Millions of people after the 2nd World War lost their homes, displaced, and barely surviving. Over 30% of the urban population was struggling in poverty. Such a situation led to a high demand for homes to be created. This was an opportunity for landowners in a capitalist system to use their property for commercial profit through human necessity. This led to a modern movement gaining mass popularity, with capitalism taking charge of society.
Flaws in the Ideology
Past ideologies were scrapped for the sake of perfect and logical forms. As a solution to the previous failures of architecture to meet basic needs, Modernist planning was implemented, ‘Form follows function’ being the set rule. No ornamentation more than necessary was to be borne in a design. These ideologies set the foundation for its goal of utopia in architecture.
However, failure was inevitable for the modern movement. The high rate of urban development led to the movement having cut corners, with it collectively leading to the loss of its core idea of utopia. It had to become a paradoxical solution, catering to individual needs, not forgetting about society, all while meeting the developers’ demands as well as answering to the societal issue of the lack of housing and poverty post-war. The modern movement failed to value history and context, deeming it as ‘surplus ornamentation.’ Unforgivable errors in judgments led to the failure to retain an understanding of social values. Manfredo Tafuri, the leader of the ‘School of Venice’, raised concern over the incomplete nature of the modern movement, which had placed itself in a race to answer more issues than it could have possibly handled.
The capitalist mindset had become evident, with modern architecture’s ideologies having gone through an evident shift. Priorities had begun to lie on quick developments and mass development through prefabrication. Technological and efficient processes were used to develop low-cost housing. The process of designing seemed to have left the occupants completely out of the equation.
Failures in Modern Housing
Paul Oliver provided an example of a failed attempt at modern housing. An Eskimo igloo is not, in general, the most reliable dwelling space. Oliver unravels the insufficiencies of an Eskimo’s dwelling as a permanent home. These issues in the 1960s were attempted to be eliminated by the introduction of cheap and quickly developed modern designs for homes. However, the result of the experiment demonstrated the unavoidable fickle identity of the movement. Financially, even though the houses cost a few thousand dollars, it was not affordable for the families. The cheap cost of the houses also meant that proper water supply could not be provided for the same rate, and a further amount of eight thousand dollars would be required to tackle this issue.
The unfamiliar scene set by modern housing, with it avoiding the context of the society’s history, created a gap between these being considered as homes and only believed to be a simple shelter. Similar to Eskimos, Paul Oliver discusses the preference of temporary shelters of aboriginal tribes in Australia. A modern house would not be able to provide the same amount of environmental control with the preferred element of relocation not being possible.
The Pruitt-Igoe Housing of Minoru Yamasaki, constructed in 1954, is infamously known to have marked the failure of Modern Housing. It was constructed to mark the triumph of rational architecture over the ills of poverty and urban light. But to the end, with it being demolished 15 years after its completion: in 1970, it highlighted the flaws in modernism. The housing was designed to provide homes for those struggling in poverty. This, however, failed to consider individual needs and society’s demands and structure, and in-turn created uproar due to social imbalance. It had generalized all the different occupants, which led to racial segregation and societal unrest.
The failures of modern housing did not only lie in the ideologies set for the movement. Tafuri falsified the myth of history having to be replicated to create a historical architecture. Capturing history as it was in the past would only lead to a stale form that would be forever stuck in time. A historical architecture could only exist when built around crises that arose throughout history.
The failure fell on the greater issues that society had been facing. In an ill society, architecture is prone to succumb. In a healthy and developing society, architecture is set to succeed. The world post-war had led to art being lost and fear having run society. Comfort was what individuals searched for, but profit was the necessity for survival in a dying world. No answer would have been accepted, with the two beliefs having radical differences, neither being able to compromise. Disciplinary ideologies in architecture in such a period would always have been futile and ‘uselessly painful.’
‘I am unquestionably deformed by everything that surrounds me.’ Walter Benjamin’s quote is an accurate description of the dependence of architecture on society, and its role in defining the subject.
- Manfredo Tafuri, Problems in the form of Solutions, School of Venice, ed. Kate Nesbitt, Princeton Architectural Press 1996.
- Marco Biraghi, Project of Crisis: Manfredo Tafuri. Writing Architecture series, 2005
- Paul Oliver, Housing the Homeless, Dwellings: the house across the world, 1987
- Colin Marshall, Pruitt-Igoe: the troubled high-rise that came to define urban America – a history of cities in 50 buildings, day 21, The Guardian, 22 April 2015.
Eskimo Igloo, <©marketvolt.com > Image 1
Inuit Modern Housing, < ©www.johntyman.com> Image 2
Winter shelter covered in spinifex grass used throughout inland Australia, Photograph by George Aiston, from Savage Life in Central Australia, <©www.aboriginalculture.com.au> Image 3
Pruitt-Igoe Housing, <©www.researchgate.net > Image 4
Demolition of Pruitt-igoe Housing, < ©www.atlasobscura.com> Image 5