Neues Frankfurt

Wednesday, 03.02.2016

The week before last I was in Frankfurt on a valuation day at the ‘Frankfurter Hof’ hotel. In-between clients that wanted valuations of their Old Master paintings I was confronted with a window  of two hours with no appointments. I took the chance and a taxi drove me to a northern suburb of Frankfurt called the ‘Siedlung Römerstadt’. The driver dropped me off at the ‘Ernst-May-Haus’ which functions as a museum and headquarters of the ‘Ernst-May-Gesellschaft’. It was this ‘society’ that returned the house back to its original state of the 1920’s; (see www.ernst-may-gesellschaft.de).

Ernst May (1886-1970) was the chief town planner of the ‘Siedlung Römerstadt’ that he conceived and built between 1925 and 1929. The main architect was Carl-Hermann Rudolff (1890-1949) who together with May built 1220 living units. Amongst others, the units consisted of 581 ‘one family homes’ and 602 flats in apartment blocks. For this new suburban settlement many public services were built like schools (see the ‘Geschwister-Scholl-Schule’) and shops (see the ‘Rundbau’ building). Such a suburban settlement also benefited from the nearby big city with direct transport links.

The architecture for this project was developed independently of the very innovative ‘Bauhaus’ but similarities were abundant. Both show a formal reduction resulting in an elemental geometry, truth to materials, standardisation and an all encompassing approach similar to the notion of the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’. Specifically a flat roof, white walls and cubical forms with a asymmetrical facades was the norm. New materials such as reinforced concrete was used and could be mass produced in factories at low cost and then assembled on site. It was fast, efficient, economical and democratic since many houses were of the same design. All dwellings were fitted with central heating, bathrooms and electricity. Since space was limited the first built-in kitchen was designed by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky in 1927 and most dwellings were fitted with it. This kitchen, known as the ‘Frankfurter Küche’, took into consideration work habits in a space of seven square metres. Some 10,000 units were built in the late 1920s.

The ‘Siedlung Römerstadt’ and many similar projects across the city were referred to as the ‘Neues Frankfurt’.

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Ernst-May-Haus, 1925-1929ReihenhauserGeschwister-Scholl-SchuleRundbauGeschaftFrankfurter Küche, 1927