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ERNST MAY
 
 
 
 
  Name   Ernst May
       
  Born   July 27, 1886
       
  Died   September 11, 1970
       
  Nationality   Germany
       
  School    
       
  Official website   ernst-may-gesellschaft.de
     
 
BIOGRAPHY        
   

Ernst May was a leading architect and urban planner during the
years of the Weimar Republic in Germany. He received his
education in London, Darmstadt, and Munich, and worked for
some years in the town-planning office of Raymond Unwin.
After World War 1, he was first involved in the planning of
Breslau. In 1925 he was appointed Stadtbaurat (government
building surveyor) in his native city of Frankfurt. As the head
of the department of housing as well as of city planning, May
succeeded in building an impressive 15,000 housing units in the
space of only a few years.

May was one of the most important figures of the early years
of the Congrés Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM).
He belonged to the group of founding members who met in La
Sarraz in'1928, and he was responsible for the proposal to hold
the second congress in Frankfurt in 1929. Frankfurt was indeed
most appropriate for a discussion of the Existenz-minimum
dwelling—the theme of the second congress. The housing units
in the new settlements were designed as minimal-space apart-
ments or houses that, thanks to their functional design and their
fine equipment such as built-in kitchens and bathrooms, offered
very agreeable housing for a part of the population that hitherto
had been forced to live in slum conditions.

In the aftermath of the economic crisis of 1929, the financial
means for the housing program in the Weimar Republic sharply
diminished and May left Germany for the USSR. He became
the head of one of the building brigades that was to plan the
new industrial towns (including Magnitogorsk, Stseglovsk, and


construction materials. Few of the manifold plans they made
were realized as the architects had foreseen, and after a few years
their presence became politically embarassing for their hosts,
since the official outlook on architecture and the city became
disfavorable toward modern ideas.

In 1945 May returned to Germany (after a long stay in AF
rica), where he was further involved in the planning of new
settlements, such as Neu-Altona. These settlements were far less

successful than the ones he designed in Frankfurt in the 1920s.
In order to reach high densities, he gave in to the pressure to
build high-rises, instead of single-family homes or apartment
buildings of fewer stories. The clearly demarcated urban spaces
and the elegant layout of his Frankfurt settlements gave way to
much larger and monotonous quarters where the organization
of the traffic was ultimately the determining factor of the design.
May is thus remembered best for the exemplary housing pro-
gram he set up in Frankfurt between 1925 and 1931. Every
caret resident in the conurbation obtained a new dwelling
through this program. The new settlements were all situated in
a concentric ring enveloping the existing city of Frankfure, with
a large green belt separating the older parts from the new devel-
opments. May designed the overall plan for Frankfurt according
to the principle of the Trabanten-stadt (Satellite town), May's
interpretation of Ebenezer Howard and Raymond Unwin’s prin-
ciple of the Garden City. Unlike the English examples, however,
which tend to be situated quite a distance from the existing city,
May's satellites are integrated into the Frankfurt urban complex.
‘The city of Frankfurt remains a whole, with the greenbelt acting
as a complex of city parks rather than a nonurban area situated
between the nucleus of the city and the Jrabanten (Satellite).
‘The publication of a monthly magazine aimed at an interna-
tional readership, titled Das neue Frankfurt (1925-31; The New
Frankfurt), promoted the vast construction program. The name
of the magazine came to stand for the whole enterprise in which
May announced the emergence of a new, unified, and homoge-
neous metropolitan culture. May prioritized rationality and
functionality. Das neue Frankfurt anticipated a rationally organ-
ed and (conic Ire eocieu/ of peonle witht eats lachenaid

common interests. This distant ideal and the concrete housing
needs of Frankfurt combined to form the basic tenets of housing
policy in the city. In this endeavor the architects of the New
Frankfurt gave priority to the industrialization and good design
of the construction process in the use of space. They experi-
mented with forms of prefabrication and Plattenbau (panel con-
struction); Grethe Schiitte-Lihotzky developed the famous
Frankfurt kitchen, which became a standard part of new housing
units,

The Siedlung (housing development) of Rémerstadt (1927—
29) is the most famous and convincing example of May’s city
planning, The basic idea was to make good use of the qualities
of the landscape; the development follows the contours of the
hillside in the form of terraces, while it is related to the valley
of the Nidda by viewpoints on the bastions that punctuate the
retaining wall beeween the Siedlung and the valley. There is a
clear hierarchy with a main street (the Hadrianstrasse), residen-
tial streets, and paths inside the blocks, a hierarchy that the
architecture accentuates. The difference between the public front
and the private back of the dwellings is emphasized by the neat
design of the entrance section on the front, which features a
canopy over the front door and a design that prevents passers-by
from peering in. The blocks are no longer closed like the 19th-
century type. By staggering the long straight streets at the height
of the bastions, long monotonous sightlines are avoided. Rémers-
tadt is a superb combination of organic design principles that
bear the imprint of the Garden City tradition, with the sensation
of simultaneity and movement created by the dynamism of a
new, modern architectural idiom.

Hitpe HeyNen


 
 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE        
    Born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 27 July 1886. Attended
University College, London 1907-08; studied at the Technische
Hochschule, Darmstadt, Germany 1908-10; studied under
Friedrich von Thiersch and Theodor Fischer, the Technische
Hochschule, Munich 1912~13. Employed in the town planning
office of Raymond Unwin, London 1910-12. Served, eastern
and western fronts, German Army 1914-18, Private practice,
Frankfurt 1913-14; technical director, Regional Planning Au-
thority, Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) 1919-21; founder, edi-
tor, Das schlesische Heim, Breslau 1919-25; director, Public
Housing Authority, Breslau 1921-23; director, Central Office
for Refugee Welfare/Distressed People’s Housing, Breslau
1923-25; founder, editor, Das neue Frankfurt 1925-30; director
of the European Town Planning Team, USSR 1930-34. Unable
to return to Nazi Germany, farmed in Tanganyika, Africa 1934—
37; private practice as architect and town planner, Nairobi,
Kenya 1937-42; interned as an enemy alien 1942-45; resumed
practice 1945-54, Head, planning department, then adviser on
City Planning and Housing Techniques, Neue Heimat Housing
Development Organization, Hamburg, West Germany 1954—
60; founder, editor, Newe Heimat, Hamburg 1954-60; private
practice, Hamburg from 1960. Honorary professor, Technische
Hochschule, Darmstadt, West Germany 1956. Member, Akade-
mie der Kiinste, Berlin; honorary president, German Association
of Housing, Town, and Country Planning; honorary corre-
sponding member, British Town Planning Institute; honorary
corresponding member, Royal Institute of British Architects.
Died in Hamburg, 12 September 1970.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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