Politics and Culture in Wilhelmine Germany: The Case of Industrial Architecture

By Matthew Jefferies | Go to book overview

5
German Industry and the 'Quality Workplace': Company Responses to the New Industrial Architecture

The avant-garde composer Edgard Varèse ( 1883-1965) once argued that it would be misleading to portray progressive artists as people 'ahead of their time'; it was rather a case, he believed, of the public in general living permanently 'behind the times'. This neat observation cannot, however, fully explain the process of innovation in architecture, the most public and prosaic of the arts, where members of the general population are involved in every stage of the creative process. Buildings, far more than musical, visual or literary compositions, are team efforts, dependent upon the interaction of a whole series of individuals and agencies, often far from 'artistic' in temperament and outlook.

If an architect is to translate his paper visions into bricks and mortar he requires, above all else, the active backing of a client. An architect without a client -- be it an individual, institution or corporation -- has little chance of making an impact, unless critical recognition arrives posthumously, as it did for the Italian futurist Antonio Sant'Elia. Clients can, of course, be a mixed blessing for the architect. A contract is always accompanied by another person's financial, functional and aesthetic specifications, which can present the innovative or experimental architect with particular problems. If, however, the adventurous architect is able to find a sympathetic patron, willing to invest trust and money in his ideas, then much can be achieved. Indeed, without the support of such people, creative change in the field of architecture could never be possible.

Art history can sometimes give the impression that a client's involvement in the building process is limited to the imposition of short- sighted budget constraints or misguided interference in the sacred act of creation, but this is in fact only half the story. From the initial choice of a particular architect onwards, the patron is a vital element in the architectural equation. The architects organised under the Werkbund banner were unusually fortunate to be offered the chance to put some of their aesthetic and social theories to the test; unlike their Heimatschutz

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