Hannes Meyer’s New World

In the years after the war, Germany and Austria were boycotted by both the League of Nations and more importantly by the international scientific and humanities institutions formed in the wake of the League and affiliated to it, hence, questioning the apparent neutrality projected by these institutions. The ‘boycott’ was rooted in a stand against the German scientific communities’ sanction of its study for unmeasured brutality during the Great War. While, it is unclear if the boycott debilitated scientific development in Germany, it is however, clear that it fractured relations between the central powers and the allied powers. Till 1924, it appeared absolute – German and Austrians scientists were rarely published in international papers, were rarely invited to international congresses, and Germany lost its position as a leading host of scientific conferences. It included a rejection of the German language, which was the preeminent scientific language of the day, in an effort to reduce the country’s influence in the sciences. The ‘Boycott’ was reciprocated by a ‘Reaction’ enacted by the German scientists, supported by the public, who felt that they were being unjustly ostracised. In the years of the thaw, from 1924, they were reluctant to resume active participation in the international scientific community, despite the pressure exerted by German foreign policy which, by this time, was keen on resuming international relations. [1] Germany joined the League of Nations in 1926; Hannes Meyer’s manifesto calling for a ‘New World’ was published in 1926 and within this context his urge – ‘a ruthless denial of the past’ – acquires a poignancy that was not limited to the architectural orders.

Hannes Meyer’s essay is a call-to-arms to the architectural discipline and shadows the political wave sweeping across Germany. and while it reads as a stream-of-consciousness that connects architecture with the contemporary scientific advancements and cultural experiments, it can be understood to be artifice of subliminal persuasion. It is subtly layered: in its list of myriad ‘modern’ technological advancements that include architectural engineering, it alludes to both national manufacturing casually juxtaposed with its competitors’ outreach:

“On a traffic island in the Champs Elysées from 6 to 8p.m. there ranges round one metropolitan dynamism at its most strident. ‘Ford’ and “Rolls Royce’ have burst open the core of the town…’Fokker’ and ‘Farman’ widen our range of movement and the distance between us and the earth; they disregard national frontiers and they bring nation closer to nation… Fordson tractors and Meyenburg cultivators have resulted in a shift of emphasis in land development…Ford’s motor our place-bound senses and Handley Page our earthbound spirit.”

Through a focus on sports and physical movement, he plays on the passions that would have roused the public in Germany as well as the rest of Europe – binding them while furthering his preoccupation with health and hygiene:

“G. Palucca’s dances, Von Laban’s movement choirs and D. Mesendieck’s functional gymnastics are driving out the aesthetic eroticism of the nude…The stadium has carried the day against the art museum, and physical reality has taken the place of beautiful illusion… Sport is becoming the university of collective feeling. Suzanne Lenglen’s cancelation of a match disappoints hundreds of thousands. Breitensträter’s defeat sends a shiver through hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of thousands follow Nurmi’s race…”

Interspersed and fragmented within the text are references to the destruction of national boundaries and the redundancy of the nation activated in light of architectural innovations and scientific development:

“… they disregard national frontiers…liberate us from national seclusion and make us part of a world community… Our homes are more mobile than ever. Large blocks of flats, sleeping cars, house yachts and transatlantic liners undermine the local concept of the ‘homeland’. The fatherland goes into decline…”

Lastly, by using the progressive present tense he suggests a way forward in the League of Nations, Esperanto, and all the international relations that it fosters. His own proposal for the competition for the Palace of the League of Nations, in 1929, will become a benchmark in modern architecture, sealing his formulae that conjoins function with economics, and renders a meaning for glass – of political honesty – that will haunt modern architecture henceforth:[2]

“We learn Esperanto. We become cosmopolitan… Trade union, co-perative, Ltd., Inc., cartel, trust and the League of Nations are the forms in which today’s social conglomerations find expression… Pure construction is the characteristic feature of the new world of forms. Constructive form is not peculiar to any country; it is cosmopolitan and the expression of an international philosophy of building. Internationality is a prerogative of our time…In Esperanto we construct a supranational language according to the law of least resistance, in standard shorthand a script with no tradition…”

This is a link to the ‘New World’.

 

[1] The unequivocal nature of the boycott was questioned when Albert Einstein, an eminent German scientist, was invited to, and accepted an invitation by the Council of the League of Nations to represent Germany in the International Committee on Intellectual Co-operation. Einstein’s inclusion was seen as a betrayal by the German scientists and also as a performance of universality and neutrality of science. For a more detailed account of the international relations in the realm of science in the years after the war please refer to: Brigitte Schroeder-Gudehus, ‘Challenge to Transnational Loyalties: International Scientific Organisations after the First World War’ in Science Studies, Vol 3, no. 2, April 1973, pp 93-118. https://www.jstor.org/stable/284481, accessed on 12 September 2018.

 

[2] Christopher Turner, ‘The Crystal Vision of Paul Scheerbart: A Brief Biography’ in Glass! Love!! Perpetual Motion!!!

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