Industrialism, Functionalism and
the New Objectivity in Europe:
Social Housing and
The early years of the 20th century saw the development of ferro
concrete structural systems. Among the leaders of ferro
research and experimentation were Gustave and Auguste Perret in
France. Their designs were bold, innovative, and limited to no
particular building type.
Swiss architect Charles Edouard Jeanneret, who took
the pseudonym “LeCorbusier,” worked in the Perret studio in the
years before World War I. He must have been very familiar with
the apartment dwelling block at 25 bis Rue Franklin which
Auguste Perret built in 1902.
From its lessons, Le Corbusier developed an even more radical
approach to reinforced concrete, a material he continued to use
throughout his career.
Paris, Auguste Perret, 25 bis Rue
The important structural innovation here is the elimination of heavy
masonry bearing walls in favor of reinforced concrete columns of
section that support concrete slab floor planes. This
liberates the arrangement of space: thin partitions enclose rooms
without concern for load.
For Le Corbusier, the implications of this remarkable design
were quite vast. He proposed a simple concrete structural
paradigm that took the Perret idea further.
In his “Dom
the slab of the first floor is lifted off the ground to eliminate a
basement or to provide outdoor space for various needs.
The second floor and roof slabs are supported by slender
columns that are set back from the edges of the slabs.
This frees both the design of the envelope as well as the
arrangement of interior space
The roof becomes an additional outdoor space, accessible by
stairs, just as the first and second floors.
Le Corbusier, “Dom
House, c1914, and possible
housing community based on
In Berlin, one of the most active and innovative designers prior to
World War I was Peter Behrens who was retained by AEG (the
Allgemeine Elektrizitaets Gesellschaft or the “General Electric
Company” of Germany) as head of design.
Behrens designed not only architecture for AEG but exhibits,
events, graphics, and virtually everything else that affected the
public image of the company.
During the period when Behrens designed the AEG Turbine
Factory in Berlin, his office was a hot bed of new talent that
included several designers who would soon emerge as leading
talents: Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier , and Ludwig Mies van der
Berlin, Peter Behrens,
AEG Turbine Factory,
Just before World War I, Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer won the
commission to renovate and remodel the Faguswerke in the little
town of Alfeld on the river Leine. The Fagus company produced
shoelasts and wanted to have a modern plant for its production.
This was Gropius and Meyer’s most important opportunity to
implement ideas and inspirations that they had begun to develop.
It is easy to see the influence of Peter Behrens on this early work.
Leine, Walter Gropius & Adolf
Meyer, Fagus Shoelast Factory, 1911
Just after World War I, Holland became an important contributor
to architectural ideas about social housing that were also important
to Germany architects like Gropius, Meyer, Mies van der Rohe,
Additionally, an important movement called “de Stijl” (named
after a magazine that reviewed important developments in
contemporary art currents) brought new ideas about abstraction to
fruition in architecture, especially by such designers as Gerrit
His Schroeder House in Utrecht is an excellent example of the
marriage of the new concrete technology with the notion of formal
Utrecht, Gerrit Rietveld, Schroeder House, 1923
Just after World War I, during the period of the Weimar Republic,
Walter Gropius accepted the appointment as head of the Academy
of Arts and Crafts in Weimar, an amalgamation of two previously
existing state art schools. He reorganized its curriculum along
garde lines pedagogically, administratively, and
artistically and renamed it “Bauhaus.” This name recalls the
German word “Bauhuette” used to designate the headquarters and
the culture of medieval cathedral construction. The fundamental
idea was that the Bauhaus would not teach separate disciplines
only but would expect cross
fertilization between the arts.
The extremely conservative Weimar Government in Weimar was
threatened by this idea that sounded like something close to
communism to them. They refused to fund the school, so Gropius
moved the institution to Dessau where the local city government
was eager to support new ideas.
Dessau, Walter Gropius, Bauhaus, 1925
Affordable housing was one of the biggest human social issues in
World War I (1914
1918) Germany. Private funding of
housing was reduced to a minimum because the economy was in
severe depression. The only major sources of private funding
were large corporations who sometimes built housing projects for
their workers. The Siemens Company is an example. The only
other solution for the development of much needed shelter,
especially for the lower and middle classes was to create social
housing projects, funded by local or regional govenments.
In 1927, the city of Stuttgart, capital of Baden
southwest Germany, decided to create a model social housing
project. They invited Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to manage an
international competition to select designers for a variety of
housing types from two
family structures, rowhouses, to
apartment buildlings. Some of the most famous architects of
Europe built in the Weissenhofsiedlung (Weissenhof Settlement).
Stuttgart, Weissenhofsiedlung, 1927