From Homelessness to Homelessness

This essay was written as a coda to a book edited by Robin Schuldenfrei, Atomic Dwelling (Routledge, 2012)

 Covering the period between the end of the Second World War and the early 1970s, the essays in this book explore subjects in the era in which modernism triumphed, or so it seems. A set of aesthetic and intellectual propositions about the nature of modern design generated after the First World War were realized around the world in the uneasy peace which followed the end of the Second World War. The dream of an “International Style” was achieved to a large extent, with, of course, “local” differences in context and timing.[1] North American and Western European industry turned to modernist designers to provide the blueprints for chic modern furniture and electronic consumer goods as the “affluent society” took shape in the 1950s; after 1956, Eastern European states set about creating the kind of mass housing schemes which had been proposed by Le Corbusier, Ludwig Hilbersheimer and others in the 1920s; and newly independent states in Africa and the Middle East commissioned concrete and glass monuments from “First” and “Second world” architects to demonstrate their claims on modernity. Twenty years after the end of the Second World War, modernist architects and designers could justifiably claim to be shaping the world. Ernesto Roger’s 1952 totalizing ambition for design, dal cucchiaio alla città (from the spoon to the city), was, it seems, being realized.[2] Thirty years after 1945, however, the modernist project seemed to be in jeopardy, threatened by economic recession and environmental anxieties, and disturbed by the critiques of rationalism and technocracy in the West and the emergence of dissidence in the Eastern Bloc.[3] In 1975, Gaetano Pesce, the subject of Jane Pavitt’s essay in this book, could assert “La Futur est peut-etre passé.”

The reasons for what is usually described as the historic “failure” of modernism are many and often debated. Much of the explosion of writing on post-modernism in the 1980s was largely dedicated to providing explanations of its breakdown.[4] In this coda, however, I would like focus on the midpoint of the period covered by the essays in this book, the late 1950s. Even at the moment of its greatest success, as the essays in this book demonstrate, postwar Modernism in architecture and design displayed many symptoms of anxiety. But, of course, all societies fret about the conditions of the age in which they live. Even those times and places which have been cast in retrospect as “golden ages” were invariably understood by their contemporaries in terms of anxiety. “Golden Age Vienna” was the birthplace of psychoanalysis and the “Swinging Sixties” produced the Counter Culture. Moreover, the home has often been claimed as either a symptom of or as an antidote to social failure, anomie or poverty. The indictment of the domestic environment as a generator of poverty and “lax” morality in the postwar discussion of the Sassi cliff homes in Matera, Italy, described by Anne Parmly Toxey in her essay, for instance, shares much with characterizations of London’s rookeries one-hundred years earlier.[5] So what distinguishes the anxieties of modern dwelling in the age of its accomplishment? In what follows I will reflect on this question by exploring views of the past, present and future of the modern home articulated in the late 1950s. In each “moment,” the question of what constituted a human environment rose sharply to the fore.

Coming to Terms with the Past

Modern design in Europe after 1945 was conscripted into the project of postwar reconstruction and the creation of new, “just” societies. The view that modern design should ameliorate social problems was, of course, nothing new: what had changed in the postwar years was the sense that modern architecture and design could address existenzfragen (existential questions) (and, as such, formed a European counterpart to North American design pyschologism). Postwar modernism could not only create the future but, in some settings, would also heal the wounds of the recent past. The recent experience of “total war” which had seen entire societies conscripted into the war effort as well as the shocking awareness of humanity’s terrible potential for destruction made the heady technological futurism of the 1920s seem naïve and obsolete. The challenge – widely accepted by modernist designers and architects – was to set new technologies to peaceful or “humanist” purposes. Writing about the intellectual mindset of architects and designers, Barry Curtis has described humanism as a “pervasive mood” which “responded to recent experiences of totalitarianism and scientifically planned mass destruction.”[6] Similarly, Ignasi de Solà-Morales has described it “not as a strictly philosophical current but as a cultural climate.”[7] The impressionistic tenor of words like “mood” and “climate” accurately capture the widespread but diffused influence of humanism in its existential and phenomenological modes in the postwar years. “Humanity” and “man” were the common platitudes, invoked at almost every important gathering of architects and designers in Europe during the reconstruction years: the German Werkbund organized the second Darmstädter Gespräch to discuss “Mensch und Raum” in 1951; the Milan Triennale in the same year took “Architettura, misura dell’uomo” as its governing theme; whilst the following year the Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne met in Hoddesdon, a town near London, and published its findings there in The Heart of the City: Towards the Humanisation of Urban Life.[8]

       Preparing the West German pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958, Hans Schwippert represented modern architecture and design as part of this humanist crusade:

A movement is starting in the world … against the dehumanizing trends of mechanization, against the threat of the new horrifying means of annihilation and of “progress” … a movement that seeks and achieves a new lightness, a new tenderness and a new beauty. The glass walls of the new architecture, the new lightness of offices, workshops, factories, the graceful style of new furnishings, the pleasure of living among green, growing things  … are all wonderful experiments in a general human opposition to the threat of darkness and impending chaos.[9]

Schwippert was the secretary of the German Werkbund, a much-celebrated professional lobby that had played a key role in the development of Weimar Modernism. After 1945, the Werkbund came to enjoy a significant role in West Germany, derived, in part, from its standing as a rare prewar institution which could claim some degree of autonomy from Nazism. In the first half of the 1950s the Werkbund sought to orient the material culture of the country to its cherished ideal of “gute Form” (good form), a loose formulation which claimed moral effects for modernist design. It mounted didactic exhibitions, promoted design education and the output of a few prominent manufacturers.[10] Claiming a prewar Modern Movement heritage and counting figures like the former director of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, amongst its alumni, the Werkbund saw an opportunity to remake the world – in material and moral terms – from the ruins of the Second World War.

The Werkbund sought to be a moral compass which would steer West Germany through reconstruction to democracy. In 1951 it invited Ortega y Gasset and Martin Heidegger to speak at the second Darmstädter Gespräch which gathered to discuss “Mensch und Raum.” This event took the following words as its motto:

Building is a fundamental activity of man

Man builds, by joining spatial figures, thus shaping space

Building, he responds to the spirit of the age

Our age is the age of technology

The plight of our age is homelessness.[11]

Heidegger famously presented his “Building Dwelling Thinking” essay at this meeting in which he reflected on homelessness as an ontological state. The solution to this existential quandary was not to be found in “well planned, attractively cheap, open to air housing” but in understanding “what it is to dwell.”[12] It is clear that Heidegger did not directly capture the imagination of those who met in Darmstadt but he did reflect something of the existential mood of the gathering and, in fact, of Werkbund thinking in the period. Werkbund secretary Schwippert’s contribution to the discussion was to claim that the existential question of dwelling in was best answered by “bright and mobile [architecture] as a light and open sequence of spaces, and this is something that for some time now and ever more insistently asserts itself in these times.”[13] This was hardly Heidegger’s famous home of the spirit, the Black Forest farmhouse. Glass and steel were, nevertheless, capable of metaphysical effects. They could, for Schwippert, produce light, open spaces which would counteract the darkness and monumentality of the Third Reich and of the Soviet Bloc.

The West German pavilion at Expo 58 in Brussels – orchestrated by the Werkbund (with the Rat für Formgebung) – was perhaps the most spectacular realizations of Schwippert’s vision of “a new lightness, a new tenderness and a new beauty.”[14] Not a single structure, it was a series of two and three-storey pavilions connected by a chain of walkways covered with a white polythene roof forming circular route. The complex was entered across a footbridge suspended from a high steel pylon, the only element visible from a distance. Emphasizing overall effect of low horizontality and transparency, the structure of each building was created by a grid of stanchions and framed by a glass wall set one meter inside the roofline. The effects of transparency were amplified by the ascetic and controlled style of display inside. selection of exhibits tended towards modesty, a feature which was heavily laced with ideological significance in Werkbund debates. Alfons Leitl, writing in the exhibition catalogue, stressed “there is a social and democratic element … in the modest but dignified atmosphere of our everyday life.”[15] What might have been presented as glittering commodities took the form of a display of possessions (Persönlicher Bedarf) which were exhibited to demonstrate the ordinary face of a nation which had once proclaimed its citizens to be Übermenschen.

This meant that the home was given special significance above all other social sites in the national display in Brussels. Expo visitors were presented with three different full-scale model homes in the West German pavilion. The most important of these domiciles was a six-person family, single-storey apartment. It was presented as a glass-walled exhibit within the “Stadt und Wohnung” section. The family kitchen was displayed in cross-section with all the facing walls framed with glass. The viewer was offered uninhibited views of the pipe-work under the sink and the contents of the cupboards. Things were to reveal themselves in the most direct and unmediated fashion. The isolation of the single object – whether a cardigan, a bass violin or a prosthetic limb – suspended in the air was released from the need to address its viewer as consumer. Such displays even aspired to what Susan Sontag was to call “transparence,” the experience of “luminousness of the thing itself.”[16] The model home and, in fact, the entire West German pavilion, displayed a kind of distrust of images or, more accurately, of their powers of seduction. An image which treated images with suspicion, visitors were presented with evidence of inward-looking and modest Germany to suppress recent memories of her belligerence and to demonstrate her commitment to spiritual renewal. Here was a German home without a past or even an unconscious in the sense proposed by Gaston Bachelard.[17] For the French philosopher, writing when millions of Europeans had been homeless as a result of the Second World War and the decisions made at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the home was place where one’s most intimate dreams and anxieties could be stored. Privacy had – since 1945 – been given a central role in the denazification of a militarized, corporate society. At Brussels, this order of domestic politics was publicly demonstrated to the rest of the World.

West Germany presented the most pronounced version of what were the general circumstances in which many modernist architects and designers found themselves in Western Europe in the 1950s. Substituting radical politics for a humanist rhetoric, many put themselves in an arrière-garde position. Exercising what artist Richard P. Lohse called their “artistic ability, moral powers of resistance and knowledge of continuing cultural and psychological conditions,” architects and designers were to stave off what they saw as alienating effects of modern life.[18] New terms entered into the discourse of modern architecture. Community, to give one instance, now had to be reconciled with the needs of privacy, argued Serge Chermayeff and Christopher Alexander in 1963, in order to produce a “new architecture of humanism.”[19]

 

Here, Now

The home was given ideological functions in Western Europe after 1945. The Marshall Plan had, for instance, put numerous model homes on display across Western Europe in the early 1950s. This technique, in Greg Castillo’s words, “conflated democratic freedom with rising private consumption” and contested Soviet claims on the superiority of socialism.[20] In the early 1950s a series of exhibitions promoted American models of domesticity in West Germany, Belgium and France, albeit in the “elevated” mode promoted by Edgar Kaufmann, curator of Industrial Design at MoMA. The designs of Eero Saarinen manufactured by Knoll and the import of the Knoll line of furniture to Belgium – the subject of Cammie McAtee and Fredie Floré’s essays in this book – were turned into symbols of reassurance, democracy, affluence and liberalism by being conscripted in this fashion. Berlin was given its own venue for such exhibits, the George Marshall-Haus, which opened in 1950. Wir bauen ein besseres Leben (We’re Building a Better Life, 1952) was a typical Marshall-Haus event. Its centerpiece was a single-family home containing a generous supply of consumer goods manufactured by Marshall Plan member nations. Here was a demonstration of the benefits of international exchange guided by the market. For many contemporaries, this was Americanization by another name.[21] Lefebvre called “that ideological commodity imported in the name of technical progress, ‘consumer society’ and the mass media.”[22] The building – ordinary in most respects – was rendered knowable by the fact that it was roofless. Visitors to the exhibition were led up on to an elevated gantry from which they could spy on everyday family life, performed by adult and child actors. Here, what Barthes later called the “publicity of the private” was given the ideological function of producing both envy and knowledge of the lifestyles contained therein.[23]

These techniques were almost a decade old when, in 1958, the West Germans built and furnished their pavilion in Brussels and when, in the following year, the United States put consumerism on display in Moscow at the famous American National Exhibition. Evidence of American prosperity – automobiles, kitchen appliances, color television and even a supermarket – were exhibited in order to produce the destabilizing effects of envy amongst the Soviet citizenry. The angry conversations between US vice-president Richard Nixon and premier Nikita Khrushchev on the opening day became one of the best-known arguments of the Cold War known as the “Kitchen Debate.” Nixon seized the opportunity to represent America as a land in which householders held the whip hand: manufacturers and housing developers were, he suggested, compelled by market pressures to meet their every whim such was the power of the consumer. Nothing could be better for the economy than the fact that ordinary citizens grew tired of their new homes within a few years. This kind of psychological obsolescence was, he argued, the engine of progress. Khrushchev countered by boldly claiming the minor miracles of washing machines and refrigerators were nothing new: “You think the Russian people will be dumfounded to see these things” barked the Soviet premier, “but the fact is that newly built Russian houses have all this equipment right now.”[24] The Soviet system was superior because it eschewed short-term benefits for the long-term goals of socialism. Paradoxically, however, this event came at the end of Soviet “long-termism” and was coincidental with policies designed to produce immediate effects.

At the Twenty-Second Party Congress in 1962 Khrushchev announced “For the first time in history there will a be a full and final end of the situation in which people suffer from the shortage of anything … [by] 1980 this country will far outstrip the United States ….”[25] Families in the Soviet Union and in allied socialist nations were to enjoy new levels of domestic comfort: high rise housing in single-family apartments was the first and most important aspect of this promise to meet the material and social needs of working men and women. After the idealized collectivism of the “domkomuna” (the experimental housing commune of the 1920s) and cramped conditions of the “komunalka” (the communal apartment shared by many families), the single-family apartment represented a much-desired atomic dwelling in which the family constituted the key social unit. It was not the only symbol of the age. The design of scooters, consumer goods like East German plastic kitchen utensils and radios and fashionable clothing were all attempts to materialize Khrushchev’s promise to make socialism a worker’s paradise. Eastern Bloc authorities, as Ana Miljački explores in her contribution to this book on Czechoslovak images of “socialist lifestyle”, could no longer rely on the conventional indices of industrial progress – the factory and the machine – to demonstrate their hold on modernity. By turning consumerism into a site of “peaceful competition,” the East and the West had produced a state of affairs in which consumption was equated with citizenship. In fact, when faced with the American dream home implanted on Soviet soil in 1959, Khrushchev had bragged “In Russia all you have to do to get a house is to be born in the Soviet Union. You are entitled to housing.”[26]

This promise was repeated and extended in the years that followed by Soviet government and in the regimes which formed the Eastern Bloc. Material comforts which had once been offered in return to a narrow elite for their loyalty and political activism were now extended to all.[27] This was a new kind of contract based on political passivity, acquiescence, and ritualized gestures of support.[28] This was perhaps most evident in the period of “normalization” in Czechoslovakia following the suppression of the political reforms of the Prague Spring.[29] Václav Havel writing in 1978 described this uneasy contract in succinct terms when he wrote, “The post-totalitarian system has been built on foundations laid by the historical encounter between dictatorship and the consumer society.”[30] For critics from the New Left in the 1960s, the symmetries of East and West in this regard (and others) was evidence of the intellectual poverty of both worlds. In his book, The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967), Raoul Vaneigem wrote:

The cultural détente between East and West is not accidental! On the one hand, homo consomator buys a bottle of whiskey and as a free gift the lie that accompanies it. On the other, Communist buys ideology and gets a free gift a bottle of vodka. Paradoxically, Soviet and capitalist regimes are taking a common path, the first thanks to their economy of production, the second thanks to their economy of consumption.[31]

For contemporary critics like Vaneigem – an associate of the Situationiste Internationale – the idea that happiness could be measured in possessions was perhaps the most troubling illusion of the age.

Into the Future?

Even by the standards of the day, Khrushchev’s futurology was rather limited. Purpose-built, single-family homes equipped with a refrigerator or washing machine may well have represented a kind of dream for the citizen-comrades of the Eastern Bloc (and for many people in the so-called first and third worlds too), but it was a relatively modest ambition for an utopian ideology which proclaimed its superior command of advanced technology. Even the most ambitious form of high rise housing in the Soviet Union in the 1960s – conceived by Nathan Osterman working for Mosprojekt 3 (the Institute of Standard and Experimental Projects in Moscow) and known as Dom Novogo Byta (House of New Life) – offered a modest strain of futurism. In the Dom Novogo Byta, some 2,000 people were to occupy the 812 small apartments in the tall residential blocks served by a low complex containing a canteen, library, television rooms, hairdressing salons, launderettes, cinema and a sports center with a swimming pool. The aim was to provide housing for young people and new families, who would exchange the privacy of the single flat for the benefits of communal life. A revival of ideas of the domkomuna of the 1920s, this scheme looked much like a “first world” hotel.

Other experimental schemes of the era – described as “the house of tomorrow” or the “house of the future” – were more spectacular. Characteristically featuring plastic monocoque shells, electronic communication systems and domestic robots, this was a genre of housing which claimed its place in era of space travel, cybernetics, nuclear power and electronic communications. The most celebrated of these schemes was British architects Alison and Peter Smithson’s “House of the Future,” an exhibit at the annual Ideal Home exhibition in London in 1956. They built their vision of what life would be like in 1980. A series of flowing spaces organized around a central patio space, the “House of the Future” had no meaningful exterior. It was a cave-like space made from smooth panels, seemingly made from plastic, which formed the walls, ceiling and floors. The living room was organized around an adjustable table which could be set a different heights or disappear into the floor. This was also a thoroughly commodified future home, full of “push-button” gadgets. The shower for instance not only regulated its own temperature, but also combined a blow drier and a sun lamp. Other celebrated schemes of the era included Ionel Schein’s Plastic House of 1956, shown at the Salon des Arts Ménagers in Paris in 1956 and the Monsanto House designed by MIT engineers and exhibited at Disneyland in 1957. In the course of the 1960s others were created in Germany and the Soviet Union as well. Even Cuba participated in this global experiment with young architects designing the Módulo Experimental de Vivienda de Asbesto-Cemento (Experimental Asbestos Housing Module), an experimental housing type constructed from prefabricated molded sheets (1964–1968).[32]

Based on off-site prefabrication, these structures were to be light and mobile. Freestanding homes could be delivered to their plots by truck or even helicopter and living “pods” would be stacked to form high-rise structures or laid in interlocking chains on the ground. Their architects celebrated the idea that such schemes would become redundant within a generation. After all, the pace of technological invention would supply new and better homes. Such homes also assumed a kind of diagnostic function, presenting models of life in the future. Often displayed at international exhibitions and trade fairs, they invited the visitor to imagine that they too would one day enjoy life in a “smart home.”[33]

Whilst this genre of domestic architecture demonstrated faith in future technology, in the early 1960s no one could assert with complete confidence that there would be a future. Periods of high tension in the Cold War – particularly at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 – brought the prospect of war between two antagonistic systems armed with nuclear weapons terrifyingly close. In an age when apocalypse seemed one potential future for mankind, any consideration of this genre of buildings needs to be supplemented with “homes of future apocalypse.” These might include the smart home in Ray Bradbury’s 1950 short story, There Will Come Soft Rains, which continues to operate even when its inhabitants have been irradiated shadows after a nuclear explosion. Other homes in this unarticulated genre might include the “Underground House” presented at the New York Fair of 1964 by the Underground World Corporation. Visitors descended into a kind of cave which contained a suburban home complete with artificial garden and swimming pool. In this luxury bunker, “natural” conditions could be sustained with lighting which simulated the conditions of dawn, daylight, dusk and night. The “dial-a-view murals” could be changed at the press of a button. New York’s skyline could be substituted for San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. In the company’s own publicity, the true purpose of these structures – survival after a nuclear attack from Moscow – were almost entirely ignored in favor of soothing descriptions of the benefits of underground life. What could be better, trilled the company’s publicity, than life underground in a world protected from criminals and intruders: “Greater security – peace of mind – the ultimate in true privacy.”

Even those structures which loudly proclaimed their technological optimism might be understood as belonging to the category of “homes of future apocalypse.” As Beatriz Colomina has shown, the Smithson’s house was full of defenses.[34] Visitors to the house were required to walk through a draft of warm air, as if being decontaminated. Moreover, the steel door through which they passed was itself a kind of electronically operated air-lock, like that required for a spacecraft or for a submarine. It implied the possibility of sealing the house from the outside world. The external threat was both invisible and deeply penetrating, not unlike the nuclear threat posed by the Cold War itself. Like a spaceship, submarine or a bunker, this was also a home without an outside. But, in a vertiginous fashion, it was also the prehistoric form of a cave. Caves are, of course, not only spaces of shelter but also the home of dark fears. They represent, as numerous films and novels depicting life after nuclear war produced during the period, a kind of return to the primal condition of “bare life.”

In the 1960s, growing interest in life in what the architect Peter Cook was to call “edge situations” like the Arctic and on the seabed – popular themes in the architectural imagination – can also understood in terms of anxiety. In 1971, Frei Otto, the brilliant engineer, was commissioned by Farbwerke Hoechst AG to plan a new city for the Arctic that would be home to 45,000 workers exploring and developing the Arctic. Living under a transparent pneumatic dome covering 3km2, they would enjoy an artificial climate. The most challenging form of marine architecture, the underwater structure, was a recurrent dream throughout the period, shared by Archigram architects Warren Chalk (Underwater City, 1964) and Peter Cook (Sea Farming Project, 1968), and Claus Jürgen (Submarine Centre, 1971).From such environments man could explore these terrae incognitae for mineral resources and farm the seabed. Although rarely articulated, these schemes harbored within them the fear that mankind’s conventional habitat faced destruction: perhaps in the future, humanity would have no choice but to colonize hitherto uninhabited environments. The greatest threat to mankind was increasingly understood to be man himself. Critic Michel Ragon, for instance, examined the implications of overpopulation in his influential books Où vivrons-nous demain? (Where Will We Live Tomorrow? 1963) and Les cités de l’avenir (Future Cities, 1966). Combining serious-minded sociology with spectacular futurology, Ragon extrapolated from statistics predicting acute population growth, an immense expansion in car ownership and private housing. Mankind faced asphyxiation in the “mineral desert” of urban sprawl.[35]

It is perhaps a paradox that the futurology on which the house of tomorrow or the city of the future was rather conservative on a number of counts. The social and political structures – like the nuclear family – on which these visions of the future were based, owed much present circumstances. Robert Cottrell has argued something similar about the technologies which they claimed:

We can see now that the golden age of blockbuster futurology in the 1960s and 1970s was caused, not by the onset of profound technological and social change, but by the absence of it. The great determining technologies – electricity, the telephone, the internal combustion engine, even manned flight – were the products of a previous century, and their applications were well understood. The geopolitical fundamentals were stable, too, thanks to the Cold War.[36]

Future houses fashioned with plastic walls, equipped with electronic communication devices and serviced by robots were recognizable as conventional homes, namely, spaces for dwelling in a sense that would understood and promoted by even the most doubtful critics of modern technology.

Where were more critical or radical forms of futurology to be found in the period? What, for instance, was to be the domestic landscape of the posthuman figure of the cyborg? Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline coined the term in 1960 to describe the enhanced human being who could survive in extraterrestrial conditions:

man in space, in addition to flying his vehicle, must continually be checking on things and making adjustments merely in order to keep himself alive, he becomes a slave to the machine. The purpose of the Cyborg, as well as his own homeostatic systems, is to provide an organizational system in which such robot-like problems are taken care of automatically and unconsciously, leaving man free to explore, to create, to think, and to feel.[37]

With the cyborg redefining the relationship of the human to the environment, it is not surprising that they attracted the attention of architects and designers in the West and the East in the mid-1960s. Archigram in the United Kingdom, Haus-Rucker-Co and Walter Pichler in Austria proposed schemes in which portable homes or “living environments” were as attentive to sensory stimulation as they were with matters of shelter and sustenance. Archigram described the “Suitaloon” – a portable environment inspired by the design of space suits or what NASA called “Extravehicular Mobility Units” – as “clothing for living in … if it wasn’t for my Suitaloon I would have to buy a house.”[38]

At a deeper or perhaps more philosophical level, the cyborg offered an image of man dissolved in technology.[39] Assuming a kind of posthuman viewpoint, the great Polish science fiction writer Stanisław Lem eschewed any kind of moral or technical limits in his conceptualization of the cyborg. In his 1964 book Summa Technologiae sketched worlds populated with various types of genetically and biochemically modified human beings as diverse as “the various kinds of ants.” His concept of “Phantomology” disturbed all the conventional metaphysics of humanism: a mind could be stimulated into the perception of being somewhere else or multiple individuals could be networked to a single brain. Summa Technologiae was a disavowal of the central figure of Man, the rallying symbol of the postwar reconstruction:

I don’t trust any promise, I don’t believe in assurances based on the so called humanism. The only way to deal with a certain technology is another technology. Today, man knows more about his dangerous inclinations than he knew a hundred years ago, and in another hundred years his knowledge will be even more complete.[40]

Lem was not the only figure to eschew postwar humanism. By the early 1960s it was coming under attack in other fields of intellectual life. Structuralism in France represented existentialist-humanism as loose, ill-disciplined thinking which over-exaggerated individual agency and responsibility in the face of the codes, rituals and structures of language and society. As Claude Lévi-Strauss famously wrote in 1962 “I believe the ultimate goal of the human sciences is not to constitute but to dissolve man.”[41] Two years later Theodor Adorno published his attack on Martin Heidegger, Jargon der Eigenlichkeit (The Jargon of Authenticity). Existential humanism, in adopting a metaphysical and sermonizing vocabulary of “shelteredness,” “transcendence,” “truth” and “freedom,” had invented a kind of secular religion which only disguised alienation and injustice:

The empty phrase, Man, distorts man’s relation to his society as well as the content of what is thought in the concept of Man. The phrase does not bother about the real division of the subject into separated subject that cannot be undone by the voice of the mere spirit.[42]

For Adorno, this was evidenced by the deep penetration of “the jargon of authenticity” into radio, television and advertising – arenas which produced alienation and broadcast false illusions.

The earliest signs of a kind of anti-humanist attitudes in architecture and design were to be found in Europe and North America in the late 1960s. New kinds of homes were devised which eschewed principles of community, privacy, dwelling and other humanist preoccupations. As Sean Keller explores in his essay on the formal principles adopted by Peter Eisenman in the design of his “House” series from 1967 onward and, as Mary Louise Lobsinger points out in her essay, Superstudio’s adoption of the grid as the form of its “Continuous Monument” (1970–), abstraction provided the means for a kind of critical estrangement from the mythical notion of home. They were not the only critiques of this kind. We might add here Ettore Sottsass’s contribution to MoMA’s Italy: The New Domestic Landscape exhibition in 1972. Exhibiting a “home” as a series of free-standing plastic shells, each of which contained the equipment to serve a domestic function such as cooking and bathing, Sottsass presented a domestic space which sought to “decondition” its user. “The form isn’t cute and even, maybe, rough,” he wrote, “and the expected deconditioning process, even if it works in a negative direction, I mean in the direction of eventually eliminating the self-indulgence of possession, will certainly impose a responsibility upon whoever ventures to use these objects. Eliminating the protective layer of alibis we build around ourselves always necessitates great commitment.”[43] Lacking any kind or pre-determined form or setting, Sottsass’s “domestic landscape” was a de-territorialized one.

Working at the end of the Modernist project, Sottsass – like other designers stirred by the Counter Culture’s antagonism to the commodity and traditional social structures – sought to shake off the so called “affluent society’s” attraction to property. Nomadism and communalism, might produce a new kind of being, based on a deeper engagement with the world and with society. In 1951 the Darmstädter Gespräch had gathered writers, artists and architects to debate the rejuvenation of humanity. In the aftermath of mechanized war, the organizers had announced that the “the plight of our age is homelessness.” This was a both real and a metaphysical condition for many Europeans. Only twenty years later – after the consumer boom and the deep penetration of technologies into the home – the promise of the age was to be a form of homelessness.


[1] For discussion of local inflections in the International Style see various essays in Hubert-Jan Henket & Hilde Heynen, eds., Back from Utopia: The Challenge of the Modern Movement (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2002).

[2] Ernesto N. Rogers, editorial in Domus, 20 (1946): 65.

[3] See various essays in Giovanna Borasi & Mirko Zardini, eds., Sorry, Out of Gas: Architecture’s Response to the 1973 Oil Crisis (Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2008).

[4] David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989).

[5] See Robin Evans, ‘Rookeries and Model Dwellings: English Housing Reform and the Moralities of Private Space’ in Translations from Drawing to Building and Other Essays (London: Architectural Association, 1997), 93-117, and Alain Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986).

[6] Barry Curtis, ‘‘The Heart of the City’’ in Non-Plan: Essays on Freedom, Participation and Change in Modern Architecture and Urbanism, eds. Jonathan Hughes and Simon Sadler (Oxford: Architectural Press, 2000), 52.

[7] Ignasi de Solà-Morales, Differences: Topographies of Contemporary Architecture, trans. Graham Thompson (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997), 42.

[8] Congrés Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne, The Heart of the City: Towards the Humanisation of Urban Life, ed. J.L. Sert and E.N. Rogers, trans. J. Tyrwhitt (New York: Pellegrini and Cudahy, 1952).

[9] Hans Schwippert, ‘‘Ein Vorschlag zur Gestaltung der deutschen Beteiligung der Weltausstellung Brüssel 1958’’ in Hans Schwippert (Cologne: Akademie der Architektenkammer Nordrhein Westfalen, 1984), 102. Unless otherwise noted, translations are the author’s own.

[10] Its highest achievement was the organization of the famous Interbau exhibition in the Hansa district of Berlin in 1957. This living exhibition of model housing was a conscious reiteration of many of the themes of the Weissenhof Exhibition in Stuttgart of 1927 and a rebuttal of the Socialist Realist aesthetic being promoted in East Berlin. See the special issue of Bauwelt 24 (1957): 561-600.

[11] Otto Bartning, ed., Mensch und Raum: Darmstädter Gespräche 1951 (Darmstadt: Neue Darmstädter Verlagsanstalt, 1952), 33.

[12] Martin Heidegger, ‘‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’’ [1951] in Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory, ed. Neil Leach (London: Routledge, 1997), 100.

[13] Hans Schwippert in Bartning, ed., Mensch und Raum, 87.

[14] Hans Schwippert, “Ein Vorschlag zur Gestaltung der deutschen Beteiligung …”, 102.

[15] Alfons Leitl, ‘‘Towns and Homes’’ in World Exhibition of Brussels 1958 Germany, eds., Wend Fischer and Gustav B. von Hartmann (Düsseldorf: Generalkommissar der Bundesrepublik Deutschland bei der Weltausstellung Brüssel 1958, 1958), 117.

[16] Susan Sontag, ‘‘Against Interpretation’’ in A Susan Sontag Reader, ed. Elizabeth Hardwick (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1983), 103-104.

[17] Gaston Bachelard, La Terre et les rêveries du repos: Essai sur les images de l’intimité (Paris: J. Corti, 1948). As Bruno Zevi noted: ‘‘Germany pretends to have forgotten the gas chambers and shows us a distinguished face as if to say that technology justifies everything, whether tanks or electric razors.’’ L’Architettura, 4, (May 1958): 4.

[18] Richard P. Lohse, ‘‘Zur soziologischen Situation des Grafikers,’’ Neue Grafik 3 (October 1959): 58.

[19] Serge Chermayeff and Christopher Alexander, Community and Privacy: Toward a New Architecture of Humanism (Garden City, Doubleday, 1963).

[20] Greg Castillo, ‘‘Domesticating the Cold War: Household Consumption as Propaganda in Marshall Plan Germany’’ Journal of Contemporary History 40, no. 2 (April 2005): 263.

[21] Richard F. Kuisel, Seducing the French: The Dilemma of Americanization (University of California Press, 1993).

[22] Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, trans. John Moore (London: Verso, 1991), 245.

[23] Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 98.

[24] For a transcription of the ‘‘Kitchen Debate’’ in English see http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cold.war/episodes/14/documents/debate/

[25] Nikita Khruschev cited by Zsuzsanna Varga, “Questioning the Soviet economic model in the 1960s” in János M. Rainer and György Péteri, eds., Muddling Through in the Long 1960s: Ideas and Everyday Life in High Politics and the Lower Classes of Communist Hungary (Trondheim: Programme on East European Cultures and Societies, 2005), 110.

[26] The “Kitchen Debate” 1959.

[27] Vera Dunham, In Stalin’s Time: Middleclass Values in Soviet Fiction (Durham, Duke University Press, 1990), 17.

[28] James Millar, with reference to Vera Dunham, calls this phenomenon in Brezhnev-era Soviet Union the ‘‘little deal.’’ James R. Millar, “The Little Deal: Brezhnev”s Contribution to Acquisitive Socialism,’’ Slavic Review 44, no. 4 (1985): 694-706.

[29] Milan, Simecka, The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia, 19691976, trans. A.G. Brain (London: Verso, 1984), especially chapter fifteen, ‘‘Corruption.’’

[30] Václav Havel, The Power of the Powerless (1978), ed. John Keane (London: Hutchinson, 1985), 37-40.

[31] Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life, trans. John Fullerton and Paul Sieveking (London: Rising Free Collective, 1979), 36.

[32] See Barry Bergdoll,   Peter Christensen and Ron Broadhurst, eds., Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling, Part 1 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2008), 128.

[33] Davin Heckman, A Small World: Smart Houses and the Dream of the Perfect Day (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008).

[34] Beatriz Colomina, ‘‘Unbreathed Air 1956,’’ Grey Room 15 (Spring 2004): 2859.

[35] Michel Ragon, Les Cités de lavenir (Paris: Encyclopédie Planète, 1966), 119.

[36] Robert Cottrell, “The Future of Futurology” in The World in 2008 (London: The Economist Publications, 2007), p. 110.

[37] Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline, ‘‘Cyborgs and Space,’’ Astronautics, September 1960: 31.

[38] Peter Cook, ed., Archigram (London: Archigram Group, 1970; repr., New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999), 80.

[39] Michael Kandel, ‘‘Stanislaw Lem on Men and Robots,’’ Extrapolation 14 (1972-73): 19.

[40] Stanisław Lem, Summa Technologiae (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1964), 12.

[41] Kristin Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995), 162.

[42] Theodor Adorno, The Jargon Of Authenticity (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), 55

[43] Ettore Sottsass in the exhibition catalogue Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, Achievements and Problems of Italian Design, ed. Emilio Ambasz (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in collaboration with Centro Di, Florence, 1972), 162.

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