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Walter Gropius and Paul Schultze-Naumburg, "Who is Right? Traditional Architecture or Building in New Forms" (1926)

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Without doubt the range of architectural tasks has grown immeasurably over the course of the nineteenth and especially the twentieth century, and our architectural tradition can no longer serve as the only guide. Steamships, automobiles, and airplanes, though they are so often presented as model examples, can scarcely be counted as architectonic tasks. Their job is more to lend expression to the functions of a machine, even if their formal definition derives not only from the solution of mathematical design problems but is also the result of an artistic process. Still the architectural traditions at issue here are quite certainly inappropriate for application to railway stations, industrial plants, and various other things.

Under the pressure of these new needs there has arisen (more correctly, is still in the process of arising) a wholly new architectural sub-branch, the aim of which is to find appropriate architectonic expression for the rich variety of technological advances made in recent decades. The time when a smokestack was simply crowned with a Corinthian capital or when an electrical plant dressed in Gothic forms is past, leaving one scarcely able to comprehend how such conceptual errors could ever have been made.


But one commits exactly the same error today in attempting to force upon the German residential dwelling, which has a very long and distinguished ancestral heritage, forms deriving from an utterly alien functional context, namely that of the machine and technology. Human beings are constantly creating for themselves more and better tools, and the more forcefully the utilitarian functions involved come to palpable expression the better those functions will be. Now, however, the ancient forms of human life, as they come to expression in household functions, have little in common with what has transpired in technology, and to seek in industrial forms a tuning fork for this aspect of life, not to mention machines, is neither particularly clever nor correctly felt on an instinctual level. Eating, drinking, sleeping, sociability, and cozy togetherness are extremely conservative things. And if it is admitted that nation, race, culture, and developmental stage also play a momentous role in forms of human life, they manifest an even higher degree of constancy, as becomes immediately evident by comparison to, say, the evolution of our systems of transportation or other specifically technological developments. One would find, for example, no great transformation in the eating styles of people of similar social status between the years 1825 and 1925, but there is a great difference in the way they might have traveled from Leipzig to Berlin. Or the way in which a cosmopolitan lady of the last century received guests in her salon is distinguished from the same procedure today by all manner of nuance, but is scarcely a different world.

Indeed, there even exists a general tendency to set domestic life into conscious opposition to the tumult of public life and the environment into which so many people are forced every day by work and habit. The industrialist experiences it as a blessing to forget his factory at the end of the day, and even the scientist, though he sees in technology not only a means of earning one’s daily bread but the object of his passion, clearly wants to maintain a boundary between his laboratory and his living room.

Even in those areas in which technology is an integral part of our household life, such as in heating the home and supplying it with water, electricity, a telephone, and the like, the clear effort to make these things as invisible as possible is evident everywhere. One wants to be served, but the presence of the servant should not be allowed to make us feel uncomfortable.

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