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Housing, tradition, and German modernism
Author: Isabel Rousset

This book constitutes the first major study of tradition as a field of political and cultural contestation in modern architectural culture. Examining German-language design theory from 1848 to 1918, Rousset traces the diverse and fascinating efforts by architectural reformists to confront class antagonism through the provision of simple, traditionally minded domestic design. Based on extensive original research and copiously illustrated, The architecture of social reform introduces readers to a host of modern architects, urbanists, reform experts, and art critics, including Gottfried Semper, Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl, Karl Henrici, Josef Stübben, Camillo Sitte, Rudolf Eberstadt, Walter Curt Behrendt, Werner Hegemann, Karl Scheffler, Hermann Muthesius, Paul Schultze-Naumburg, Albert Gessner, Albert E. Brinckmann, and Paul Mebes, who sought to reform housing along traditionalist lines from the scale of the living room to that of the city-region.

Countering the narrative that tradition signified the last breath of an eclectic and defunct historicism, The architecture of social reform breaks new ground in the assessment of modern architecture by revealing how architects and other design experts engaged with tradition in order to stake out a socially progressive position for themselves while learning from the past.

Readers interested in continuing debates over the future of architecture, housing, and politics will find this book essential reading.

Isabel Rousset

This chapter focuses on the ideas of folklorist and proto-sociologist Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl. Through a discussion of Riehl’s writings on traditional German building cultures that he penned in the 1850s, the chapter identifies the emergence of a new faith that architecture could be absorbed into a transparent system of social understanding that was capable of reforming the modern worker at the scale of the dwelling. With his ethos that all architecture should evolve from tradition and be built ‘from the inside out’, Riehl’s writings exposed the limits of architecture hitherto theorised in Enlightenment science as a form of universal knowledge, consequently drawing new parameters for the potential social agency of the architect.

in The architecture of social reform
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Isabel Rousset

The concluding chapter tracks the end of traditionalist thinking in German architectural culture after the First World War. It ends with a reflection on the lessons of the historical era traced in the book, and speculates on the future of socially engaged architectural theory and practice.

in The architecture of social reform
Isabel Rousset

This chapter offers a close reading of the photographic books of three seminal architects: Hermann Muthesius, Paul Schultze-Naumburg, and Paul Mebes. It highlights the often-neglected social politics underpinning them. Each of these works of cultural research conducted by architects constituted an attempt to realign the production of architecture, art and applied arts around the traditional domestic worlds of peasants, artisans, and burghers. These and other architects working from within the paradigms of ‘tradition’ and ‘objectivity’ reconstructed their practice as something defensibly scientific not merely by producing diagrams and drawings, but by publishing photographic books that fostered a critical re-evaluation of the potential (and limits) of the architect’s role in a wider sphere of cultural influence.

in The architecture of social reform
Isabel Rousset

This chapter begins by citing the myth of Charles Fourier’s utopian phalanstère in the German reformist imagination. Whereas the activities taking place in Fourier’s ‘people’s palace’ were programmed according to the free exercising of passions, German reformers rejected what they read as French theatricality and overrefinement, instead reinforcing the restrained exercising of Sitte (moral custom) in the domestic sphere. English notions of domestic privacy, cosiness, and comfort became highly politicised design concepts as they were translated into the German context, feeding into traditional middle-class familial ideals. Enlisting a variety of sources, including political tracts, behavioural studies, statistical reports, housewives’ manuals, and architectural textbooks, this chapter focuses on how dwelling floor plans became used as instruments to communicate new truths about architecture’s purpose in defining ideal family life.

in The architecture of social reform
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Isabel Rousset

How did buildings designed to house ordinary people become elevated to the noble status of architecture in modern Germany? Foregrounding the main concerns of the book, this chapter introduces the notion of tradition as the dominant concept that enabled architects to come to grips with the modern world while preserving architecture as a noble art form. The chapter describes some of the rich social and intellectual developments that occurred from the period between 1848 and 1914, the book’s key timeframe. It discusses how a unique understanding of the household developed in Germany in the modern period, which caused German architects to easily reconcile traditional values with the experience of modernisation. The Introduction also provides a brief chapter overview and presents key methodological issues in the historiography of housing.

in The architecture of social reform
Isabel Rousset

This chapter examines the emergence of the discipline of urban planning in German-language discourse from 1889 to 1910. It begins by assessing the presence of the medieval city in German sociology, and discusses the role it played in framing sociological understandings of the nature of community, the social purpose of art, and the origins of modern capitalism. The chapter then examines how architects, art historians, and urban critics used the pre-modern urban past to engage new strategies of relating architecture to the city. Deriding what they described as a “cult of the street” prevalent in modern Haussmann-era planning, urbanists attempted to integrate archetypes from the pre-modern past into their proposed housing solutions in order to re-establish community values in the city.

in The architecture of social reform
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From Francis Bacon To Oz Magazine
David Hopkins

This article discusses how we might formulate an account of William Blake’s avant-garde reception. Having dealt with Peter Bürger’s theorisation of the notion of ‘avant-garde’, it concentrates on a series of portraits, made from Blake’s life mask, by Francis Bacon in 1955. This ‘high art’ response to the Romantic poet is then contrasted with a series of ‘subcultural’ responses made from within the British counterculture of the 1960s. Case studies are presented from the alternative magazine production of the period (notably an illustration from Oz magazine in which Blake’s imagery is conflated with that of Max Ernst). An article by David Widgery in Oz on Adrian Mitchell’s play Tyger (1971) is also discussed to show how the scholarly literature on Blake of the period (mainly David Erdman) was called on by the counterculture to comment on political issues (e.g. Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech). The final section of the article shows how the ‘avant-gardism’ of Oz’s utilisation of Blake might be counterposed to the more activist left-wing approach to the poet in small magazines such as King Mob with their links to French situationism. In terms of the classic avant-garde call for a reintegration of art and life-praxis, such gestures testify to a moment in the 1960s when Blake may be considered fully ‘avant-garde’.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
Michael Horovitz

This article, originally published in 1958, was written to commemorate William Blake’s bicentenary. In it, the author observes that Blake has been claimed or dismissed by successive generations since his death in 1827: for the Romantics, he was a ‘weird crank’, while the Victorians enveloped him in ‘their own damp sentimentalism’. The author argues that Blake ‘evades appraisal because he was always working for a synthesis of creation far beyond outward forms and genres’, which meant ‘he had to invent his own methods to express himself adequately’. He notes that the recent bicentenary was marked by ‘floods of exhibitions, magazine supplements, radio features, new books from all sides devoted to him’. This clearly anticipates the Blakean explosion of the 1960s, in which the author himself would play a major role. This article can therefore be seen as marking the beginning of Sixties Blake in Britain.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
Countercultural Blake in the Therapoetic Practice of maelstrÖm reEvolution
Franca Bellarsi

This article explores the reception and transformation of William Blake’s countercultural legacy by focusing on the neo-Romantic resurgences within maelstrÖm reEvolution, an experimental performance and arts collective based in Brussels but with heavy transnational affiliations. In relation to the company’s neo-shamanic and therapeutic conception of poiesis, Blake is an inspirational figure amongst a broader family of mentors ranging from Beat Generation writers to Arthur Rimbaud and Alexandro Jodorowsky. The Blake–maelstrÖm connection is here examined for the first time. Blending classical reception studies with a broader interest in the intersections between poiesis and the ‘sacred’, this article approaches countercultural Blake as the archetypal embodiment of the shamanic poet. More specifically, it reflects on how, as the poet of ‘double-edged madness’ and ‘Spiritual Strife’, Blake’s subversion of alienation into ecstasy feeds maelstrÖm’s own ‘therapoetic’ experimentalism and psycho-aesthetic endeavours to restore the lines of communication between the ‘visible’ and the ‘invisible’.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library