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Adolf Behne, "Bruno Taut" (1914)

The values of innovation and novelty figured as importantly in the architecture of Wilhelmine Germany as they did in painting and sculpture. Technological advances, including the development of lighter and stronger materials, such as steel, transformed the formal language architects used to design buildings. In the account below, architect and critic Adolf Behne describes Bruno Taut’s (1880-1938) use of new materials and building techniques in developing his own conception of modern architecture.

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With his pavilion for the Federation of Steel Industries at the Leipzig Building Trade Exhibition, Bruno Taut has achieved his first great sweeping success! The “Monument of Iron,” as the building was succinctly christened, also caught the attention of those who would otherwise not have been moved by architectural creations. Everyone felt that in this sparse, unadorned and wonderfully energetic structure a genuinely modern and altogether contemporary artist had revealed himself. But unfortunately this great interest in the Leipzig pavilion has not sparked a general reawakening of interest in the rest of Bruno Taut’s work. This is all the more regrettable since Bruno Taut has, in fact, produced achievements more significant than the Leipzig pavilion. Just now in one of the western districts of Berlin he has completed a new residential apartment house – one constituting a rare, genuinely exciting architectural achievement.

The house in question is on the corner of Hardenberg and Schiller Streets in Charlottenburg; [it is] a building that Bruno Taut constructed on a site plan by Arthur Vogdt, which was very interesting in terms of urban planning.

Nothing could be further from Bruno Taut’s intentions than extravagance, whimsy or bluff. His defining characteristic is a rigorous functionalism—naturally it is an artistic functionalism, and not the functionalism of the utility-driven “practical artist,” or that of the “puritan.” In this artistic sense the “Monument of Iron” was totally functional. The golden globe that rested on the octagonal pyramid and provoked uncertainly in some quarters had, in fact, in terms of practicality and economy of space, no function at all! But artistically, to be sure, it certainly did fulfill its function; it was simply indispensable!

In this same artistic sense the Hardenberg house (the building is not called this, but for the sake of brevity I will use this name here) is also completely functional. With this design Bruno Taut consciously returns to the earliest elements [Urelemente] of construction and leaves aside everything that represents only convention or derivation. Like the best artists of our time, he too is striving for a new simplicity, for primitivism. All this was already captured in the Leipzig pavilion, which had a very profound effect on visitors without making its intentions clear to them. In the Hardenberg house Bruno Taut’s intentions reveal themselves, to be sure, with much more significance and gravity.

A new conviction, a new feeling for life inhabits this architecture! With this design everything extraneous, all finery and decoration have been swept away, as if with an iron broom! Whoever allows his eyes to take in the surrounding houses and then returns his gaze to Bruno Taut’s façade must breathe the deepest sigh of satisfaction. He is inevitably overcome by an almost redeeming feeling of peace. It is as though after listening to a polyphonic, indefinite and confusing sound, he then hears a pure and full tone. Purity! That is perhaps the word that comes closest to the essence of Taut’s architecture.

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