German Architecture for a Mass Audience

By Kathleen James-Chakraborty | Go to book overview

7

Conclusion

For nearly a century, many German architects have striven to create an architecture whose accessibility in tandem with specific approaches to surface, structure, space, and spectacle would, they hoped, help bind a society fractured along class lines into a unified community. Their efforts changed the shape of twentieth-century architecture, encouraging an abstraction that influenced avant-garde modernism and permeated into a far wider range of buildings. Undeniably modern in motivation and form, in that they responded to specifically twentieth-century social conditions in terms of materials and engineering that were equally unique to their own time, the buildings that resulted could no more be identified with a particular aesthetic style than with a single political perspective. The history of these attempts challenges definitions of modern architecture that associate expressions of the spirit of the time with specific stylistic or technological solutions or that identify modernist art or architecture exclusively with socialist or democratic political goals.

It also challenges some of the most powerful conclusions about the relationship between fine art and mass culture reached by other German intellectuals in response to the same circumstances. The Frankfurt School's critical theorists, for instance, criticized mass culture as inherently manipulative, accusing it of distracting the populace from what should be their own interests, which they understood to reside in the political and intellectual rather than the economic sphere. This view was expounded in classic form by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in The Dialectic of Enlightenment. 1 For Adorno and Horkheimer, capitalism was the culprit, a capitalism they, like most Marxists of their generation, saw as dangerously supportive of fascism. The antidote they proposed was a high culture divorced from the popularization imposed by market forces.

And yet when we turn to architecture we find that many of the fundamental characteristics of what has usually been viewed since the middle of the century as an abstract artistically-oriented architecture, remote from the marketplace if not always from the welfare of the masses, were developed in part in order to reach out to the populace. The rigorous abstraction and clear expression of engineering forces that characterized the Jahrhunderthalle were universally admired, for instance, by the next generation of European architects, who detached themselves from the emotional appeal - if not initially from the liberal political content - of the pageant that had done so much to ensure that building's fame. The ties these

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German Architecture for a Mass Audience
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Figures vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Space 10
  • 2 - Simplicity 21
  • 3 - Spirituality 41
  • 4 - Spectacle 70
  • 5 - Postwar Legacy 95
  • 6 - The New Berlin 115
  • 7 - Conclusion 137
  • Notes 140
  • Select Bibliography 158
  • Index 169
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