A Commentary: Bruno Taut, The City Crown, 1919

Bruno Taut, “The City Crown”, in Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby (eds.), Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), pp. 295-301.

 

The intention to flee, from the dangerous city, to the safe haven of the countryside or small town, is an intention that defines the architecture of the early twentieth century within Germany.[1] Berlin during the war years of 1914-1918 was one such dangerous city, and architects such as Bruno Taut sought to provide an alternative plan for the city where the spiritual and profane aspects of city life were separated.[2] Influenced by the Garden City movement and Gothic architecture, Taut in ‘The City Crown’ provides a polemical blueprint for the new city in which brotherhood and harmony are championed.[3] [4]

Taut’s vision of ‘The City Crown’ contributes to calls for the return to the land which gained strength in Germany at the turn of the century, and became institutionalised with the founding of the German Garden City Association in 1902.[5] The world’s first garden city was founded by Ebenezer Howard in Letchworth in 1903 and is continually referenced by Taut and contemporary writers such as Paul Wolf.[6]  The housing within Taut’s plan is modelled on the simple cottage structures that he had designed for the German Garden City Association from 1913-1916 in Falkenberg, in the Berlin suburbs.[7] First published in 1919, Taut’s piece also reflects the very real and un-romantic need to return to the land due to the food shortages that had become apparent in Berlin and other German cities by the early months of 1915, that had by 1918,  progressed to mass starvation.[8]

In tandem with the defeat of the nation in World War One and mass starvation, came the Spanish influenza.[9] 250,000 Germans are thought to have died in the pandemic flu in 1918 and 1919, one can see in ‘The City Crown’ that the importance Taut places on the orientation of the city- in order to let good air flow into the city and bad air be contained within the factory district, may be contextually informed by the pandemic.[10] [11] If the pandemic spread like wildfire due to the high density living conditions in Berlin, Taut illustrates an ideal city vision with 150 people per hectare, ample space for each resident.[12]

Taut’s major point is that the new, reformed city must have a building that champions and showcases the highest ideals to be striven for by the people. Without some spiritual centrepiece, the city has no concrete illustration of faith and thus no way for the individual to rise above his own personal concerns.[13] The glass temple creating Taut’s Crown, can be seen in terms of a modern equivalent to the Gothic cathedral.[14] A glass crystalline building, ‘conceived both as a protest against the insanity of war and as a pointer to a better society.’ [15] [16] The sheer amount of light Taut describes within the Crown and the light it reflects ‘like a diamond over everything, sparkling in the sunlight’, provides an alternative to the Mietskaserne and the dark courtyards of Wilhelmine Berlin. [17] [18]

The crystal motif recurs throughout architectural theory of the early twentieth century. Walter Gropius described architecture as ‘the crystalline expression of human beings’ noblest thoughts’.[19] Taut describes his City Crown as the ‘Crystal House’, championing glass architecture’s ‘purity and transcendence’.[20] The inspiration for the glass architecture of Taut and his associates in the Arbeitstrat fur Kunst and the Glaserne Kette group stems from the fantasy author Paul Scheerbart. [21] Scheerbart created worlds of wonder, describing utopian existences lived out under new transparent and colourful architecture.[22] Taut met Scheerbart in 1912, and in February 1914, Taut published ‘A Necessity’, an article calling for the collaboration of all the arts in constructing a new building of glass, steel and concrete.[23] The building would have no function apart from transcendence, and one can see in ‘The City Crown’, that the Crown itself ‘contains nothing apart from an incredibly beautiful room’ that causes ‘every major sensation’ to be awakened when walking around it.[24] [25] The Crown also represents the union of all the arts, directed by the architect.[26]

Contrary to advocating the abandonment of cities, as Taut later advocates in his 1920 piece, ‘Dissolution of Cities’, ‘The City Crown’ offers an alternative vision for the urban landscape- in which both the material and spiritual needs of the population are met.[27] [28] Taut was located on the political left, but arguments for the return to the land appeared on the far right also.[29] The Expressionist fantasies of the 1920s, of which Taut created many, were made manifest in part by housing associations and trade unions, under the Socialist City Council towards the end of the decade.[30]  Glass, steel and concrete architecture to Taut represented a new age, of spiritual enlightenment and of collaboration between the arts, a peaceful age, yearned for by the post-war generation of Germany.

 

[1] Iain Boyd Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 291.

[2] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 292.

[3] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 293.

[4] Bruno Taut, “The City Crown” in Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 296.

[5] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 291.

[6] Paul Wolf, “The Basic Layout of the New City”, in Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 295. Although he advocates a relocation from the city to the country, advocating the creation of garden cities modelled on Letchworth in England.

[7] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 292.

[8] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 291.

[9] Iain Boyd Whyte, “Chapter 9: City in Crisis”, Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 275.

[10] Ibid, p. 275.

[11] Taut, “The City Crown”, p. 298.

[12] Ibid, p. 299.

[13] Ibid, p. 296.

[14] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 292.

[15] Whyte, “The Expressionist Sublime”, p. 118.

[16] Ibid, p. 296.

[17] Taut, “The City Crown,” p. 301.

[18] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 292.

[19] Walter Gropius, “The New Architectural Idea” in Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 286.

[20] Taut, “The City Crown,” p. 301.

[21] Whyte, “The Expressionist Sublime”, p. 126.

[22] Whyte, “The Expressionist Sublime”, p. 126.

[23] Bruno Taut, “A Necessity” in Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 276-278.

[24] Taut, “A Necessity”, p. 278. ‘All idea of social purpose must be avoided’

[25] Taut, “The City Crown,” p. 300.

[26] Taut, “The City Crown,” p. 300.

[27] Bruno Taut, Dissolution of Cities (Hagen: Folkwang, 1920), pl. 1. Illustrates Taut’s alternative settlement plans, contrasting a crowded city with his organic, petal like settlements.

[28] Taut, “The City Crown,” p. 296.

[29] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 292.

[30] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 293.

 

Bibliography

Books

Boyd Whyte, Iain. “Chapter 10: Critical Responses.” In Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, 291-293. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Boyd Whyte, Iain. “The Expressionist Sublime.” In Expressionist Utopias: Paradise, Metropolis, Architectural Fantasy, exhibition catalogue edited by Timothy O. Benson, 118-137. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art / Washington University Press, 1993.

Gropius, Walter. “The New Architectural Idea.” In Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, 286-287. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Taut, Bruno. Dissolution of Cities. Hagen: Folkwang, 1920.

Taut, Bruno. “The City Crown.” In Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, 295-301. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Taut, Bruno. “A Necessity.” In Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, 276-278. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Wolf, Paul. “The Basic Layout of the New City.” In Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, 293-295. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

 

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