Friday, April 20, 2007

Old City of the Future

The city planner in Berlin's senate, Hans Stimmann, argues that the city must turn away from the Bauhaus-inspired "apartment blocks" and return to "the example of Anglo-Saxon townhouses," and that the left (to which he belongs) should support such contiguous development and private ownership in urban areas.

Following the development of (West) Berlin's Hansa-Viertel in the twentieth century, Stimmann sees modernist planning and architecture in the same light as Siedler and Niggemeyer--the murder of the city already devastated by allied bombing. The creation of a "city of the future" (especially as an alternative to the communist city rising in the east) was an injustice.
Everything could have been simpler: through the takeover of available municipal plots, the maintaining of as many buildings as possible, the protection of private ownership, the return of Jewish property, the reconstruction of churches and synagogues and the development of parcels with contemporary architecture. However, everything was impossible on political grounds. [Emphasis mine]
The Hansa-Viertel became an architectural curiosity; not a living space, but a collection of "rental vaults."

Good idea. America could use more rows of houses in place of the McMansions on monster plots (see Witold Rybzcynski's Why to we live in houses anyway? (HT: Ralph Luker)). But the modern style, which would dominate so many bombed-out German cities, was also a product of the political struggles that came before WWII. Worker housing was in short supply, and patrician-dominated municipal governments still resisted changes that would challenge the identity of the city and its elites. Among the reasons I admire Adenauer as a mayor is that he imagined Cologne of the future with a modern workers' quarter, but it had many of the same architectural features of the Hansa-Viertel. On the other hand, much of the effort to save the city from modernity in the 1930s and 40s was not just social, it was racial--eliminating anything that smacked of cosmopolitanism.

Aside: Eduard Fuhr has an interesting essay about ornamentation in modern urban planning.


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