The Weissenhofsiedlung is considered one of the most important monuments of the "Neues Bauen" movement. It was created in 1927 as a building exhibition of Deutsche Werkbund and was funded by the City of Stuttgart. None of the subsequent expositions by Deutsche Werkbund achieved a comparable international charisma. Despite significant destruction during World War II, the ensemble of buildings today represents highly valued cultural heritage of the 20th century with early works of architects who shaped modern architecture. In some special way, Weissenhofsiedlung represents the social, aesthetic and technological changes following the end of World War I. Using the programmatic title "Die Wohnung" (The Housing), this Werkbund exposition demonstrated the renunciation from habitats characterized by pre-industrial periods. In these 33 houses with 63 apartments, a total of 17 architects from Germany, France, Holland, Belgium and Austria formulated their solutions for living arrangements of the modern big city dweller, coupled with the use and implementation of new building materials and effective construction methods. As part of this novel and overall urban concept, typical buildings for cost-effective mass production were created but also buildings of great architectural variety.
The dawn of modern movement architecture
The estate rightfully derives its place in architectural history from the participation of architects who were then known only among the avant-garde but who are considered today among the great masters of the 20th century: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Hans Scharoun and others. Nearly all of the participating architects were then under the age of 45, the youngest of them, Mart Stam, was only 28. Only Hans Poeltzig and Peter Behrens were considered the exception as senior statesmen and pioneers of modern movement architecture.
Approximately 500,000 visitors came to see the Werkbund Exhibition, and publications worldwide would highlight its ideas. As a result, contacts were made and maintained which in June 1928 led to the foundation of CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture).
Intentions of the Exhibition
In an early memorandum dated June 27, 1925, the Mayor of Stuttgart, Karl Lautenschlager, and the President of Deutscher Werkbund, Peter Bruckmann, outlined the intentions as follows: "Efficiency measures in all areas of our lives do not stop where housing is at issue. The economic conditions of today prohibit any kind of waste and demand the maximum effect with minimum amount of means, requiring the implementation of such materials and technological appliances which will lead to lower building and operational costs, and will lead to a simplification of households, and to improvements of living itself."
As part of continued preparations, the goal of housing standardization was moved to the background, partly because of the hillside exposure of the property, and partly because the overall leader, Mies van der Rohe, granted a great degree of design freedom to the architects. The target group of the "modern city dweller", envisioned by Gustaf Stotz, the President of the Württemberg Working Group of Deutscher Werkbund and founding father of Weissenhofsiedlung, made it possible to create somewhat larger living quarters, by then standards, for the educated middle class which would also include a maid's room.
Weissenhofsiedlung represented a new type of building exhibition. For the first time fully functional experimental buildings were erected that would later on serve as "regular" lease apartments. At the time of the exhibition they were furnished in accordance with ideas of "Neues Bauen" (Functionalism). In addition, there was an experimental area where different building techniques and materials were shown, complemented by an indoors exhibition with the latest technological devices, furnishings, furniture and household equipment.
An important supplement to the presentation of avant-garde architecture was the plan and model exhibition "International Functionalism Design" where more than 60 national and international architects introduced their buildings and designs, including all architects involved at Weissenhofsiedlung as well as Hugo Häring, El Lissitzky, Ernst May, Erich Mendelsohn, van der Vlugt, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Avant-Garde vs. Traditionalists
Especially during the 20's, the University of Stuttgart was considered the leading and style-forming school of architecture. Within the traditional vein dominating academic education, the "Stuttgart School" was maintained and characterized by Paul Bonatz and Paul Schmitthenner, following the leadership of Theodor Fischer and Heinz Wetzel. This dominant character of traditionalism may have caused some rebellion, demanding new ideas, finally forging the Weissenhofsiedlung alliance between Werkbund and the City of Stuttgart.
Schmitthenner und Bonatz, whose technical buildings were quite functional, responded with harsh rejection to the Werkbund project. Especially the sensational urban design by Mies van der Rohe, more sculptural shape than technical base, was fought bitter and hard. In 1927, Schmitthenner suggested an alternative model with the Kochenhofsiedlung, oriented along traditional building and planning methods which was made into reality in 1933 with significant Nazi undertones and messages. Kochenhofsiedlung was to remain a purely regional event. In contrast, Weissenhofsiedlung became a world-renowned icon of modern architecture.
The role of the City of Stuttgart in 1927
Weissenhofsiedlung was created as part of the municipal housing building program in which the City of Stuttgart attempted to battle housing shortages following World War I and subsequent major inflation. With its decision in favor of Weissenhofsiedlung, the City of Stuttgart underlined its willingness to remain open for new ideas in architecture which were concurrently demonstrated in other estates and buildings within the city. Despite its rejection by prominent traditionalists, the Municipal Council approved the project in 1926 with a clear majority. The city provided the property and assumed costs for development and construction, as well as professional fees for the architects.
History keeps changing
During the Nazi time period, the flat roof estate was openly ostracized. In 1939 the City of Stuttgart agreed to sell the property to the Third Reich and to demolish the estate. The planned new construction of an Army facility was prevented by the outbreak of war, however, ten houses in the center of the estate were lost during an air raid in 1944.
Rebuilding after the war seemed to suffer the same effects as during the Third Reich. In place of damaged or destroyed buildings, there appeared substitute houses of unfitting and out-of-character style, plus assorted additions and renovations. Only the general refurbishment between 1981 and 1987, aimed at monument restoration and housing-economical goals, was able to counteract some of these modifications.
In retrospect, the 50th anniversary in 1977 may be regarded as a first turning point in the history of Weissenhofsiedlung. For the first time forces gathered to restore and maintain the run-down estate. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary in 1987, the first general restoration project since foundation of the estate was completed. It included the return of post-war modifications to their pre-war state, renovation and modernization of buildings, and return of five original floor plans to their original design.
New impulses were brought on by the 75th anniversary of Weissenhofsiedlung. 2002 was termed "Year of Weissenhof" with a multitude of events presenting the role of Weissenhofsiedlung and the dawn of modern movement architecture. Most recently, important steps were taken to ensure a permanent and appropriate place of Weissenhofsiedlung as part of the cultural heritage of this city. Please check "The Present" for more details.