Dissertation: How does the con­flict be­tween col­lec­tivist utopia and in­di­vid­u­al­ism in mod­ernism man­i­fest it­self in hous­ing ar­chi­tec­ture?

We re­mem­ber the Bauhaus mostly for its phys­i­cal ar­ti­facts: Steel tube fur­ni­ture, house­hold ap­pli­ances put to­gether from geo­met­ric shapes, New Typography, all set against the back­drop of flat-roofed, pris­tine white ar­chi­tec­ture. The philo­soph­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal strug­gle that led to these out­comes seems dis­tant to us. Reading some of the Bauhaus pub­li­ca­tions, writ­ten in some­what stilted 1920s German can only give us a faint idea of the mon­u­men­tal en­deav­our the Bauhausler were en­gaged in.

What they were work­ing to­wards was vi­sion for so­ci­ety in which cit­i­zens, ar­chi­tec­ture, prod­uct de­sign, agri­cul­ture, en­ter­tain­ment, sci­ence and art would ex­ist to­gether in one uni­fied, ra­tio­nal pro­gramme: Modernism. To the young peo­ple at the Bauhaus, over­look­ing the ris­ing in­dus­trial town of Dessau from their glass-wrapped stu­dios this idea must have felt ut­terly within reach: In a coun­try still strug­gling to re­cover from the First World War, with vi­o­lent rev­o­lu­tions go­ing on in Europe and new tech­nol­ogy chang­ing every as­pect of life, change seemed in­evitable. (Wilder, 2016)

How ex­actly that change should look like, the Bauhausler never quite agreed on. The early Bauhaus was dri­ven by the search for in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sion. Johannes Itten, with his head shaved and wear­ing a robe of his own de­sign, taught the now-fa­mous Vorkurs: Here, stu­dents de­vel­oped their per­sonal means of ex­pres­sion through med­i­ta­tion, phi­los­o­phy and ba­sic ex­er­cises (Bauhaus100.de, 2017).

The Bauhaus started to move to­ward a more col­lec­tive out­look in 1922, when Theo van Doesburg, a pro­po­nent of De Stijl be­gan teach­ing at the Bauhaus. He in­tro­duced the re­duc­tion to geo­met­ric shapes and pri­mary colours that would come to de­fine the Bauhaus Style”. The fol­low­ing year Hungarian artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy took over teach­ing of the pre­lim­i­nary course. He re­placed much of Itten’s ec­clec­tic cur­ricu­lum with ex­er­cises us­ing in­dus­trial ma­te­r­ial. In the fol­low­ing years, ob­jec­tiv­ity and sci­en­tific rigor re­mained the gov­ern­ing thought at the Bauhaus. It was dur­ing this later pe­riod that Marcel Breuer pro­duced fur­ni­ture out of pre­ci­sion steel tube, Marianne Brandt de­signed geo­met­ric house­hold items and Walter Gropius com­pleted some of the most iconic ex­am­ples of mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture (Droste, 1998).

Despite its aca­d­e­mic suc­cess the Bauhaus was faced with po­lit­i­cal pres­sure from its in­cep­tion. The in­creas­ingly right-wing gov­ern­ment of Weimar forced the Bauhaus to move to Dessau in 1925. When the Nazis came to na­tional power in the 1930s, the Bauhaus again to Berlin where, af­ter a brief pe­riod un­der the lead­er­ship of Mies van der Rohe, the school dis­banded in 1933. Many for­mer Bauhausler were forced to flee Germany, which of course only served to spread Bauhaus ideas. Gropius, Breuer, Mies and oth­ers con­tin­ued to teach in the United States, con­tribut­ing to the emer­gence of the International Style. (Wilder, 2016)

The ar­chi­tec­tural legacy of the Bauhaus sur­rounds us to this day. I’m writ­ing this from a 1960s uni­ver­sity build­ing with steel win­dows, con­crete slab floors and cur­tain walls not dis­sim­i­lar to what Gropius used 40 years prior in Dessau. Similar build­ings can be found in cities all over the world. However, de­sip­ite its ubiq­uity, mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture, par­tic­u­larly in the con­text of so­cial hous­ing, has been a point of con­tention for the bet­ter part of a cen­tury. Critics like Nikolaus Pevsner de­scribe mod­ernist hous­ing de­vel­op­ments as impersonal and mega­lo­ma­niac cre­ations” (Fletcher, 2008), in­ca­pable of meet­ing the di­verse needs of their res­i­dents. This gets to the con­flict that this es­say sets out to ex­plore: The ap­par­ent con­tra­dic­tion be­tween in­di­vid­u­al­ism the col­lec­tivist utopia of mod­ernism — a con­tra­dic­tion that is deeply em­bed­ded within the mod­ernist move­ment and the chang­ing per­cep­tion of its prod­ucts over the course of the 20th cen­tury.

Two Conflicts

When we ask about the con­flict be­tween in­di­vid­u­al­ism and col­lec­tivism in mod­ernism, we should start by defin­ing the con­flict. In fact, we can iden­tify two dif­fer­ent con­flicts at play si­mul­ta­ne­ously: First, there is the con­flict be­tween the col­lec­tivist, egal­i­tar­ian vi­sion of mod­ernism and the im­age of the heroic, sole cre­ator (be it Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius or Mies van der Rohe) who is tasked to bring that vi­sion to life. This is linked to Marianne DeKoven’s (2011) analy­sis of mod­ernism and gen­der, which places the myth of the (male) hero artist at the very cen­tre of mod­ernist think­ing. Sec­ondly, I’m go­ing to ex­am­ine the con­flict be­tween mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture and the in­di­vid­u­al­ism of the peo­ple in­hab­it­ing it in the con­text of post-war con­sumerism. This con­flict is de­fined on one side by the col­lec­tivist utopia of the Bauhaus: A world in which hous­ing, trans­porta­tion, ap­pli­ances, cul­ture and food is de­signed through a sci­en­tific process and mass-pro­duced by ma­chines to be af­ford­able to every­one. By re­duc­ing forms to their func­tional min­i­mum, the Bauhaus aimed to cre­ate uni­ver­sal so­lu­tions for hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and every­day life. On the other side is the pop­ulist cri­tique of those uni­ver­sal so­lu­tions as be­ing fun­da­men­tally at odds with the peo­ple’s in­her­ent in­di­vid­u­al­ism — a cri­tique epit­o­mised by the im­age of the derelict hous­ing block. THis line of at­tack which orig­i­nates in the 1970s with Oscar Newman’s (1972) study Defensible Space: People and Design in the Violent City”, which links mod­ernist hous­ing with in­creased crime, ar­gu­ing that the spa­tial de­sign of hous­ing blocks makes them in­her­ently un­safe, and that pri­vate space, rather than pub­lic space should be pri­ori­tised. Newman’s work has since been crit­i­cised for its overly broad as­sump­tions about the na­ture of hu­man in­ter­ac­tion (Steventon, 1996). Popular crit­ics such as Tom Wolfe (1981) crit­i­cise mod­ernist hous­ing as be­ing overly aca­d­e­mic and fun­da­men­tally un­fit for its pur­pose. Wolfe cites the widely pub­li­cized de­mo­li­tion of the Pruitt–Igoe hous­ing es­tate in St. Louis in 1972 (only 20 years af­ter its con­struc­tion) as ev­i­dence for the fail­ure of the col­lec­tivist ideas of mod­ernism. This pop­u­lar re­jec­tion of mod­ernist hous­ing mod­els on the grounds that it does­n’t re­flect peo­ple’s in­di­vid­u­al­ism can be linked to the emer­gence of mod­ern con­sumerism in the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tury. As Miles (1998) shows, con­sumer cul­ture emerges as a re­sult of an in­crease in real wages and im­proved pro­duc­tion meth­ods sud­denly mak­ing com­modi­ties avail­able to large parts of the pop­u­la­tion. This leads to a shift from fordist prin­ci­ples of large-scale pro­duc­tion and mass-mar­ket ap­peal to post-fordist pro­duc­tion, in which a di­ver­si­fied work­force cre­ates prod­ucts de­signed for smaller and smaller sub-sets of con­sumers. As a re­sult of this, con­sump­tion be­comes a cul­tural act — a way of as­sert­ing your iden­tity, be­long­ing to a par­tic­u­lar group or hav­ing a cer­tain level of sta­tus. Crucially, the idea of con­sumer free­dom is linked to the idea of po­lit­i­cal free­dom, as Slater (1997) ar­gues:

To be a con­sumer is to make choices: to de­cide what you want, to con­sider how to spend your money to get it […]. Consumer sou­ver­eign­ty’ is an ex­tremely com­pelling im­age of free­dom: […] it pro­vides one of the few tan­gi­ble and mun­dane ex­pe­ri­ences of free­dom which feels per­son­ally sig­nif­i­cant to mod­ern sub­jects. (slater 1997, p27)

According to Slater, this link be­tween con­sumer choice and po­lit­i­cal free­dom is es­pe­cially pro­nounced in the 1980s, when collective and so­cial pro­vi­sion gave way to rad­i­cal in­di­vid­u­al­ism — as Thatcher put it, There is no such thing as a so­ci­ety, only in­di­vid­u­als and their fam­i­lies’” (Slater 1997, p10). The idea of in­di­vid­ual con­sumer free­dom is pitched as the po­lar op­po­site of pre-war ideas of col­lec­tivism — the sub­se­quent re­jec­tion of mod­ernist hous­ing mod­els is­n’t much of a sur­prise. To see how these two con­flicts man­i­fest them­selves in physcial ar­chi­tec­ture I’m go­ing to in­tro­duce the ar­chi­tec­tural prac­tice at the Bauhaus, plac­ing it in the wider con­text of mod­ernist think­ing. I will then ex­am­ine the Dessau-Törten hous­ing set­tle­ment near Leipzig, Germany as an ex­am­ple of this prac­tice. Built by Walter Gropius be­tween 1927 and 1930, Törten has been sub­ject to sig­nif­i­cant al­ter­ations by its res­i­dents over the last 90 years. By track­ing these al­ter­ations, I will show how these un­der­ly­ing con­flicts shift and over­lap over time. In clos­ing, I will ex­am­ine more re­cent hous­ing mod­els in the con­text of a post-in­dus­trial econ­omy, again dis­cussing how the con­flict be­tween in­di­vid­u­al­ism and col­lec­tivist ideas is rec­on­ciled.

The Myth of the Hero Creator

The emer­gence of mod­ernism in the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury co­in­cides with the first wave of fem­i­nism. The mod­ernist fo­cus on the ma­chine, speed, ef­fi­ciency (which were per­ceived as trdi­tion­ally male at­trib­utes) and op­po­si­tion of or­na­ment and sen­ti­men­tal­ity (which were re­garded as fe­male) is seen by crit­ics as a re­ac­tionary re­sponse by male mod­ernists to the new, em­pow­ered woman (Dekoven, 2011). We see this re­flected in the openly misog­y­nist lan­guage of the 1909 fu­tur­ist man­i­festo:

We will glo­rify war—the world’s only hy­giene—mil­i­tarism, pa­tri­o­tism, the de­struc­tive ges­ture of free­dom-bringers, beau­ti­ful ideas worth dy­ing for, and scorn for woman. We will de­stroy the mu­se­ums, li­braries, acad­e­mies of every kind, will fight moral­ism, fem­i­nism, every op­por­tunis­tic or util­i­tar­ian cow­ardice.

(Marinetti, 1909) Here Marinetti is lay­ing out the idea of the heroic, hy­per-male cre­ator — a no­tion that is ul­ti­mately re­flected in the cult of per­son­al­ity of fas­cism, which the Futurist move­ment sup­ported (Blum, 2014). This re­gres­sive no­tion of the au­thor­i­tar­ian male artist standss in con­trast to the egal­i­tar­ian aims of the mod­ernist move­ment, which in­cluded the em­pow­er­ment of women. DeKoven points out:

[…] Male Modernist fear of wom­en’s new power […] re­sulted in the com­bi­na­tion of misog­yny and tri­umphal mas­culin­ism that many crit­ics see as cen­tral, defin­ing fea­tures of Modernist work by men. This mas­culin­ist misog­yny, how­ever, was al­most uni­ver­sally ac­com­pa­nied by its di­alec­ti­cal twin: a fas­ci­na­tion and strong iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the em­pow­ered fem­i­nine. (DeKoven, 2011, p. 228)

DeKoven is talk­ing about this con­tra­dic­tion in the con­text of mod­ernist lit­er­a­ture here, but I would ar­gue that her analy­sis can be ex­panded to ar­chi­tec­ture: The fig­ure of the sharply dressed hero ar­chi­tect (be it Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius or Mies van der Rohe) who is lit­er­ally tasked with de­sign­ing the new world stands in con­trast to the egal­i­tar­ian, col­lec­tivist vi­sion of so­ci­ety the mod­ernist move­ment was work­ing to­ward.

From Marinetti to Gropius

It is pos­si­ble to draw a di­rect lin­eage from the Futurist move­ment to the Bauhaus. In 1910, Adolf Loos echoes Marinetti’s de­nun­ci­a­tion of or­na­ment (though with a Darwinian twist, ar­gu­ing that cul­tural evo­lu­tion is equiv­a­lent to the re­moval of or­na­ment”). Loos goes on to say that

[…] Ornament is not only pro­duced by crim­i­nals; it it­self com­mits a crime, by dam­ag­ing men’s health, the na­tional econ­omy and cul­tural de­vel­op­ment. […] Even greater is the dam­age or­na­ment in­flicts on the work­ers. As or­na­ment is no longer a nat­ural prod­uct of our civ­i­liza­tion, it ac­cord­ingly rep­re­sents back­ward­ness or de­gen­er­a­tion […] (Loos, 1910)

The no­tion that or­na­ment is to be over­come in or­der to achieve progress is re­flected in Gropius’ 1919 Bauhaus man­i­festo:

The or­na­men­ta­tion of the build­ing was once the main pur­pose of the vi­sual arts, and they were con­sid­ered in­dis­pens­able parts of the great build­ing. Today, they ex­ist in com­pla­cent iso­la­tion, from which they can only be sal­vaged by the pur­pose­ful and co­op­er­a­tive en­deav­ours of all ar­ti­sans.

The ul­ti­mate goal of all art” at the Bauhaus, as Gropius goes on to de­clare, is ar­chi­tec­ture. He then ex­plains how the new build­ing” would unite all artis­tic dis­ci­plines — again echo­ing the Futurists’ de­nun­ci­a­tion of the past:

So let us there­fore cre­ate a new guild of crafts­men, free of the di­vi­sive class pre­ten­sions that en­deav­oured to raise a pride­ful bar­rier be­tween crafts­men and artists! Let us strive for, con­ceive and cre­ate the new build­ing of the fu­ture that will unite every dis­ci­pline, ar­chi­tec­ture and sculp­ture and paint­ing, and which will one day rise heav­en­wards from the mil­lion hands of crafts­men as a clear sym­bol of a new be­lief to come.′ (Gropius, 1919)

It is worth high­light­ing Gropius’ use of me­di­ae­val im­agery to talk about the fu­ture. The con­cept of craft guilds, which Gropius refers to in the open­ing sen­tence dates back to the 13th cen­tury. Further, the building […] that will unite every dis­ci­pline […] and which will rise heav­en­wards” is a clear ref­er­ence to the me­dieaval cathe­dral, which is con­firmed by Lionel Feininger’s wood­cut Cathedral” (1919) used to il­lus­trate the text (Burshart, 2009). Although these me­di­ae­val aes­thet­ics seem op­posed to the Marinetti’s vi­sion of a mech­a­nised fu­ture, the un­der­ly­ing ideas are con­sis­tent. There is the de­nun­ci­a­tion of the past, the re­jec­tion of (female) or­na­men­ta­tion in favour of (male) clar­ity and ob­jec­tiv­ity. Using al­most bib­li­cal lan­guage, the (male) ar­chi­tect is po­si­tioned as a hero fig­ure tasked to build a bet­ter so­ci­ety. The con­tra­dic­tion de­scribed by DeKoven is per­haps epit­o­mised in Gropius’ ad­mis­sion pol­icy: While women were al­lowed at the Bauhaus (a pro­gres­sive move in 1919), Gropius made sure they were fun­neled into the weav­ing and paint­ing work­shops — the ar­chi­tec­ture de­part­ment was ex­clu­sively male (Droste, 1999).

Architecture at the Bauhaus

Following the re­vival­ist im­agery of the man­i­festo, work at the early Bauhaus was de­fined by a re­turn to pre-in­dus­trial forms. The Sommerfeld House in Berlin (1920, de­stroyed 1945) with its ex­pres­sion­ist wooden dec­o­ra­tion, as well as the early fur­ni­ture of Marcel Breuer and Gunta Stölzl and some of the early pot­tery are ex­am­ples of this phase (Bauhaus100, 2017). Christina Lodder places the early Bauhaus as part of a larger artis­tic move­ment in search of spiritual utopia”. She ar­gues that a re­jec­tion of ma­te­ri­al­ism and 19th-century pos­i­tivist out­looks” fol­low­ing the First World War in­spired ex­pres­sion­ist artists to in­fuse [their work] with a spir­i­tual di­men­sion, and to pro­mote the idea that art and ar­chi­tec­ture were thereby the means of sav­ing mankind from moder­nity” (Lodder, 2008, p. 24).

The tran­si­tion to a more ra­tio­nal, tech­nol­ogy-fo­cused out­look at the Bauhaus came in 1922 with the ar­rivals of Theo van Doesburg and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy in Weimar. This new di­rec­tion was de­fined by the no­tion that sci­en­tific progress, in­dus­trial pro­duc­tion and ra­tio­nal de­ci­sion-mak­ing could be em­ployed to solve the materialism, re­pres­sive po­lit­i­cal struc­tures and glar­ing so­cial in­equal­i­ties” of the pre­sent (Lodder, 2008, p. 33). From the pre­spec­tive of mod­ernists, crime, dis­ease, al­co­holism and scoial in­equal­ity were di­rectly linked to the overcrowded cities”, old and rot­ten build­ings and poor san­i­tary con­di­tions” (Le Corbusier, 1923) that in­dus­tral­i­sa­tion had left be­hind.

A 1930 film ti­tled Die Neue Wohnung’ [The New Dwelling] il­lus­trates this idea in strik­ing im­ages (fig. 1). Dark shots of derelict work­ers’ homes are in­ter­spersed with scenes of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and dis­ease. This is then set in con­trast to the mdo­ernist vi­sion of the fu­ture: Brightly lit shots of clean in­te­ri­ors with mass-pro­duced, or­na­ment-free fur­ni­ture. The film ends with a ti­tle card an­nounc­ing: A bet­ter fu­ture will hold af­ford­able and hu­mane hous­ing FOR EVERYONE (Richter, 1930) — em­pha­siz­ing the as­pi­ra­tion for so­cial equal­ity that im­bues mod­ernist think­ing.

Das Neue Wohnen Figure 1: Video stills from The New Dwelling’ [‘Die Neue Wohnung’], a 1930 film show­ing the ben­e­fits of mod­ernist hous­ing.

The change in light­ing from dark to light in The New Living is no ac­ci­dent: Access to sun­light and air is a cen­tral aim of mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture. This can be linked to the be­lief the ben­e­fits of he­lio­ther­apy (the idea that sun­light and air could cure dis­eases), which was wide­spread in the 1920s, as was the no­tion that per­sonal hy­giene and cleansi­ness would lead to a bet­ter so­ci­ety (Wilk, 2006). We see Gropius im­ple­ment­ing these ideas in Törten by us­ing un­usu­ally large win­dows com­bined with rel­a­tively small floor­space, and floors and fur­ni­ture that would be easy to clean.

Gropius lays out his own ver­sion of these ideas in his 1925 book Ein Versuchshaus des Bauhauses in Weimar” [A trial build­ing by the Bauhaus in Weimar]. The ti­tle refers to the Haus am Horn in Weimar, which was built for the Bauhaus ex­hi­bi­tion in 1923. In the in­tro­duc­tion Gropius ar­gues that the new age makes it nec­es­sary to fi­nally re­alise the old idea of build­ing typ­i­cal dwellinggs cheaper, bet­ter and in larger num­bers to give every fam­ily ac­cess to healthy liv­ing con­di­tions” (Gropius 1930, page 5). The way to achieve this, ac­cord­ing to Gropius is to un­der­stand the hous­ing prob­lem in its en­tire so­ci­o­log­i­cal, eco­nom­i­cal, tech­ni­cal and for­mal con­text”. (Gropius 1930, page 5). Gropius also of­fers spe­cific ideas on how these is­sues might be ad­dressed. He ar­gues that be­cause most peo­ple have sim­i­lar ba­sic needs, hous­ing should be uni­form and mass-pro­duced in spe­cialised fac­to­ries. Rather than build­ing houses in­di­vid­u­ally at the build­ing site, they should be dry-as­sem­bled from pre­man­u­fac­tured com­po­nents us­ing stan­dard­ised blue­prints. Gropius coins the term large-scale build­ing blocks” [‘Baukasten im Grossen’] to de­scribe this form of mod­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture. Figure 2 il­lus­trates this idea: Individual com­po­nents (labeled 1 through 6) are as­sem­bled into dif­fer­ent machines for liv­ing” ac­cord­ing to the number and needs of the in­hab­i­tants”.

Large Scale Building Blocks Figure 2: Illustration show­ing the con­cept of Gropius’ Large-Scale Building Blocks”, pub­lished in Bauhausbuch 3: Ein Versuchshaus des Bauhauses in Weimar, 1925. Unknown artist, Walter Gropius.

The artis­tic chal­lenge, ac­cord­ing to Gropius, lies in find­ing sat­is­fy­ing spa­tial arrange­ments of these build­ing blocks. Gropius briefly men­tions the idea that con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, smaller, well-lit room might ac­tu­ally lead to bet­ter liv­ing con­di­tions — again echo­ing the com­mon be­lief in the ben­e­fits of sun­light. (Gropius, 1930).

The Dessau-Törten Settlement

Over 50 build­ing pro­jects were com­pleted by mem­bers of the Bauhaus be­tween 1919 and 1930, and many more af­ter the school dis­banded (Engels, 2001). This count in­cludes build­ings that were built by Gropius and oth­ers rel­a­tively in­de­pen­dently from the Bauhaus, but some were the re­sult of the type of cross-dis­ci­pline col­lab­o­ra­tion that was at the core of the Bauhaus idea. These large-scale pro­jects ad­dressed real-world is­sues while at the same time serv­ing as class­room ex­per­i­ments at the Bauhaus. A few of these build­ings have be­come in­stantly recog­nis­able: The Sommerfeld House (referenced above), the Haus am Horn (1923) and the Bauhaus build­ing and Master’s houses in Dessau (1925-26). However, it is the lesser-known ex­am­ples of Bauhaus ar­chi­tec­ture that might give us the most in­sight into the con­flict be­tween in­di­vid­u­al­ism and col­lec­tivism. The Dessau-Törten hous­ing set­tle­ment in Dessau, Germany is one such ex­am­ple. Unlike other ex­am­ples of pre-war mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture, Dessau-Törten was sub­ject to sig­nif­i­cant changes since its con­struc­tion be­tween 1926 and 1928 (Bauhaus Dessau, 2017). In a form of mod­ern arche­ol­ogy, we can iden­tify dif­fer­ent lay­ers of changes made be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the Second World War up to pre­sent day. Each layer can give us hints as to how the con­flict be­tween mod­ernist ideas and dif­fer­ent forms of in­di­vid­u­al­ism was rec­on­ciled.

Dessau-Törten establishing shot Figure 3: Photograph show­ing Dessau-Törten shortly af­ter its com­ple­tion, ca. 1926.

Initial Construction

After a planned hous­ing pro­ject in Weimar had failed to ma­te­ri­alise (only one build­ing, the Haus am Horn, was ever com­pleted), Törten was the first op­por­tu­nity for Gropius to put the ideas he had de­vel­oped dur­ing the early 1920s to prac­tice on a large scale. In fact the prospect of build­ing Törten, sup­ported by the so­cial-de­mo­c­ra­tic gov­ern­ment of Dessau, was part of the rea­son Gropius moved the Bauhaus to Dessau in the first place. Dessau, a ris­ing in­dus­trial town, had seen an an in­flux of work­ers that nearly dou­bled its pop­u­la­tion. This led to a hous­ing cri­sis which the Bauhaus was hoped to ad­dress. (Dessau-Törten, 2017) Törten was fi­nanced in part by the na­tional gov­ern­ment as part of a larger ef­fort to pro­vide af­ford­able hous­ing to lower-in­come fam­i­lies. Individual units were sold for be­tween RM 9.500 and RM 10.100, or around RM 35 per month — well within the reach of an av­er­age in­dus­trial worker (Gropius, 1930). The fact that units were sold off to in­di­vid­u­als is crit­i­cal: It al­lowed home­own­ers to make changes to their houses with few re­stric­tions.

Dessau Waterfall

Figure 4: Waterfall chart show­ing the or­der of con­tstruc­tion phases in Dessau-Törten

The set­tle­ment served a dou­ble, or even triple pur­pose from the be­gin­ning. The Dessau gov­ern­ment was hop­ing for a prag­matic so­lu­tion to their hous­ing short­age. The na­tional gov­ern­ment saw Törten in part as a re­search pro­ject to test new con­struc­tion meth­ods, grant­ing Gropius ad­di­tional funds in 1928 to carry out con­struc­tion ex­per­i­ments and pub­lish the re­sults. Finally, Gropius saw Törten as a way of prov­ing the va­lid­ity of his vi­sion of ar­chi­tec­ture, which he had writ­ten about for years (Schwarting, 2012).

This triple pur­pose re­flects the con­flict at the cen­tre of this es­say. One one side is the city of Dessau in a prag­matic ef­fort to pro­vide work­ers’ hous­ing. On the other side is Gropius, the hero ar­chi­tect ea­ger to prove his ideas. We can see Gropius’ ea­ger­ness re­flected in the amount of doc­u­ments, pho­tographs and films doc­u­ment­ing the con­struc­tion process of Törten. Figure 3 shows what to­day might be re­ferred to as a wa­ter­fall chart. Each bar in­di­cates a spe­cific step in the con­struc­tion to be car­ried out at a par­tic­u­lar time. This il­lus­trates how Gropius not only de­signed the ar­chi­tec­ture, but also the pro­duc­tion process and the doc­u­men­ta­tion to fit his vi­sion. He writes about the pro­duc­tion process in 1930:

The ex­e­cu­tion of the shells was done based on a care­fully de­signed plan, in such a way that fix­ings, wall com­po­nents and ceil­ing beams could be man­u­fac­tured at the build­ing site in a con­veyor belt-like process. This method ef­fec­tively lim­ited loss of time and ma­te­r­ial […] (Gropius, 1930)

In ad­di­tion to the con­struc­tion process, Fordist pro­duc­tion meth­ods also seem to have in­spired the vi­sual lan­guage of Törten. In ad­di­tion to fa­mil­iar clues of mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture (flat roofs, ex­posed con­struc­tion through dif­fer­ent sur­face treat­ments, fac­tory-like steel fix­ings) Gropius em­plys mir­rored floor plans, po­si­tion­ing doors and win­dows of each unit at opps­ing edges of the fa­cade. This al­lows Gropius to ef­fec­tively blur the line be­tween units, cre­at­ing the ef­fect of a con­tin­u­ous band rather than a row of in­di­vid­ual houses - Le Corbusier’s ver­ti­cal Machine for Living” be­comes a hor­i­zon­tal living con­veyor belt” (Schwarting, 2011). In what we might read as a heroic ges­ture (by the hero ar­chi­tect), Gropius trans­forms a pre-ex­ist­ing elec­tri­cal tower into a mon­u­ment to tech­no­log­i­cal progress by plac­ing it at the in­ter­sec­tion of the two main roads, mak­ing it vis­i­ble from al­most every point of the set­tle­ment (fig. 3).

Dessau-Törten Gardens Figure 5: Contemporary pho­to­graph show­ing the gar­den side of row houses in Dessau-Törten.

Contrary to the mod­ernist vi­sual lan­guage, the ur­ban plan­ning of Törten fol­lows the much ear­lier con­cept of the gar­den city. The no­tion of the gar­den city was first pro­posed by Ebeneezer Howard in 1889, the gar­den city is based on the idea of in­di­vid­ual self-suf­fi­ciency for each fam­ily (Ward, 1992). In Törten this takes the form of a 400 square me­tre gar­den at­tached to each dwelling (Fig. 3). This runs con­trary to the idea of the min­i­mum dwelling that Gropius al­ludes to in his writ­ings. Rather rationalising” liv­ing func­tions by cen­tral­is­ing them as called for by pro­po­nents of the min­i­mum dwelling (Teige, 2012 page 344), the gar­den city spreads out food pro­duc­tion, prepa­ra­tion and recre­ational space across each in­di­vid­ual dwelling.

Dessau-Törten Construction Figure 6: Contemporary pho­to­graph show­ing a row of houses in Dessau-Törten un­der con­struc­tion.

Figure 6 shows a sec­tion of houses in Dessau-Törten un­der con­struc­tion. It high­lights the ra­tio­nalised con­struc­tion method Gropius de­signed: Rather than build­ing each house in­di­vid­u­ally, a whole sec­tion of iden­ti­cal houses was built at once, al­low­ing for greater ef­fi­ciency. This pho­to­graph is part of an ex­ten­sive se­ries of pro­fes­sion­ally-ex­e­cuted pho­tographs doc­u­ment­ing the con­struc­tion process. The fact that such ex­ten­sive doc­u­men­ta­tion was done can be at­trib­uted in part to the ex­per­i­men­tal na­ture of Törten — Gropius’ ex­per­i­ments had to be doc­u­mented to be sci­en­tif­i­cally valid. However, this pho­to­graph is more than a neu­tral doc­u­ment: The two small fig­ures in the back­ground and the dra­matic light­ing con­di­tions give a mon­u­men­tal scale to the scene. The row of houses con­tin­ues be­yond the right edge of the pho­to­graph, re­in­forc­ing the ef­fect of an end­less con­veyor belt. All of this in­vokes the feel­ing of op­ti­mism and larger-than-life am­bi­tion that im­bues Gropius’ ar­chi­tec­ture. This im­age is fea­tured along oth­ers in Gropius’ 1930 book Bauhausbauten Dessau”, which sug­gests that Gropius was not only aware of the im­age, but ap­proved of its mes­sage. In ad­di­tion, a Berlin pro­duc­tion com­pany was comis­sioned to cre­ate a doc­u­men­tary show­ing the con­struc­tion of the set­tle­ment, fur­ther un­der­lin­ing Gropius’ view of Törten as a ve­hi­cle to com­mu­ni­cate his ideas (Paulick, 1926).

Alterations be­fore the Second World War

We see the first ma­jor de­vi­a­tion from Gropius’ plan the day the first fam­i­lies moved in. Few fam­i­lies could af­ford the RM1350 for Marcel Breuer’s spe­cially de­signed fur­ni­ture set, so they brought in an ec­clec­tic col­lec­tion of tra­di­tional fur­ni­ture, wall­pa­pers and cur­tains, which made an awk­ward fit in Gropius’ small floor plans (Schwarting, 2012). This is per­haps the first in­stance in which Gropius’ am­bi­tion runs up against the eco­nomic re­al­i­ties of the 1920s.

Following the ini­tial con­struc­tion, heat in­su­la­tion quickly be­came a con­cern. Anectotal ac­counts de­scribe how doors and win­dows would freeze shut dur­ing the first win­ter (Dessau-Törten, 2017). This was a di­rect re­sult of short­com­ings in the de­sign.

  1. The steel frame, sin­gle glass win­dows cho­sen by Gropius were cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy at the time. As such, they were not only a third more ex­pen­sive than tra­di­tional wooden win­dows but also caused ma­jor heat loss due to their size and lack of in­su­la­tion. Most of these win­dows were re­placed smaller, wooden win­dows within 10 years of the ini­tial con­struc­tion.

  2. The thin outer walls formed an­other route for heat to es­cape. This was a di­rect re­sult of their in­dus­tri­alised pro­duc­tion — since the con­crete slabs used to build the walls all had the same di­men­sions, heat bridges could form be­tween the gaps. Homeowners ad­dressed this by erect­ing sec­ondary brick fa­cades shortly af­ter the ini­tial con­struc­tion. (Schwarting, 2011)

I would ar­gue that this set of changes can be read as the home­own­ers’ col­lec­tive re­sponse to Gropius’ heroic am­bi­tions. Gropius, an es­tab­lished ar­chi­tect, would likely have been aware of the heat in­su­la­tion is­sues caused by his choice of con­struc­tion method and win­dow fit­tings. The fact he pro­ceeds any­way speaks to the con­flict be­tween Gropius’ de­sire to make a clean break with the past and to share his vi­sion of the fu­ture and the needs of the peo­ple at the cen­tre of that vi­sion. Yes, steel win­dows might be more ex­pen­sive now, we could imag­ine him rea­son­ing, but they will be much cheaper once in­dus­trial pro­duc­tion has caught up. Gropius says as much in 1930, ad­mit­ting that it would take the con­struc­tion in­dus­try some time to ad­just to the new way of build­ing (Gropius, 1930). In this case, the in­di­vid­u­alised own­er­ship of the dwellings gives the peo­ple up­per hand in this con­flict.

When the Nazis come to power in the 1930s, they mount a con­certed ef­fort to re­place all of Gropius’ steel win­dows that still re­mained. This re­moved the vi­sual ef­fect of Gropius’ conveyor belt” by re-em­pha­sis­ing the lines be­tween neigh­bour­ing houses. The ad­di­tion of fences, hedges and flower beds be­tween dwellings added to this (Schwarting, 2011).

This came af­ter ear­lier plans to re­build Törten from the ground had proven fi­nan­cially un­vi­able and was fash­ioned into a pro­pa­ganda vic­tory by the right-wing press at the time. About half an hour up the road, the Bauhaus build­ing it­self was sur­rounded by a group­ing of pitched-roof, tra­di­tion­ally-built apart­ment build­ings dur­ing this pe­riod (Bauhaus build­ing, 2017). While a full sur­vey of fas­cist aes­thet­ics is be­yond the scope of this es­say, we can place this co­or­di­nated ef­fort to al­ter ex­ist­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, em­pha­sis­ing in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sion over the col­lec­tive in the broader con­text Nazi pro­pa­ganda. As Koepnick (1999) points out,

[…] the Nazis fol­lowed two dif­fer­ent but over­lap­ping strate­gies. In their pur­suit of a ho­moge­nous com­mu­nity of the folk, the Nazis made nu­mer­ous con­ces­sions to the pop­u­lar de­mand for the warmth of pri­vate life and plea­sure in a mod­ern me­dia so­ci­ety […] but si­mul­ta­ne­ously hoped that the […] spec­ta­cle of mod­ern con­sumer cul­ture would break the bonds of old sol­i­dar­i­ties and pre­pare the at­om­ized in­di­vid­ual for the au­ratic shapes of mass pol­i­tics, for mass rit­u­als that promised a utopian uni­fi­ca­tion of mod­ern cul­ture (Koepnick, 1999)

This would ex­plain why the Nazi gov­ern­ment went to such lengths to re­move any vi­sual ref­er­ences to col­lec­tivist ideas (i.e. Gropius’ conveyor belt”) from Törten. By tem­porar­ily en­cour­ag­ing the in­di­vid­u­al­ism of mod­ern con­sumer cul­ture, the gov­ern­ment hoped to align peo­ple with their to­tal­i­tar­ian agenda. Re­lat­ing this back to the­o­rginal ques­tion, I would ar­gue that this point in time marks an over­lap be­tween the two de­f­i­n­i­tions of in­di­vid­u­al­ism de­scribed above. The first de­f­i­n­i­tion, based in the im­age of the vi­o­lent, en­er­getic male of the Futurist move­ment is con­tin­ued in the cult of per­son­al­ity of the fas­cist state. The sec­ond de­f­i­n­i­tion, based in the idea of in­di­vid­ual consumer free­dom” is de­ployed here as a pro­pa­ganda tool to achieve the Nazis’ po­lit­i­cal agenda.

Alterations af­ter the Second World War

Immediately af­ter the war, a num­ber of build­ings in Törten had to be re­built - Dessau, be­ing the site of a Junkers aero­plane fac­tory had be­come a bomb­ing tar­get. Since lit­tle build­ing ma­te­r­ial was avail­able, many orig­i­nal com­po­nents were re-used. As the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion sta­bilises, the con­flict be­tween the col­lec­tivist ideals of mod­ernism and in­di­vid­u­al­ism as de­fined to post-war com­sumerism be­comes more preva­lent — even as Törten ex­ists within the so­cial­ist regime of the GDR. As the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion sta­bilises in the 1950s, peo­ple’s fo­cus turnes to­ward ex­pand­ing their liv­ing space. Houses were ex­panded into the gar­den (which was no longer needed for food pro­duc­tion), and in many cases the roof ter­race in the back was en­closed to cre­ate an ad­di­tional room (Schwarting, 2011).

Törten Aerials Figure 7: 1965 pho­to­graph show­ing a row of houses in Törten equipped with long aeri­als to re­ceive West-German tele­vi­sion

One of the more mem­o­rable im­ages from this time (fig. 7) shows a row of houses, each equipped with a tall aer­ial used to il­le­gally re­ceive West-German tele­vi­sion. This is in a way a re­ver­sal of the ear­lier power struc­ture: Rather than im­ple­ment­ing a set of po­lit­i­cal ideals from the top down through ar­chi­tec­ture (as Gropius had done), in­di­vid­u­als are mak­ing an ar­chi­tec­tural in­ter­ven­tion to sub­vert re­stric­tions im­posed by a so­cial­ist state. According to Husemann (2016), this was a fairly wide­spread act of dis­obe­di­ence against the gov­ern­ment, with up to 85% of the GDR pop­u­la­tion re­ceiv­ing West-German tele­vi­sion. In terms of the con­flict be­tween col­lec­tivism and in­di­vid­u­al­ism, I read this as a vic­tory of the lat­ter: Individual res­i­dents, em­pow­ered by in­creas­ing wealth and ed­u­ca­tion are sat­is­fy­ing their grow­ing de­mand for di­verse en­ter­tain­ment in an act of di­rect ac­tion against an au­thor­i­tar­ian state. Dur­ing this pe­riod the use of the gar­dens also changes sub­stan­tially. As the need for in­di­vid­ual food pro­duc­tion be­comes less pro­nounced, the gar­dens take up a more recre­ational role. The space is also used to ac­co­mo­date the in­creas­ing num­ber of pri­vate cars in the set­tle­ment. Car own­er­ship in the GDR in­creased dras­ti­cally from 0.2 cars per 100 housh­olds in 1955 to 40 in 1982 (Edwards, 1985). In re­sponse to this, many home-own­ers build garages and car­ports along the back edge of their prop­erty, trans­form­ing the gravel path be­tween op­pos­ing gar­dens into a sec­ondary road. Like ear­lier al­ter­ations, these ad­di­tions ap­pear to be largely done on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis, form­ing an ec­clec­tic ar­ray of ar­chi­tec­tural styles. Again, the spread of cars as a means of in­di­vid­u­alised trans­port and per­sonal ex­pres­sion can be read as a vic­tory of mod­ern con­sumerism over the col­lec­tivist ideas of the 1920s.

Alterations af­ter 1989

Another sig­nif­i­cant set of changes to Törten come af­ter the col­lapse of the GDR, which sud­denly gives res­i­dents ac­cess to an abun­dance of tools and build­ing ma­te­ri­als through DIY-retail, which had grown to a sub­stan­tial in­dus­try since the 1960s. The early 1990s co­in­cide with a pe­riod of in­creased glob­alised com­pe­ti­tion, forc­ing re­tail­ers to drop prices and make prod­ucts ac­ces­si­ble to a wider group of con­sumers (Gelber, 1999).

Figures 8 through 12 show the va­ri­ety of doors, win­dows, house num­bers, land­scap­ing, fa­cade ma­te­ri­als and sea­sonal dec­o­ra­tions that de­fine the Törten set­tle­ment to­day. Figure 8 shows one of two dwellings that re­main al­most en­tirely in the orig­i­nal 1928 con­di­tion — Compared with Figures 9 through 11, it il­lus­trates the de­gree of vi­sual di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion that has taken place over the last 90 years.

Dessau House 1 Figure 8: Photograph show­ing the house at 38 Mittelring, one of two dwellings re­main­ing close to the orig­i­nal con­di­tion.

Dessau House 2 Figure 9: Photograph show­ing a dwelling in Dessau-Törten with lay­ers of ar­chi­tec­tural al­ter­ations in­clud­ing fa­cade ma­te­r­ial, roof­ing, win­dows and land­scap­ing.

Dessau House 3 Figure 10: Photograph show­ing a dwelling in Dessau-Törten with lay­ers of ar­chi­tec­tural al­ter­ations in­clud­ing fa­cade ma­te­r­ial, roof­ing, win­dows and land­scap­ing.

Dessau House 4 Figure 11: Photograph show­ing a dwelling in Dessau-Törten with lay­ers of ar­chi­tec­tural al­ter­ations in­clud­ing fa­cade ma­te­r­ial, roof­ing, win­dows and land­scap­ing.

There is a case to be made that these al­ter­ations are in some sense a con­tin­u­a­tion of Gropius’ idea of mod­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture. DIY-retail makes mass-man­u­fac­tured tools and build­ing com­po­nents ac­ces­si­ble to large parts of the pop­u­la­tion. Produced in stan­dard di­men­sions and in num­bers Gropius’ could­n’t have imag­ined, these com­po­nents can largely be as­sem­bled by home­own­ers with lit­tle spe­cial­ist knowl­edge. Gropius’ con­struc­tion method, in which only the side walls are load-bear­ing makes chnages to the floor plan rel­a­tively easy. Though con­trary to Gropius vi­sion of a dwelling that re­sponded to the func­tional needs of its res­i­dents, the ma­jor­ity of the most re­cent changes are acts of in­di­vid­ual cul­tural ex­pres­sion in line with Slater’s (1997) de­f­i­n­i­tion of con­sumerism.

Dessau-Törten Doors Figure 12: Photographs show­ing the va­ri­ety of front doors in Dessau-Törten. The top left pho­to­graph shows the door of 35 Doppelreihe, which is the only orig­i­nal 1920s door re­main­ing in the set­tle­ment.

Dessau tourist signage Figure 13: Signage in Dessau-Törten point­ing to (from top to bot­tom): Hannes Meyer’s Konsum Building, var­i­ous points of ar­chi­tec­tural sig­nif­i­cance, an or­tho­pe­dic clinic and a phar­macy. The struc­ture in the back­ground is the elec­tri­cal tower at the cen­tre of the set­tle­ment.

With the in­creas­ing pub­lic recog­ni­tion of the Bauhaus and its ar­chi­tec­tural out­put in the 1980s, pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion has be­come a per­ma­nent part of the Törten set­tle­ment. In 1992 the first house was re­stored to its orig­i­nal state by a pri­vate foun­da­tion. Since then, a num­ber of houses have been re­stored to var­i­ous de­grees by ei­ther the lo­cal gov­ern­ment or their re­spec­tive own­ers (bauhaus-dessau.de, 2017). (The no­tion of original state” here is de­bat­able — it is of­ten im­pos­si­ble to dis­cern ex­actly which ma­te­ri­als and con­struc­tion meth­ods were used dur­ing con­struc­tion).

This lat­est de­vel­op­ment can be read as a re­ponse to the emer­gence of the post-in­dus­trial so­ci­ety, in which ser­vices (including health and ed­u­ca­tion) re­place man­u­fac­tur­ing as the pri­mary means of gen­er­at­ing cap­i­tal. This tran­si­tion is per­haps epit­o­mised by the large sign which now stands in front of the cen­ral elec­tri­cal tower in Törten (fig. 14). The top two signs point to a per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion doc­u­ment­ing the his­tory of the es­tate (housed since 2011 in Hannes Meyer’s Konsum Building) and var­i­ous ar­chi­tec­tural points of in­ter­est in the set­tle­ment, re­spec­tively (Moller, 2017). The bot­tom two signs point to an or­tho­pe­dic clinic and a phar­macy, serv­ing the largely re­tire­ment-age com­mu­nity of Törten. This neatly sums up the de­vel­op­ments we’ll ex­am­ine in the fol­low­ing chap­ter, turn­ing away from Törten to more re­cent forms of col­lec­tivist hous­ing.

Collectivist hous­ing mod­els in the post-in­dus­trial so­ci­ety

Modernist so­cial hous­ing was in many ways a re­sponse to the emer­gence of a new so­cial class: the in­dus­trial worker. After the First World War ris­ing in­dus­trial towns like Dessau at­tracted a large num­ber of work­ers, lead­ing to a sud­den pop­u­la­tion in­crease the ex­ist­ing hous­ing and in­fra­struc­ture was un­fit to han­dle. This led to the poor liv­ing con­di­tions mod­ernist ar­chi­tects recog­nised and at­tempted to im­prove through large-scale ur­ban de­vel­op­ments. As Bell (1999) shows, we are now at a sim­i­lar mo­ment of tran­si­tion — from an in­dus­trial so­ci­ety to a post-in­dus­trial one. According to Bell, this tran­si­tion is marked by a num­ber of fac­tors: Sercives re­place agri­cul­ture and man­u­fac­tur­ing as the pri­mary source of em­ploy­ment (“services” mean­ing trans­porta­tion and lo­gis­tics, as well as ed­u­ca­tion and health­care). Further, the im­por­tance of phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture (roads, trains) de­creases as in­tel­lec­tual in­fra­struc­ture (internet con­nec­tions, com­put­ing power) be­comes crit­i­cal to eco­nomic pro­duc­tiv­ity.

As the in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion cre­ated the in­dus­trial worker, the tran­si­tion to a post-in­dus­trial so­ci­ety is likely to cre­ate new classes of peo­ple with new hous­ing needs.

We can see this process hap­pen­ing in front of us al­ready. Simpson (2015) de­scribes a new class of peo­ple cre­ated en­tirely by sci­en­tific progress and the abun­dance of ser­vices in the post-in­dus­trial age: the Young-Old”. First de­scribed by Bernice Neugarten in 1974, the Young-Old are peo­ple at re­tire­ment age with higher pur­chas­ing power, higher like­li­hood liv­ing in­de­pen­dently from their fam­i­lies, more ed­u­ca­tion and bet­ter health sta­tus than those pre­vi­ously in their age group. According so­ci­ol­o­gist Andrew Blaikic (1999, cited in Simpson, 2015, p. 13), the Young-old might be the first large de­mo­graphic group in his­tory whose daily ex­pe­ri­ence [does] not con­sist of work or school­ing […]”

According to Simpson, the emer­gence of the Young-Old can be linked to two fac­tors aligned with Bell’s analy­sis of the post-in­dus­trial so­ci­ety. First, ad­vances in pub­lic health, nu­tri­tion and the de­cline of man­ual labour has led to an in­creased life ex­pectancy in both in­dus­trial and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries — dou­bling from 40 years in 1840 to 80 years in 2000. Medical prod­ucts de­vel­oped over the last cen­tury, such as the ar­ti­fi­cial hip, the con­tact lens, elec­tronic hear­ing aids and Viagra ex­tend the phys­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the body. This in­creased im­por­tance of the med­ical sec­tor is in line with Bell’s model, which de­scribes a shift to a pri­mar­ily ser­vice-based econ­omy. Secondly, the de­cline of the multi-gen­er­a­tional fam­ily cre­ates a class of re­tirees that has to be more self-re­liant than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. Again this can be linked to Bell’s de­scrip­tion of post-in­dus­tri­al­ism: Intellectual Work” can be done in­de­pen­dently from any phys­i­cal lo­ca­tion. This in turn cre­ates what Simpson de­scribes as the [increased] mo­bil­ity re­quire­ments of the mod­ern work­force, which dri­ves peo­ple apart ge­o­graph­i­cally” (Simpson, 2015, p. 45).

While in the 19th cen­tury the in­ven­tion of the steam en­gine and Fordist pro­duc­tion meth­ods brought about the in­dus­trial worker, it is sci­en­tific progress and the shift from in­dus­trial to in­tel­lec­tual work that leads to the emer­gence of the Young-Old. They have the de­sire, health and fi­nan­cial means to live in­de­pen­dently, which makes the in­sti­tu­tional homes of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions un­fit for their needs. At the same time, shifts in the labour mar­ket and changes in fam­ily val­ues have made the tra­di­tional model of the multi-gen­er­a­tional house­hold un­avail­able (or un­de­sir­able). The only re­sponse to this new class of peo­ple would ap­pear to be the de­vel­op­ment of new hous­ing mod­els.

Simpson de­scribes a num­ber of these new mod­els, the most strik­ing of which is per­haps the The Villages”, a vast re­tire­ment com­mu­nity out­side Orlando, Florida. With a pop­u­la­tion of 119.000 in 2016 (Schneider, 2016), The Villages are not only the largest re­tire­ment com­mu­nity in the world, but America’s fastest grow­ing city over­all. In many ways, they bear a strik­ing re­sem­blance to the so­cial hous­ing de­vel­op­ments of the 1920s: Houses are mass-pro­duced and laid out fol­low­ing a pre­con­ceived plan. Transportation, ar­chi­tec­tural ver­nac­u­lar, health­care, lo­cal his­tory, me­dia and (by way of age and in­come seg­re­ga­tion) the so­cial fab­ric of the set­tle­ment are part of a Gesamtkunstwerk” of a scope far be­yond what the mod­ernists were able to do. Here the hero ar­chi­tect of the 1920s is re­placed by the face­less, owner-less de­vel­op­ment cor­po­ra­tion of post-war cap­i­tal­ism.

The de­vel­op­ers of The Villages de­ploy a com­plex ar­chi­tec­tural sys­tem to cre­ate a spe­cific lifestyle ex­pe­ri­ence”. TO mask the in­dus­trial scale of the set­tle­ment, it is split up into smaller towns”, each with its own, en­tirely fab­ri­cated lo­cal his­tory. The de­vel­op­ers use tech­niques de­vel­oped in theme parks to ar­ti­fi­cially age build­ings, and even go so far as to in­stall fic­tional his­tor­i­cal ar­ti­facts and his­tor­i­cal plaques to cre­ate a feel­ing of lo­cal his­tory. All of this is done (to some suc­cess) to en­cour­age the kind of so­cial in­ter­ac­tion be­tween res­i­dents that rep­re­sents an ide­alised idea of life in a small town. The de­sign­ers are sur­pris­ingly can­did about this:

[…] We write sto­ry­lines that we use, and that comes from my theme park back­ground. The sto­ry­line acts as your con­cept, you go back to it to de­sign fa­cades. It’s funny, we make up sto­ries for some of these build­ings and some of the res­i­dents think they’re real. They don’t even know any bet­ter be­cause we even go to the trou­ble of pain­ing old graph­ics on the build­ings and peo­ple think that’s an old gen­eral store when it re­ally is­n’t. (Simpson, 2015 page 207)

The pri­mary means of trans­porta­tion in the vil­lages is the golf cart. This is an­other spe­cific de­sign de­ci­sion by the de­vel­oper: The golf cart bridges the gap be­tween the au­to­mo­bile (which is costly, as­so­ci­ated with the work­ing life and re­quires a li­cence, which res­i­dents may have lost or never ac­quired in the first place) and the mo­bil­ity scooter (which is slow and as­so­ci­ated with the frailty of old age). The de­vel­oper en­cour­ages golf cart use by mak­ing spe­cific golf cart roads, bridges and tun­nels part of the ur­ban plan­ning, and in­cor­po­rat­ing golf cart-re­lated events (such as pa­rades) into the so­cial pro­gramme. This is re­it­er­ated by The Village’s mar­ket­ing ma­te­r­ial which of­ten de­scribes points of in­ter­est be­ing only a short golf cart ride away” (The Villages, 2017).

We find the no­tion of us­ing ar­chi­tec­tural in­ter­ven­tion to de­sign so­cial in­ter­ac­tion on a much smaller scale in the work of Hannes Meyer (who suc­ceeded Gropius as Bauhaus di­rec­tor in 1928): His ADGB Trade Union School near Berlin (1928-1930) is de­signed to break stu­dents into groups of four — this was thought to be the ideal num­ber to ac­co­mo­date learn­ing.

In an­other echo of the 1920s, we find the no­tion of he­lio­ther­apy re­flected The Villages mar­ket­ing ma­te­r­ial, for in­stance these song lyrics from a 2011 video ad­vert show­ing land­scape shots and res­i­dents in­ter­act­ing in bright sun­light:

It’s a lit­tle slice of par­adise / Sunshine and golf ga­lore / Neighbours stroll the old town square / And the good life is in store / The Villages / Where the sun shines all year round / The Villages / Florida’s friend­liest home­town / From our fam­ily to yours / From our fam­ily to yours / Come on / Come on down / We’re Florida’s friend­liest home­town

(The Villages Florida, 2011).

How do the vil­lages rec­on­cile the con­filct be­tween their es­sen­tially col­lec­tivist de­sign with their res­i­dents’ de­sire for in­di­vid­u­al­ism (which com­pelled them to move out of the multi­gen­er­a­tional house­hold in the first place)? I would ar­gue that the de­vel­oper achieves this by what is es­sen­tially mar­ket­ing. They em­pha­sise the ben­e­fits of the col­lec­tivist set­tle­ment (centralised ac­cess to health­care, uni­fied trans­porta­tion, so­cial co­he­sion) while cre­at­ing the per­cep­tion of in­di­vid­ual free­dom and self-gov­er­nance — some­times in the same TV com­mer­cial.

The Villages Golf Carts Figure 14: Photograph show­ing cus­tomised golf carts in the vil­lages dis­played as part of a de­vel­oper-sup­ported christ­mas pa­rade.

I would ar­gue that part of the rea­son this suc­ceeds is the over­whelm­ing scale of The Villages: With 2.400 or­gan­ised clubs (one for every 65 res­i­dents), hun­dreds of sport fa­cil­i­ties and thou­sands of planned events a month (125 on the day of this writ­ing alone) the de­vel­op­ers are able to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment in which in­di­vid­ual choice seems un­lim­ited. This per­cep­tion of in­di­vid­ual free­dom is re­in­forced through care­fully planned pock­ets of in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sion, such as res­i­dents dec­o­rat­ing their golf carts (fig. 14) — per­haps anal­o­gous to the fa­cade cov­er­ings, land­scap­ing and sea­sonal dec­o­ra­tions used as a means of cul­tural ex­pres­sion in Törten. In cases like this, the de­vel­oper gives up di­rect de­sign con­trol — though the re­sults are fed back (in the form of de­vel­oper-spon­sored pa­rades and fea­tures in de­vel­oper-funded lo­cal me­dia) into the larger lifestyle ex­pe­ri­ence the de­vel­oper is at­tempt­ing to sell.


We’ve es­tab­lished that the con­flict be­tween in­di­vid­u­al­ism and the col­lec­tivist ideals of mod­ernism is twofold, de­pend­ing on how it is framed. Following the fem­i­nist cri­tique of mod­ernism, we’ve seen how the fig­ure of the male hero ar­chi­tect stands in con­flict with the egal­i­tar­ian aims of the mod­ernist move­ment. We’ve seen this con­flict played out in Walter Gropius’ Dessau-Törten hous­ing set­tle­ment, where he makes de­sign de­ci­sions aimed at show­ing his vi­sion of the fu­ture rather than ad­dress­ing the prag­matic needs of the pre­sent. This is rec­on­ciled by in­di­vid­ual res­i­dents re­vert­ing their houses back to ear­lier con­struc­tion meth­ods (by re­plac­ing steel win­dows with wooden ones and erect­ing brick fa­cades).

In a strange over­lap be­tween our two de­f­i­n­i­tions of in­di­vid­u­al­ism, the Nazi gov­ern­ment re­moves many of the vi­sual clues rep­re­sent­ing col­lec­tivist ideas in Törten. However this is in line with the con­tra­dic­tory meth­ods of Nazi pro­pa­ganda, which lever­ages early forms of con­sumerism to make the pop­u­la­tion more re­cep­tive to their au­thor­i­tar­ian agenda.

After the Second World War, the con­flict be­tween in­di­vid­u­al­ism and col­lec­tivism shifts from in­side the mod­ernist move­ment to the out­side world and the emerg­ing fig­ure of the mod­ern con­sumer. The ar­chi­tec­tural in­ter­ven­tions in Törten are ev­i­dence of a decade-long ne­go­ti­a­tion be­tween the col­lec­tivist vi­sion of mod­ernism and peo­ple’s post-Fordist de­mand for cul­tural self-ex­pres­sion.

The tran­si­tion to a post-in­dus­trial so­ci­ety has cre­ated a de­mand for new forms of hous­ing. The Villages of Florida are a vivid ex­am­ple of this. With their heav­ily pro­grammed lifestyle, cen­tralised med­ical care, trans­porta­tion and mass-pro­duced hous­ing, they might be de­scribed as the ur­ban man­i­fes­ta­tion of a kind of leisure so­cial­ism” (Simpson, 2015, p 246). Here the fig­ure of the hero ar­chi­tect of the 1920s is re­placed by the owner-less cor­po­ra­tion of the 1980s.

I will end by ar­gu­ing that the con­tin­ued tran­si­tion to a post-in­dus­trial econ­omy will likely cre­ate more de­mand for new forms of hous­ing. A re-ex­am­i­na­tion of mod­ernist ideas of so­cial hous­ing might be part of this de­bate, in line with a broader re-ex­am­i­na­tion of so­cial­ist ideas fol­low­ing a dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the re­sults of eco­nomic lib­er­al­ism (which led to the re­jec­tion of mod­ernst hous­ing mod­els in the first place), es­pe­cially among younger gen­er­a­tions. Shrimpton et. al (2017) sums up this grow­ing sense of anx­i­ety, show­ing that

[…] Britons no longer think young peo­ple will have a bet­ter life than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, with only around one quar­ter (23 per cent) of adults tak­ing this view. Instead, roughly half (48 per cent) be­lieve that mil­len­ni­als will have a worse life than their par­ents.

Indeed, emerg­ing writ­ers like Owen Hatherley (“Militant Modernism”, 2009) and re­searchers like Peter Chadwick (“This Brutal World”, 2016) are al­ready work­ing to change the pub­lic per­cep­tion of mod­ernist hous­ing. This de­vel­op­ment can only be wel­comed. However I would take the po­si­tion that in ad­di­tion to a re-ex­am­i­na­tion of mod­ernist hous­ing mod­els, en­tirely new modes of liv­ing might be needed. In an econ­omy that re­lies in­creas­ingly on in­tel­lec­tual labour done by a ge­o­graph­i­cally in­de­pen­dent work­force, per­haps this off­hand re­mark made by Gropius in 1925 (six years be­fore the first car­a­van was man­u­fac­tured in Germany) might gain new im­por­tance (Gunkel, 2011):

Perhaps mobile liv­ing-shells” [“mobile Wohngehause”], al­low­ing us to take with us all the con­ve­niences of a real [traditional] liv­ing stan­dard even through re­lo­ca­tions, are no longer too far-fetched a utopia. (Gropius, 1925 p5 )

List of Figures

- **Figure 1:** Hans Richter (1930). *Die Neue Wohnung* [Video Stills]. Available at: [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAUhQHRANj4] (Accessed November 17, 2017) - **Figure 2:** Unidentified Artist, Walter Gropius (1925). *Illustration show­ing the con­cept of Gropius’ Large-Scale Building Blocks’* [Illustration]. In Gropius, W. (1925) *Bauhausbuch 3: Ein Versuchshaus des Bauhauses in Weimar*. Weimar: Verlag der Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, page 6. - **Figure 3:** Unidentified Photographer (ca. 1926). *Housing Development, Dessau-Törten* [Photograph]. Available at: [https://www.harvardartmuseums.org/collections/object/52799?position=65] (Accessed November 17, 2017) - **Figure 4:** Unidentified Artist (ca. 1928). *Waterfall chart show­ing the or­der of con­struc­tion phases in Dessau-Törten* [Chart]. Available at [https://www.harvardartmuseums.org/collections/object/30157?position=128] (Accessed November 20, 2017) - **Figure 5:** Unidentified Photographer (ca. 1928). *Housing de­vel­op­ment Dessau-Törten: Rooftop view of the gar­den side of row houses* [Photograph]. Available at: [http://www.harvardmuseums.org/collection/object/169050?position=24] (Accessed November 20, 2017) - **Figure 6:** Unidentified Photographer (ca. 1926). *Housing de­vel­op­ment Dessau-Törten: Row houses un­der con­struc­tion* [Photograph]. Available at: [http://www.harvardmuseums.org/collection/object/53030?position=91] (Accessed November 12, 2017) - **Figure 7:** Unidentified Photographer (ca. 1965). *Row houses in Dessau-Törten* [Photograph] in Schwarting, A (2011) *Das Verschwinden der Revolution in der Renovierung*. Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, page 58. - **Figure 8:** The au­thor (2017). *Example of a typ­i­cal row house in Dessau-Törten* [Digital Photograph]. - **Figure 9:** The au­thor (2017). *Example of a typ­i­cal row house in Dessau-Törten* [Digital Photograph]. - **Figure 10:** The au­thor (2017). *Example of a typ­i­cal row house in Dessau-Törten* [Digital Photograph]. - **Figure 11:** The au­thor (2017). *Example of a typ­i­cal row house in Dessau-Törten* [Digital Photograph]. - **Figure 12:** The au­thor (2017). *Composite pho­to­graph show­ing ex­am­ples of front doors in Dessau-Törten* [Digital Photographs, Composite]. - **Figure 13:** The au­thor (2017). *Signage in Dessau-Törten* [Digital Photograph]. - **Figure 14:** Currie, C. (2013). *Customised golf carts as part of the 2013 The Villages Golf Carts Parade’* [Digital Photograph]. Available at: [https://photonews247.com/tag/christmas-decorated-golf-cart-the-villages-fl/] (Accessed November 27, 2017)



- Bauhaus Dessau (November 4, 2017). Dessau, Germany (Permanent) - Housing Settlement Dessau-Törten (November 4-5, 2017). Dessau, Germany (Permanent)
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