction of housing settlements, innovations in construction and materials, the parks and garden colonies program, innovations in school, medical facility and church design, reforms in woman’s sphere, and a crafting of New Life culture. It examines the New Frankfurt am Main in light of the social and political debates that shaped it and the works it produced, and describes the relationship of work and theory to contemporary reform movements. Finally, the narrative underscores the gulf between the idyll of modernity and the political and social realities of life in a Germany on the brink of collapse.


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1 The Early Settlements. From Utopia To Realpolitik 35


1The Early Settlements From Utopia To Realpolitik What I saw in Europe in 1930 was so exciting that it transformed me from an aesthete into a housing reformer. . . . The most voluminous and interesting program, in Frankfurt under Ernst May, included a new system of construc- tion, all kinds of innovations in planning and community facilities, and even specially designed kitchen equipment, which was mass-produced and sold in packages. Housing schemes were quite carefully designed for varied social uses: old people, single women, families at different income levels and so on. Everywhere technical, economic and social research was going on, includ- ing Alexander Klein’s ingenious studies of minimal dwelling plans, based on analysis of family functions and household circulation.1 —Catherine Bauer At virtually the same time that Henry Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson were touring Europe, preparing what was to become Modern Architecture: Internation- al Exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art, the American Catherine Bauer, journalist and housing reformer, was attending the Frankfurt course for professionals on the New Architecture. In 1932, she would publish her influential Modern Housing and introduce her all-male cohort, including Lewis Mumford, Clarence Stein, and the other members of the Regional Planning Association of America, to exciting European developments in housing and planning. She would also organize the housing section of MoMA’s Modern Architecture exhibit. Among the cities she visited, she reserved her highest praise for the Frankfurt, particularly its new settlements of Praunheim and Römerstadt in the Nidda Valley. There, in a...

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