- Pablo López Martín
- The Conversation *
The need for housing in Germany after the peace of 1918 suffered a decisive increase for various reasons: re-immigration from distant territories, the return of the army, the increasing number of marriages and, for the first time, also the increasing number of divorces.
To alleviate this, the Weimar Republic carried out plans and measures such as the state rent tax, the hauszinssteuer (1924-31), for which billions of marks were put into circulation in the form of mortgages and subsidies.
To put numbers to the problem, in 1931 Germany had a deficit of between 1 and 1.5 million homes despite the existing housing reserve of 16 to 17 million.
In two large cities – Berlin, with about 4 million inhabitants that year, and Frankfurt am Main, with about 700,000 – new construction, standardized and ready to be mass-produced, was introduced on a larger scale than anywhere else. the world during the 1920s as a way to combat this growing need.
A home for the modern world
With this climate so conducive to the interests of the modern movement, an exhibition entitled Die wohnung —The house—, held in the summer of 1927, which managed to attract more than half a million visitors.
Clearly, the housing problem had exceeded that of mere disciplinary debate to attract the attention of the common citizen.
The main part of the exhibition was made up of the model houses they built sixteen prominent national and foreign architects, all of them defenders of modern precepts: Mies van der Rohe, Hilberseimer, Poelzig, the brothers Taut from Berlin, Scharoun and Rading from Breslau, Döcker and Schneck from Stuttgart, Gropius from Dessau, Behrens and Frank from Vienna, Bourgeois from Brussels, Le Corbusier in Paris, Oud and Stam in Rotterdam.
The exhibition was an initiative of the Deutche Werkbund, a joint association of German architects, artists and industrialists, founded in 1907 by Hermann Muthesius.
The motto of the association, Vom Sofakissen zum Städtebau (“from the cushions of the sofas to the construction of cities”), speaks clearly to us of the amplitude of scales that the reformulation of modern life required.
Two issues focused the attention of the sample: a new way of building and a new way of living, shown in the adjacent exhibitions and, even more so, in the interiors of the experimental dwellings themselves.
The Weissenhoff (Model Villa) would be in the words of Mies van der Rohe, its illustrious director, an “experiment” with the firm purpose of thinking, projecting and teaching the world a new way of living.
The public was only able to imagine their houses using the already known precedents.
It was the modern architect’s mission to assume a didactic role, project himself into the future and show his possibilities.
The reinvention of furniture
The furniture that populated the houses could not resort to the old bourgeois models, outdated and contrary to the new ways of life. The furniture needed a deep renovation and this was a unique occasion.
The constant in the “town” were the furniture with steel tube in all the versions and variants that Marcel Breuer had popularized in 1925 through the designs made for the new Bauhaus headquarters in Dessau, Germany, and which had a rapid diffusion and reception in Europe through the school’s publications.
The steel tube cabinet had become an icon of modernity, “in the same way as transparent glass envelopes to replace load-bearing walls”, and served as a reference for those more determined architects, such as Le Corbusier, JJP Oud, Mies or Mart Stam ready to present their own designs.
However, one of the models stood out above all due to its enormous audacity: the (chair) model presented by the exhibition director himself, Mies van der Rohe.
Its unusual structural scheme dispensed with the two rear legs and gave its stability to the very configuration that the continuous steel tube drew in space.
In the model, the two-dimensionality was overcome and had been replaced by a light spatial structure that expressed the new concept of space of the time.
The purpose of the tubular cabinet was underline the transparency of those spartan and neat interiors turning his furniture into “vaporous pieces that seem to have sprouted in the room as if someone had drawn them”, in Marcel Breuer’s own words.
The chair, which seemed to float in the air, was the ultimate expression of one of the long-awaited longings of modernity: the very materiality of steel, in its optimized version, was what had resulted in a completely new form of an everyday object for rephrase it.
This chair soon had an important impact and variants of all kinds spread throughout Europe, becoming an emblem of modernity. His role transcended the role itself. Just as airplanes were not only means of transport for Le Corbusier but cultural objects, signs of activation of a new way of life, furniture became carriers of the cultural identity of its time.
Object culture in the modern movement reverses its role by making furniture not only passive inhabitants of architecture but active members of persuasion, in the expression that Le Corbusier coined: “objects of modern life capable of arousing a state of life modern”.
* Pablo López Martínez is associate professor of Sustainable Interior Design at Nebrija University, Spain.
* This article was originally published on The Conversation and you can read it here.
Now you can receive notifications from BBC News Mundo. Download our app and activate them so you don’t miss our best content.