German Expressionism and Italian Futurism--Utopian Architecture

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Utopias, by definition, are something too good to be realized. Utopian ideas have long existed throughout the human history of civilization and they did not come from a vacuum: they carry political connotations. They are often depicted as a place like paradise in an age of gold. They have to be elsewhere and happen in the lost past or a future that is beyond reach. According to sociologist Karl Mannheim, utopias are the opposition’s means to replace an established order. He wrote: ‘[Utopias are] in condensed form the unrealized and unfulfilled tendencies which represent the needs of each age.’ Since utopias reflect the needs of common people, they have the power of orientating the masses. Although they may be the outcome of a spontaneous response to the status quo, they are subject to political manipulations. Utopias were not favored in capitalist society because the ever-expanding individuality preempts the need for a utopian society. Neither did the socialist states endorse utopias due to the belief that Marxists’ socialism was a scientific one. The fact that Stalin’s social realism stifled all utopian avant-gardes was evident. However, utopias were a powerful force in the grey areas where the current status quo was too dissatisfying. Germany in and after the First World War and Italy from Risorgimento to Mosolini’s Fascist regime were two places of this kind. Two artistic movements emerged at this time: German Expressionism and Italian Futurism, pioneered respectively by two imaginative architects: Bruno Taut and Sant’Elia. Although utopias seem to be discarded after World War II, they are worth examining. Both Bruno Taut and Sant’Elia’s architecture drawings were unrealistic, but they had socio-psychological reasons behind them. In Lecture on Utopia and Ideology, French philosopher Paul Ricoeur distinguished the negative and positive sides of utopias. For him, the negativity of utopias is the fact that they are social dreaming with no intention for realization or impossible to realize. They are mere escapism with no value. Conversely, the positive side includes their capacity for bringing up vigorous and imaginative alternatives to the current social condition, or to subvert a backward social system. In retrospect, it becomes interesting to compare Bruno Taut and Sant’Elia in terms of their utopian value. As Sant’Elia’s architecture is associated with notorious Italian Fascism, henceforth, his works were considered by some to be stigmatic. While Bruno Taut had been an activist advocating his extreme leftist socialism, he was not politically correct neither from the contemporary stand point. However, such judgments are not fair. Actually, Sant’Elia’s La Citta Nuova predated his alliance with the political rightist group, therefore, his works should not necessarily be interpreted as all fascist architecture. As a matter of fact, both Taut and Sant’Elia’s motivations were the same: to inspire a spirit of the modern time. While Taut looked back to the history and revised Gothic style to inspire spirituality in his Alpine Architecture; Sant’Elia distained historic past totally and aimed for an absolute new industrial language for the future. These ideas sound like positive thinking literally. But upon close look at their ideas and the political implications, both have some positive and negative influences, and comparatively, Bruno Taut’s utopia concepts were more positive than Sant’Elia’s in that Taut’s model was less destructive, although they shared some apocalyptic concepts. Alpine Architecture was the most utopian architectural drawings by Bruno Taut. Released in 1917 during the First World War, the crystalline structures on Alps reflected Taut’s anti-war attitude, his wish to break down the warring establishment and to re-establish spirituality. Bruno Taut was a pacifist at this time. He saw the war as unjust and disastrous to talented lives. He attributed the war to the absence of spirituality in...
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