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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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2 House Building: Type, Form and Culture 95


2House Building Type, Form and Culture das hoehere gehalt entscheidet du warst genormt gewesen. wir sind genormt worden ich wuerde genormt werden The higher salary decides You have been standardized We have been standardized I would be standardized 1 —Hans Leistikow, 1925 [R]ationalization is the acquisition and application of all resources, technolo- gies, and systematic procedures to produce greater economy and efficiency. Its goal is to achieve enhanced public well–being through lower–priced, abun- dant, and better–quality goods.2 —National Economic Efficiency Board, 1927 In 1928, Fritz Tarnow, chairman of the woodworkers union, wrote an adula- tory commentary on Henry Ford’s My Life and Work entitled “Warum arm sein?” (“Why Be Poor?”) Tarnow asserted that the unjust division of wealth under capi- talism could be reversed through the use of productive mechanisms to produce abundant and affordable goods.3 Ernst May was also a fervent believer in rational- ization, to an extent spoofed in Leistikow’s poem, inscribed in the commemora- tive album presented to May by his team at the Silesian Housing Authority upon his departure for Frankfurt. 96 Building Culture In Silesia, he systematized the administration into organizational divisions that handled each phase and specialty of design and production from site work to furnishings. Research “determined” the shape of the products and suitable production methods. For the house, work began by submitting the local “type,” the Silesian farmhouse, to “scientific” analysis. May was fond of citing the work of Friedrich Gilly (1772–1800), who had also studied the...

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