Term Paper: Classicism in Nazi Architecture and Classicism in Le Corbusier

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Architecture

Classicism in Nazi Architecture and Classicism in Le Corbusier

Architectural styles say a great deal about a people's values and aspirations. From the soaring spires of the gothic cathedrals of medieval Europe to the glass and concrete office buildings of today, the outward appearance of buildings helps to shape cultures and cultural attitudes. The gothic cathedral represents the religious and mystical yearnings of humankind, reaching ever upward, tapering off in the sublime vastness of the skies. The modern office building depicts the triumph of commerce and industry, a structure built of industrial age materials that frees itself from traditional constraints of location and mass. As such, architecture is often shaped by the religious, commercial, political, or artistic doctrines of specific groups or individuals. In Ancient Roman, a particular architectural tradition - the Classical that was derived ultimately from the forms and ideas of Greece - gave visible form to the ideals of the Roman state. It symbolized solidity, order, and all-embracing harmony. Down through the centuries, these same classical ideals have frequently been revived in Western art and architecture, reinterpreted and applied to changed conditions and ideologies, but always sharing in the same basic principles. In Nazi Germany, architects tried to give physical expressions to the dogma of the Third Reich - a society in which conformity to the will of the Fuhrer was paramount and in which Adolf Hitler's demented dreams of racial purity and natal strength took pride of place. In contrast, other styles of modern architecture, such as that espoused by the Swiss-born Le Corbusier, employed the tenets of Classicism as a metaphor for what they saw as the ideal type of modern industrial society - a society in which the ills and inconveniences of the pre-industrial world had been banished into the realms of history. Le Corbusier saw Classicism as symbolic of the hygienic, the pure, and the streamline, a style that, in its modern interpretation, was free of any unnecessary frills, and uniquely adapted to a perfected modern lifestyle and civilization.

As far back as the Eighteenth Century, Western architects and city planners recognized one of the overarching principles of classical architecture - uniformity. With classical building styles and concepts, the preferences of the individual builder, property owner, or user of the property, is subsumed beneath the demands of the overall program that the architecture represents.

Classical architecture is based preeminently on the belief that building can reflect strict mathematical forms; that architecture is a pure science reducible to scientific principles of order and harmony - a concept it shares with High Modernism.

Classical buildings are an expression of the ideal society, harmonious and well-ordered. Buildings constructed in this style follow relatively rigid rules of composition. These compositions correspond to an aesthetic ideal that is supposedly natural in origin and which cannot easily be changed. Superfluous elements and decoration serve only to obscure the structure's purity of form and purpose. Structural elements correspond to idealized proportions that can be read and understood by anyone sufficiently trained in mathematics and its allied disciplines. All in all, classical architecture was intended to portray an idealized vision of the cosmos, the relationship of a column's height to its width as regular and exact as the relationship between the different sides of a triangle, square or other geometric figure. This mathematical balance reflected the ideal correspondences between individuals and society, and between different groups within a society and that society as a whole. It represented humanity's place in the universe.

Hitler's views on the ideal society were based on a supposedly rational construction of human history and biology. The Third Reich was intended to be an expression of "scientific" principals of eugenics and "natural law." In the Fuhrer's Germany, state and society would be one. They would function together as a single, well-ordered, well-disciplined, organic machine. Those elements deemed undesirable by Adolf Hitler would be forcibly and violently purged from the body politic in order to create a new, purified, and stronger Germany. On the face of it, Classicism too presented many of these same "ideals." Classical architecture was particularly associated with the idea of the public monument, a concept that dated back to antiquity, but only became prevalent in the Western World during the Nineteenth Century.

Already, Bismarck had constructed grand monuments as a means of unifying the German people. These monuments were testaments to the German People - to the volk - and as such were seen as embodiments of all that was good, noble, and powerful within German history and tradition.

Employing the Classical idiom, they seemed to possess all of the qualities of the most enduring and sublime ancient monuments. Scientific, precise, and severe,

Neoclassical architecture or a literal geomorphism that appeared to bind such structures to the land lent an air of stability to regimes at precisely the moment when the status quo otherwise appeared most fragile. These efforts were too important for their message to be opaque.

The same would be true of Hitler's architectural program. The Fuhrer's architects would attempt to use space as propaganda, employing a sublime visual narrative as a metaphor for what their leader hoped to create within the German state. Like the Reich that would last a thousand years, Nazi buildings were built to endure - much like their Classical counterparts. The monumental structures of the Reich were built of stone, vast amounts of stone that required the labor of thousands of individuals. The New Reich Chancellery required 5,000 cubic meters of stone, the Soldier's Hall in Berlin, 96,000, while the mammoth German Stadium in Nuremberg was intended to contain an unbelievable 350,000 cubic meters of the same enduring material.

A contemporary describes the aims of this massive building program:

The Party Buildings at Nuremberg designed by Professor Albert Speer have introduced a new idea into the history of architecture. Impressive as they may be in themselves, as symbolic monuments dedicated to ideals of unity and a disciplined social order, they only achieve their true intention when they are adorned with flags and filled with the massed thousands who meet at Nuremberg for the Party Conventions.

The planned German Stadium was one of these party buildings, and as such, it too, aspired to capture in stone the Nazi ideals of absolute unity and order. The German Stadium would be both a symbol of the new Germany, and a place within which its rituals could be enacted. The activities of the German people would be as carefully and minutely choreographed as the assemblages of Classical columns and orders at the stadium and other party buildings.

Albert Speer was one of Nazi Germany's leading architects and perhaps the chief exemplar of Hitler's ideas on architecture as a reflection of party ideals. Speer termed his designs for such large stadiums, and other similar structures, "assembly architecture."

Prior to plans for the German Stadium, Speer had already built the Zeppelinfeld, a stadium with room for 134,000 spectators to watch a total of some 90,000 marchers in the stadium's center. This edifice, as well, was built along strictly classical lines. "The classical rhythms of the yellowish-white travertine colonnades were interspersed with Nazi flags, and broken by the massive central podium on the east side with the Fuhrer's pulpit, a recurring theme in Nazi public architecture."

Clearly, the Nazi stadium was meant to be a classical building with religious overtones. The religion to which it made reference was one that recalled the awesome power of the Ancient Roman state, a state in which an autocratic emperor reigned supreme, all things be subordinated to his will. Much as the Roman basilica became the basis for early church architecture, the neoclassical stadiums of Nazi Germany would serve as places for "fuhrer worship." In turn, in this classical setting, Adolf Hitler would provide over the great civic religion of the Nazi Regime. He would be the focus of the ceremonies designed to give symbolic visible form to the biological and spiritual unity of the German People.

Nazi Germany employed both the elements and the ideals of Classicism to spread its propaganda of strength through racial purity. Nazi architects took the specific forms of Ancient Rome and adapted them to modern buildings. The column found in a new home in a ritual stadium, while travertine marble could become the building material for a huge modern civic complex. The modern architect Le Corbusier also employed the language of classicism in attempting to advance his ideas of the ideal architecture. Le Corbusier developed le plan libre in which he combined the "literative spaceform of the avant-garde with the normative academic paradigms of the Enlightenment."

Classical structure and order was fused with the freer use of space demanded by modern industrial society. Many of Le Corbusier's designs were on a scale similar to those of Nazi architects like Speer. The Palais des Nations and the Palais des Soviets were likewise intended as monumental statements of civic pride and expressions of new ways of thinking, new unities, and new approaches to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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