In the culturally open atmosphere of the 1920s Deutscher Werkbund, the city of Stuttgart is chosen to support the development of an experimental housing estate with the name of “Weissenhofsiedlung“. The purpose of the vast construction operation was to demonstrate that healthy and practical housing could be constructed efficiently and inexpensively.
Peter Bruckmann, with Gustaf Stotz, both leading representatives of Deutscher Werkbund, persuaded the Stuttgart’s mayor Karl Lautenschlager to be part of this major exhibition of 1:1 experimental housing models.
Stuttgart wasn’t a casual choice for this vast housing experiment: at the beginning of the 20th century the city became a major industrial location. Economic growth and the incorporation of smaller municipalities led to the development of a modern big city, with the problem of increasing housing shortage as the negative counterpart.
Mies Van der Rohe was called to select the list of architects who would have worked on the urban project, with the intention to invite “the most characteristic representatives of the Modern Movement” from Germany and abroad. From September 1925 on, he proposed with Gustaf Stotz a series of lists of selected architects to the municipality. A cultural struggle began between Deutscher Werkbund, the building department of the municipal council, political groups and circles of architects. A total of ten lists was presented, changed and amended. Only eight months before the beginning of the exhibition, it was determined which architects would be requested to contribute.
Weissenhofsiedlung was a totally new type of building exhibition. All the buildings on the site were thought to last in the long term as efficient pieces of modern architecture. During the exhibition, they were furnished according to the principles of “Neues Bauen“.
Between 23 July and 31 October 1927 around 500.000 visitors were attracted by this new wave of modern culture, to see a world-wide response to the sempiternal questions of living.
Nowadays half of the Double House by Le Corbusier has been transformed into a museum of Weissenhofsiedlung, the rest of the houses of the exhibition are still inhabited and well kept by the actual owners.
Le Corbusier worked on the design and concept, while Pierre Jeanneret (his cousin and office partner in Paris) was involved in the planning and Alfred Roth played a major role as the site manager. The two houses of 130 m²(left) and 113 m²(right) were built within a construction period of only two and a half months. The architects never came on the building site during the construction, so Alfred Roth, because of the time pressure, had to make many decisions by himself directly in situ, without the advice of Le Corbusier.
After the exhibition, the owners of the Double House decided to make important changes in order to implement an extensively conventional housing concept. In 1932-33 the variable floor plan, as well as the built-in furniture, was removed and fixed partitions were installed in its place. An additional floor with living space was added on the roof garden. The sliding windows (for which Le Corbusier obtained a patent in 1927) were replaced by small-scale turn-and-tilt windows and more basement rooms were built under the surface under the entrance terrace. Further changes followed in 1960s. A general renovation carried out from 1983 through 1984, with the aim to bring the right half of the house back into the original spatial conditions of its 1927 state. In 2002 the double house returned to the first owner and in 2006 the left part has been transformed into the Weissenhofsiedlung Museum.
For what concerns the design, once again it is really clear how Le Corbusier wanted to implement the “Five Points for a new Architecture“. Furthermore, the transformable living room is a key element of the project: it allows the inhabitant to transform it into a living room or a bedroom according to the temporary necessities. The stowaway beds, sliding panels and a narrow passage as direct access to each bedroom are typical elements of this radical solution. Le Corbusier described it with a train metaphor: during the day the rooms are a Pullman car and at night a Sleeping car.
What we see today is a great piece of architecture, that reminds many contemporary architectural and diffuse solutions of nowadays. The concept of the “machine for living” ideated by Le Corbusier, sees here another successful form, with the intention to last in time, demonstrating how well thought (and lucky) ideas can shape our future.
– Weissenhof Museum im haus Le Corbusier
All images © 2018 Marco Morra