Dr Robin Schuldenfrei
Domesticating the Unit: Mies van der Rohe and Ludwig Hilberseimer in Chicago’s Grid
Urban planner and architect Ludwig Hilberseimer’s projects for city development envisioned a future based on the gridded unit, from the individual dwelling cell to the skyscraper to the urban grid. Hilberseimer’s urban theory depended on the formulation of a relationship between an elementary cell and the urban organism as a whole. In Germany, his 1920s speculative projects for city development envisioned a future based on the square unit, organized into blocks to accommodate the masses. His accompanying photomontages and drawings were laid out as an imagined rational grid imposed upon Berlin’s disorganized early modern core. This lecture focuses on a radical change in his vision, in which the tower block was relegated to a secondary position for Hilberseimer, in favour of identical single family houses—with their seemingly infinite reproducibility—which he posited was the real place of mass production and economies of scale. On the other hand, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who would bring Hilberseimer to Chicago with him, was involved in these years with the design of the ideal court house. Mies, too, was concerned with the reproduction of housing, but focussed on issues surrounding its actual materiality, with standardizing parts and forms, and the economic structures necessary to build. This lecture will explore how both Mies and Hilberseimer, in the years leading up to WWII and in the post-war period, were engaged in processes of reproduction, in which the constituent element of habitation was based on the unit, albeit differently deployed. It will consider the means by which they worked—in, on, and around—America’s urban grid, only to displace it.