The Weissenhof Siedlung Exhibition was held in Stuttgart in 1927, as a demonstration by leading architects on building housing for the future. It represented a review of modern European architecture up to that point, and presented ideas for the future. The city of Stuttgart agreed in 1926 to host the exhibit, and fund the buildings at the council rate for subsidised housing (35 RM per m3).Although this was the cost per metre that the architects had to aim at, all of them went over budget and on average, cost about 60-70 RM per m3. The exhibit was to be a research area for new materials and construction methods, as well as being useful: the houses were intended to be sold or rented after the exhibition closed.
Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, in his position of vice-president of the Werkbund was the exhibition manager; it was part of the 'Die Wohnung' (The Dwelling) exhibition of the Deutsche Werkbund. Van de Rohe was extremely liberal with the planning of the exhibit, he drew up the site plan himself, the architects agreed amongst themselves to use flat roofs and the individual buildings had to fit in with Mies' site plan, but otherwise, they were left free to develop their own ideas. The participating architects were primarily young, progressive and eager to experiment, and most of them belonged to organisations such as the Deutsche Werkbund, the Zehnerring (Ring of Ten) or the Novembergruppe (November Group). These groups all promoted and supported the ideas of the Neues Bauen (New Construction), so the overall effect is surprisingly harmonious, given the amount of different architects who worked on the project. The list of the participants is as follows: Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, Le Corbusier & Pierre Jeanneret, Walter Gropius, J.J.P. Oud, Mart Stam, Peter Behrens, Bruno Taut, Max Taut, J Frank, Richard Döcker, Ludwig Hilberseimer, Hans Poelzig, Adolf Rading and Hans Scharoun.
Aim and General Style
The aim of the exhibition was to design for the modern city dweller, from blue-collar workers to the upper middle classes. New construction methods and new materials were used by almost all the architects, since economy and therefore cheap rental prices were one of the requirements. Consideration was made for affordability for workers, but only the smaller apartments ended up being cheap by city standards. The rest of the houses ended up being aimed at an educated middle class, and this part of the exhibition was more like a demonstration of the architect's view of the modern way of living.
The buildings are superb examples of the International Style: free developing layouts, internal openness, mobile divisions, and large areas of glass. They fulfill Hitchcock and Johnson's definitions of the term: Stress on volume rather than mass, equilibrium rather than symmetry, and avoidance of decoration. But Hitchcock and Johnson seem to distort the concept of this style, such as the term itself - architects involved deliberately used 'Baukunst' to avoid any connotations of style or decoration. These buildings exemplified the 'skin and bone' construction method, with an internal frame supporting the structure, allowing for maximum flexibility in plan and façade. This allowed the structure to determine the form, rather than the more usual approach of the structure following from form.
The layout of the site was on a hill overlooking the rest of the city of Stuttgart, on the southeast slope of the Killesberg. The site is bounded by Le Corbusier's buildings on the left, Peter Behrens's on the right, and Mies van der Rohe's at the back. Being the tallest building on the site, it becomes the 'optical halt' towards the northwest. The group of buildings resembles a Mediterranean village; there is no central square or similar focal point. The houses are loosely grouped and staggered, giving variety to the site. Transport was another consideration in the site, although the plan was originally conceived to be car-free, with a car park on the edge of the site, all the houses have access from a road, there is a tram stop at one corner, and the whole site is close to a main access road to the city centre.
Some Architect's Contributions
Mies Van der Rohe's own contribution (Am Weißenhof 14-20) was the central apartment block on the crest of the hill, containing 24 apartments in varying sizes (between 2 and 4 rooms, excluding kitchens and bathrooms) and a street-level shop. There were also communal laundry rooms and rooftop gardens on the top floor. Strong horizontal bands of windows interspersed with balconies unify and elongate the structure, and the open terraces provide interest for the roofline. The building was constructed on a skeletal steel frame system, allowing for flexible planning, the only fixed points in the plan were the kitchens and bathrooms in the flats, due to the provision of services needed for these rooms. The flats had adjustable walls, giving residents the freedom to subdivide the area as needed. This allowed for changing needs and expectations. Mies thought that by this method 'we will be able to satisfy every reasonable domestic requirement' 1.
Le Corbusier and Pierre Jenneret's houses are one large house for two families, and a second smaller family house. These houses are completely in line with Le Corbusier's Five points of architecture: all five points are present; ribbon windows, flat roof with roof garden, free façade, free plan, and raised on pilotis. Services are on the ground floor, among the pilotis, with living areas on the next floor(s), and roof gardens at the top. This is the nearest his plans for the Citrohan houses come to being realised. They are chronologically between the Maison Cook and Villa Savoie, and all of these houses seem quite similar in style. The presence of maid's rooms indicates the houses were intended for upper-middle class occupants, as opposed to worker's housing that the Citrohan house aimed for. The larger house (Rathenaustraße 1-3) is two nearly identical houses joined together, with the ribbon window and roof-garden opening carrying through the join, unifying the building. The building externally resembles the Maison Cook, with a strong horizontal emphasis, but is made up of two separate houses. The houses have a view over the rest of the city from the large roof terraces which take up the entirety of the top floor. The living area is completely open plan; the sleeping areas are only separated by low walls from the living area. This layout seems impractical; Hans Schmidt complains that there is 'nowhere to write a postcard in peace' 2. Walter Riezler talks of depersonalization with this layout – everyone in the family has to do the same thing at the same time, and personalizing your space with these houses is very difficult. Riezler also suggests depersonalization with the materials, leading to what he refers to as a lack of emotional warmth, leading to the need to create 'homeliness'. He dismisses the houses as only suitable for a summer house in warmer climates, or suitable for 'only fanatical devotees of the 'new living" 3.
The smaller Le Corbusier house (Bruckmannweg 2) very much resembles the Citrohan example, with a roof terrace, double-height ceiling and window for the main living area. Its external box-like form is balanced by internal curved walls and changes in the ceiling height. Again, the design follows his five points, but the ribbon window feature is not included. The main living area is divided by high and low ceilings and a central chimney. This smaller house seems to have a better division of space than the large house, there is a study above the living area, separated by floor, but joined by the double height ceiling in the living area. The bedrooms are not a part of the living area this time, but are on the 2nd and 3rd floors, away from the potential disturbance of the living area. Again, maid's room present, and services relegated to the ground floor. This differentiates the Citrohan plans with this house, the Citrohan plans were intended as worker's housing, and the inclusion of a specific maid's room rather goes against this ideal. Apart from this, there are many similarities, the cuboid form, following the five points, the double-height window continues, and there is a vestige of an external terrace off the living area - just above the doorway there is a very small balcony, big enough for one person. Le Corbusier probably takes the ideas of the Neues Bauen furthest; he also combines the idea of the exhibition with his own theories and distinctive style. He also uses ideas from his Dom-in-o project – this is where his use of pilotis and a free façade comes from. Due to these factors, his houses are the most distinctive in the exhibition.
Walter Gropius wanted emphasis on mass production of housing, combining standardized parts together to create differing forms. His contribution was two family houses, (Bruckmannweg 4 & 6), made entirely out of prefabricated components. The houses were part of research into the 'modular system' and new building materials. The prefabricated system was based on a 1.06m2 grid, so both houses have the same size ground plan and are made of the same basic components. Due to their prefabricated nature, both houses were completed in three months and ten days, extremely rapid for four and five bedroom houses. In design, they follow the general style of the exhibition, but seem further reduced and simplified due to their prefabricated nature. Riezler comments that these were built with 'an engineer's objectivity, worked out to the last detail'. Gropius had just finished working on the Bauhaus buildings at Dessau, and these Weissenhof houses can be seen as products of the Bauhaus. They are comparable to the master's housing at Dessau, but are more pared-down in style. Gropius' Weissenhof houses are prototypes for industrial manufacture, applying Bauhaus design to industry.
Mart Stam designed a terrace of 3 family houses, intended as prototypes for standardized, mass-production houses. Stam stresses that many years of improvements and developments are needed until 'the standard type is refined to its utmost practicality'. These were meant to be minimum-effort houses, where all the house work would be outsourced to large companies, liberating the housewife. The Stam houses had a main open plan living area on the ground floor, with a washroom, storeroom and workshop below, in a semi-sunk basement with garden access. The bedrooms were on the first floor. In style they fit in with the rest of the houses on the site, box-like, with windows in horizontal bands.
All of the buildings fitted in with the Neues Bauen doctrine of a clean, regular style, large, punched windows and an absence of detail, despite the number of architects involved. White wasn't the only colour used – the Stam houses were finished in light blue and yellow, and Bruno Taut's was originally red, yellow and blue, making it reminiscent of a Piet Mondrian painting. Many criticisms were leveled at the project, most of them seem concerned only with the style in which these were built, or critical of the way the architects intended people to live in them. Critics, especially those with right-wing views, felt that it wasn't 'German' enough in style, they thought that housing should reflect national identity – was there an underlying fear of socialism in the criticism? Many of the critics also thought that the houses dictated too much on lifestyle, and did not take actual lifestyles into consideration. Professor Wetzel regards the buildings as out of place in the landscape – 'Everything looks borrowed, accidental, foreign' 4. The Deutsche Bund fur Heimatschutz (DBH) was particularly vocal against the Neues Bauen, accusing it of being a 'passing fashion' and that it is a 'destruction of national values' 5. Hermann Muthesius calls the whole style constructional romanticism and extravagance: 'the cubist building style has nothing to do with reality. Materials and the construction must serve as tools for the will to form; not the other way around.' Muthesius thought that it was 'nothing but a temporary style which will pass away with changing fashions' 6. Professor Paul Bonatz thought that they are more like a 'suburb of Jerusalem than dwellings for Stuttgart' 7. The buildings were also criticised for being expensive and charmless, the handling of the materials was extremely utilitarian. In one of the more harsh critiques of the exhibition, Hans Schmidt criticises the shoddy finish of the houses, the lack of a plinth at the base, and the disregard for safety – 'in the interest of the coming generation we can only hope that the first child to lose its life because of this ill-considered arrangement is the child of one of the architects…' 8 The shoddy finish is possibly understandable because of the speed in which the buildings were constructed, but is inexcusable for permanent dwellings, which these buildings were meant to be. More care should have gone into the design for safety and longevity as Schmidt points out.
There were many differing attitudes towards mass housing present in the exhibition, from small rows of terraced houses to large blocks of flats, and individual houses. These all present different modes of living for the future – compact, well designed flats for workers and single-person residents, as well as larger suburban houses for affluent middle classes. These are the traditional house types – apartment, terraced, semi-detached and detached - no completely new styles, but they are all presented in an International Style manner. Architects brought their previous experiences together and created an exhibition to stimulate thought and discussion about what sort of houses were suitable and how they should be built. The main difference from conventional housing developments is the design for mixed population groups – it isn't aimed at one particular social grouping – there are houses for everyone in the plan.
The purpose of the exhibition was to consolidate developments in the International Style movement up to that point, and presents ideas for the future of house building and city dwelling.
- Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, Remarks on my block of flats, 1927
- Hans Schmidt, The Housing Exhibition in Stuttgart
- Walter Riezler, The Dwelling House
- Professor Wetzel, Technische Hochschule, Stuttgart, in Heimatschutz and New Building
- Draft of a paper prepared by the Deutscher Bund für Heimatschutz presenting guidelines for contemporary housing
- Hermann Muthesius, writing in Wasmuths Monatsfte no. 2, 1927
- Professor Paul Bonatz, Technische Hochschule, Stuttgart in Schwäbische Merkur
- Hans Schmidt, The Housing Exhibition in Stuttgart
J. Joedicke, Die Weißenhofsiedlung, Stuttgart, 1977
- S. Anderson, Peter Behrens and a New Architecture for the Twentieth Century, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000
- K. James, Erich Mendelsohn and the Architecture of German Modernism, Cambridge UP, 1997
- T. Benton, C. Benton, D Sharp (Ed), Form and function: a source book for the 'History of architecture and design', 1890-1939, London, 1975
- C. Benton (Ed), Documents, a collection of source material on the Modern Movement, Milton Keynes, 1975
The complex was sold to the German Reich in 1938, and was due to be demolished. The outbreak of war in 1939 prevented this, and during the war, Mies van der Rohe's apartment block was used as a children's hospital, Max Taut's building was used as a Wehrmacht command post, and anti-aircraft guns were mounted on some of the roofs. Because of this, the settlement was bombed in 1944, and both Walter Gropius houses and the buildings of Max and Bruno Taut, Döcker, Hilberseimer and Poelzig were destroyed.
In 1958, a preservation order was implemented, and the remaining buildings of the settlement were restored between 1981 and 1987.
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