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Building Culture

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

Series:

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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6 Architectural Healing. Hygiene and the Pavilion 303

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6Architectural Healing Hygiene and the Pavilion The studio must be like a glass bell or like a hollow crystal. You must be white yourself . . . Cold kills germs. 1 —Theo van Doesburg Today we need a house that in its totality is in concert with the liberated sense of the body experienced through sport, athletics and similar activities: airy, through-lit, flexible.2 —Siegfried Giedion, 1929 The iconic value of the color white lay in its allusion to a Spartan, clean body, and a gleaming, pristine environment. It symbolized hygiene, the touchstone of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century reform. Hygiene was “the most German of all religions,” a promise to restore the nation’s health and vigor by means of science and rationalization.3 The discovery of germs and bacteria, and their rela- tion to disease gave impetus to public health campaigns, but also fueled fears of contamination and of the unseen. This larger paradigm played out in the context of the growing number of urban poor, and the rise of the working class.4 A primal fear of the “unclean” other ran from the lurid to the fastidious in hygiene rhetoric. It also extended thematically into other realms.5 Hygiene became the cure for ills ranging from the social, to the sexual, from the public to the domestic, and was prescribed alike for the individual, the city, the nation, and the economy. Surrounded by epidemics, social upheaval, and revolution, driven by fear, the mission of bourgeois reform was largely one of self-preservation. While working- class parties...

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