Journal Article

Social Individualism: Walter Gropius and his Appropriation of Franz Müller-Lyer's Idea of a New Man

Tanja Poppelreuter

in Journal of Design History

Published on behalf of Design History Society

Volume 24, issue 1, pages 37-58
Published in print March 2011 | ISSN: 0952-4649
Published online March 2011 | e-ISSN: 1741-7279 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jdh/epq049
Social Individualism: Walter Gropius and his Appropriation of Franz Müller-Lyer's Idea of a New Man

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In 1929, Walter Gropius developed the ‘High-Rise Steel Frame Apartment Building’ that was based on theories about the emergence of a New Man put forward by sociologist Franz Müller-Lyer. In his lecture at the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne conference in 1929, Gropius appropriated Müller-Lyer's sociology in order to promote and prompt the re-development of high-rise tenements and master households. Gropius’ 1931 contribution to the Deutsche Bauausstellung in Berlin incorporated a full-scale community lounge and a recreation area with sporting equipment, as well as a model and plans for a ‘High-Rise Steel Frame Apartment Building’ that were designed in accordance with Müller-Lyer's theories. While it shows Müller-Lyer's influence, the boxing equipment found in the recreation area reflects the importance that sport, and boxing in particular, had gained after 1900. Boxing was perceived as a sport that would not only further fitness but also raise the spirits and help the inhabitant to succeed in the modern urban environment. By providing boxing equipment, Müller-Lyer's vision, which envisaged master households as furthering a community of peaceful individuals living in a condition of mutual trust, is weakened. In 1923, the sociologist Helmuth Plessner had regarded utopian visions of ideal communities as antithesis to actual events in the Weimar Republic. The embracing of theories that promised an evolutionary and linear development towards peaceful communities can be regarded as a counterreaction to a present that was perceived as an imperfect and temporary condition. Furthermore, Gropius’ appropriation of Müller-Lyer's sociology not only helped to distinguish his position from Marxist and socialist theories but also illustrated the contemporary tendency to accept utopian ideas while simultaneously doubting the practicality of some.

Keywords: Franz Müller-Lyer; modernism; Neue Sachlichkeit; New Man; sociology; Walter Gropius

Journal Article.  10971 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Art ; Art Forms ; Industrial and Commercial Art ; Art Styles

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