Tied to the enormous expenditure of technical and material means, development only haltingly pursues the rapidly advancing idea. Since building is collective work, its vitality depends not on individual interest but on the interest of the whole. A positive inclination for building must be promoted. Our overwhelming need for residential dwellings supplies us with a natural pretext for doing so.
How can we create cheap, good dwellings appropriate to our time? Generally applicable answers appropriate to this time have not yet been discovered because the problem of residential building as such has never been grasped in all its sociological, economic, technical, and formal aspects, much less adequately solved from the ground up in a fashion subject to responsible planning. A strategic general plan, the “how we want to live” as the universally valid result of thought geared to the intellectual and material possibilities of the present, does not yet exist. Does it correspond to our contemporary way of life that every individual has a domicile that differs fundamentally from everyone else’s? We all wear the same modern garments, which nevertheless leave latitude to every individual; why do we not build our houses likewise?
The economic issue towers in the foreground. Attempts to economize traditional handicraft methods of residential construction through more rational operating procedures have brought only slight improvement. The problem was not attacked at the roots. The new goal is dry-assembly construction, that is, the mass prefabrication of residential buildings to be constructed not at the building site but for the most part in assembly-ready units by special factories. That would mean something like a full-sized set of building blocks that would make it possible to order a house from the factory inventory as one orders a pair of shoes.
Experts estimate the savings to be expected from constructing houses in this way at 50 percent or more compared to traditional methods. The reduction in the cost of our daily-consumption items resulted from an increase in the use of mechanical forces—steam and electricity—in comparison to individual manufacture by hand; the reduction in the cost of housing construction likewise depends on the exploitation of mechanical forces.
The majority of inhabitants of civilized countries have similar residential and daily needs. It is therefore not clear why the residential dwellings we create for ourselves cannot exhibit the same unitary concision as our clothes, shoes, suitcases, and automobiles. There is no justification for the fact that every house in our new outlying developments displays a different floor plan, a different exterior appearance, a different construction style, and different construction materials. On the contrary, such variety exhibits senseless waste and the uncultivated formlessness of a parvenu. The old peasant house in the north and south and the urban dwelling of the eighteenth century display a unified, nearly uniform arrangement of floor plan and overall structure in all European countries. However, making houses completely uniform must be avoided, for the violation of individuality is always short-sighted and wrong.
The planned construction methods must therefore aim at standardization and industrial reproduction of structural elements, not entire buildings, so that they can be used to construct various types of houses. Inventory planning would extend to the production in various special factories of all the structural elements required for construction, so that they could be delivered to the site as needed, as well as to tested assembly plans for various types and sizes of houses. Since the parts will be produced mechanically to standard specifications and always fit together, assembly will be possible following precise assembly instructions, in part by unskilled laborers, in the shortest time, with the least expenditure of labor power, and regardless of season and weather.
Practical approaches to the execution of prefabricated serial construction have already been tried in Germany and other countries.
The new construction procedures must be affirmed from an artistic point of view. The assumption that the industrialization of housing construction entails a decline in aesthetic values is erroneous. On the contrary, the standardization of structural elements will have the wholesome result of lending a common character to new residential buildings and neighborhoods. Monotony is not to be feared as long as the basic demand is met that only the structural elements are standardized while the contours of the buildings so built will vary. Well-manufactured materials and the clear, simple design of these mass-produced elements will guarantee the unified “beauty” of the resulting buildings, rather than something like aesthetic, decorative forms and profiles that are not determined by function and material. The satisfying form of the individual buildings depends on the builder’s gift for working creatively with space; builders will maintain the individual latitude we all desire in their use of the structural elements. The reappearance of individual elements and the same material in various buildings will have an orderly and calming effect on us, as does the uniformity of our clothing, which nevertheless does not violate individuality.
The comprehensive goal of industrializing residential construction can only be achieved through an outlay of specifically dedicated public funds. We are lacking in points at which what has already been achieved is brought together and developed in a planned fashion according to a unified conception. We need publicly funded experimental building sites. For just as the form of an object intended for industrial manufacture is systematically developed over the course of countless experiments involving the salesman, the technical expert, and the artist before its formal type is constituted as a norm, so is the manufacture of standardized structural elements possible only through the large-scale cooperation of representatives from the realms of industry, the economy, and art.
Such a thoroughgoing transformation of the construction economy will clearly be achieved only gradually. But despite whatever objections can be raised, it is not to be stopped. A major product of the industry of the future will be the massive residential building ready-made from inventory. Only once the comprehensive goals of modern architecture have been achieved will our epoch have defined a style of its own!