Everywhere we are dealing with circumstances that have changed completely. Only when these circumstances are mediated to the fullest extent by art, can art itself progress towards a genuinely healthy condition. And in no single sphere have these changed circumstances taken on such significance as they have in the area of the applied and decorative arts.
Up until the culmination of the Empire style, the Biedermeier style, everything followed its logical, normal path of healthy development. Until that point, aesthetic sensibility was in harmony with the demands and technical state of the times. The strange confusion generated by the dawning of a new era also generated stylistic chaos. The sad monuments of this interregnum without a style will stand for centuries as documents of the artistic sensibility that reigned during the century of the great inventions. This period of deliberate, historical stylistic turmoil finally had to be recognized as a lamentable aberration. First in England, and then everywhere, the realization dawned that we had sinned gravely in the cause of human creativity. And now we experience the grand moment of birth of the style of the twentieth century.
One can begin only at the point where the development was interrupted, however, and for this reason even our most modern art is in the first instance reminiscent of the Empire style and attempts to transfer this style onto our changed circumstances, onto the results or our tremendous scientific progress.
The average dwelling, as it presented itself at the beginning of this century, was not all that bad. It was, in fact, golden, compared with what our advancing era later produced. Even if it lacked a great deal in terms of hygienic conveniences, and was in many respects still very primitive, we still find broad, gradually and comfortably ascending stairways, broad corridors, and sparsely draped, bright windows in the well-conserved buildings of that time: in the simple patrician houses in the city, and those built in the country in the style of the garden house; in a word, we encounter everywhere the “wasting of space.” In the crassest contrast to our imitated luxury, we see merely an unbelievably solid simplicity, furniture built to last for centuries, appliances that are practical above all, and everything is tied to a purpose, such that the overall arrangement seems to our contemporary sensibilities to be bordering on an almost impoverished simplicity. In its authenticity and clarity, however, it is actually a very congenial simplicity.
Today, all the basic circumstances of the house have been entirely altered. The wasting of space is over, once and for all. And the hygienic demands placed on the house, although adversely affected by the need to conserve space and economize, are amply accommodated through the high technical standards of the day.