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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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7 Rationalization Takes Command. Zeilenbau and the Politics of CIAM 397


7Rationalization Takes Command Zeilenbau and the Politics of CIAM May: This year and next, the city will build a large number of inexpensive units . . . In Praunheim we have already built eighty flats for childless couples that rent for only 30 marks a month. We plan to build several hundred more next year, with rents of hopefully no more than 35 marks. Lang, KP: But we have 20,000 people seeking housing! May: Herr Lang, as I have told you before, and will yet again, you give me more money, and I’ll give you more housing.1 —City Council Debate, 1927 Despite extensive construction since 1925, the number seeking housing with a certificate of urgency has remained steady; in fact, demand rose by 1,500 per annum, if we include cases of secondary urgency. It is clear that the 1925 plan is insufficient to solve the housing shortage, and that there can be no thought [at this time] of tackling the renovation of insalubrious dwellings in the old town.2 —Ernst May addressing the CIAM Congress of 1929 The building of settlements goes on unabated! In spite of repeated newspaper reports of a decline in Frankfurt’s settlement- building program, just last week we finalized an agreement with the city to move forward with three major projects: 1. The third and last segment of Praunheim will be undertaken immediately and completed to its full extent. 2. Construction will commence on the new settlement of Westhausen and its 1500 houses by September 15, 1929. We...

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