Frank Lloyd Wright and the Bauhaus

As a matter of fact Frank Lloyd Wright not only resembled the libertarian architect-hero in Ayn Rand's _The Fountainhead_ he was in fact the inspiration for Rand's character. As Lou points out he drew much of his inspiration from WIlliam Morris' arts and crafts movement, another source of inspiration for him was the writings of Nietzsche. As he grew older the latter influence began to dominate over the former. It was Wright's Nietzschean derived romantic individualism that made such a strong impression on Rand.

Speaking of the Bauhaus, a number of philosophical commentators have drawn a connection between the Bauhaus and the Vienna Circle of logical positivists although I have never quite been able to comprehend exactly what the nature of this link was supposed to be. I am aware that one of the luminaries of the Circle, the physicist and philosopher, Philip Frank had a brother who was an architect and was apparently connected to the Bauhaus. Both the Bauhaus and the Vienna Circle did share a common allegiance to the Social Democrats and both were presumably part of the "counterculture" that developed around the Social Democrats especially in "red Vienna." And the most political member of the Circle, the economist and sociologist Otto Neurath was a Marxist who had served as minister of economic planning for the short lived Soviet Republic of Bavaria during the 1919 revolution. Neurath was subsequently tried by the Weimar government for treason and was released after the intercession of the Austrian government and of his teacher, Max Weber. However, what all this might have to do with architecture I am not sure.

As I mentioned in an earlier post I have seen in several different philosophy texts the claim that there was a linkage between the Bauhaus and the Vienna Circle. Other than the fact that both movements developed more or less within the "counterculture" that developed around the Social Democrats in Germany and Austria and the fact that at least one member of the Circle, Philip Frank had an architect brother with Bauhaus connections, the nature of this alleged link seems to me to be a mystery.

On the other hand what does seem apparent is that both the Bauhaus in architecture and logical positivism in philosophy experienced analogous receptions in the US. Whereas, back in Europe both the Bauhaus and the Vienna Circle were highly political, both having developed within central European social democratic culture. (The Vienna Circle developed when Austria was undergoing a bitter conflict between the anti-clerical Social Democrats and the emerging clerical fascism on the Catholic right) in the US both movements underwent a profound de-politicization which stripped them of their original radical (and emancipatory) content. The material you posted describes the de-politicization of the Bauhaus. Likewise, the doctrines of the Vienna Circle were similarly de-politicized. Back in Europe one of the leading figures in the Circle, Otto Neurath had been a revolutionary Marxist (and a participant in the 1919 German revolution). The manifesto for the Circle that he co-authored with Rudolf Carnap emphasized the political nature of the logical positivist philosophy which was seen as embracing and having application to not only logic and the philosophy of science but also the social sciences, morals, politics, education and indeed all aspects of human existence. The manifesto specifically emphasized the Circle's affinity to socialist and Marxist thought.

However, in the US logical positivism was received as a highly technical philosophy concerned primarily with logic and the philosophy of science and was strictly apolitical. The positivist doctrine of emotivism was used to argue that moral and political philosophy were not properly speaking the province of philosophers at all since they rested on premises that were not empirically verifiable. Thus in the US logical positivism reinforced and rationalized technocratic consciousness. As Marcuse and other Frankfurters pointed out it seemed to reinforce domination rather than subvert it. Whatever emancipatory content that it originally possessed seemed to vanish in the US. In this there seems to be an analogy with the fate of the Bauhaus in the US.

Jim Farmelant


 

The modern movement (and Mies in particular) had a very strong impact on Argentine architects during the sixties, and it did indeed represent the overarching presence of American imperialism in the River Plate. There are a couple or more purely "Miesian" buildings in Buenos Aires that deserve the name. Most of the "modern" building here, however, is quite cheap stuff. It is very interesting to note that during the mid-seventies, in the midst of a growing anti-imperialist upsurge, some architects began to create high-rise business buildings with brick walls, the Conurban building being one of the most outstanding examples (as well as many buildings by Architect Roca in Cordoba, that give this city a peculiar character). These were understood as an answer to the "imperialist" modern style. But this was a short lived springtime, particularly in Buenos Aires. The late seventies restored the dictatorship of the no-nonsense, no-waste, non-environmental, glass-walled building. Even many post-modern creations stick to this canon.

Imperialist or not, the Miesian architecture in Buenos Aires is -as a rule- bad architecture. Buenos Aires can proudly display good examples of transplanted classical French architecture, others (under a rapid process of destruction) of popular Italian house-building, of Dutch rationalism (the Kavannagh building being, IMO, one of the most beautiful examples of this style). But I can't think of too many strictly Miesian produce, the Olivetti building being perhaps one of the few.

This may be directly related with building techniques. Buenos Aires is still built in brick and concrete. Steel beams and structures, essential for good Miesian buildings (are they much more than scantly clad steel structures?) are extremely expensive in a country that could not complete its heavy industry basis. On the other hand, members of the local oligarchy own most of the concrete producing plants and their production is subsidized (Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, for example, owns the giant Loma Negra quarries and portland plants in Olavarria, some 350 km to the Southwest of Buenos Aires, has always enjoyed preferential fares in rail transport while the State owned the railroads, and was awarded the Southern Railroad -oh surprise, the one she needed to transport the Loma Negra products to Buenos Aires- when they were privatized).

Nestor.