Friday, June 7, 2013

14.1. K. Michael Hays - Hannes Meyer and the radicalization of perception

In 1992 the book Modernism and the Posthumanist Subject was published by MIT Press, presenting the culmination of K. Michael Hays' Ph.D at MIT. It presents the work of two architects, Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Hilberseimer, as the largely overlooked tail-end of the early 20th century avant-garde. It would be fair to relate the type of insight that can be gleaned from these two architects if we reflect upon Bernard Tschumi's work, himself situated in (or as) its decline (as I have previously discussed on this blog here), providing a comprehensive synthetic discourse of the late avant-garde as a radically historical and contingent metaphysical force. Furthermore, these two architects have recently been gaining a great deal more theoretical attention, though moreso Hilberseimer than Meyer, through the discourse of Pier Vittorio Aureli. The two architects that are the subject of Hays' book are at the same time closely related and worlds apart in their ideology and methodology. It is important to note that both architects were closely involved with the purported 'decline' of the Bauhaus, Meyer as its second dean who hired Hilberseimer as the director of the school's newly created building department, a defining feature of Meyer's comprehensive pedagogical reformulation.

The book itself is divided into two separate parts with a single essay uniting the two, though it is evident throughout that it is impossible to situate the latter without the former. Hays makes his discursive form clear from the beginning, based the dialectical relation between subject/object or receiver/transmitter that is the chief methodology of the Frankfurt School and Lacanian psychoanalysis. While initially apprehensible, he uses this type of discourse to ultimately demonstrate how Meyer's work sought to overcome this exact dialectic itself, identified as one of the most basic structures of the humanist metaphysics that resisted the socialism-to-come.

The historical context within which both Meyer and Hilberseimer were working is of crucial importance to understanding their methodology in a way that can begin to separate contingency from essentiality, and as such, determine its contemporary operative value. While their forms of representation were drastically more muted than their historical precedents within the avant-garde, the conditions to which these two architects were responding to were virtually the same: the advent of modern technologization and the potentially imminent revolution of everyday life. Furthermore, the primary years of each architect's career took place in post-World War I Germany as a part of the Weimar Republic. What was at stake in their work was utility, and the question very clearly became how architecture could be used, through its material literality, to engender the ideal of socialism as an actively lived reality in the built environment.
"the act of building as the mapping of the total situation of subject and object; building as trans-formation -- not a transport of an already constituted meaning that exists outside and before architecture but an organization of processes, a set of operations, a production of certain effects not available without the building performance." (Hays, p28)
The attitude of Meyer's political, critical architecture takes in relation to its historical and social context is of crucial importance. His architecture is not resistive, nor is it complacent: he does not fear nor welcome the imminent technological change because he does not view it as having a form. Putting for an innovative approach to Marx's theory of commodity alienation, "aesthetic practice must submit to reification, making commodity form tangible and perceptible in order to refunction the commodity status" (Hays, p53). Technology is a latent, yet real potentiality; it can be either appropriated as a structure itself of class society, or can be made available and the tool for societies' becoming-classless. That said, Meyer's praxis is based largely on a humanist causal chain between sender and receiver, between "sign and procedure, to have the aesthetic signs be understood as traces of production procedures, and to enact the eventuality of socialized production" (Hays, p93) from which he is able to conclude "design [can pilot] technology ... [T]hat industrial production is not wedded to the social relations that engendered it" (Hays, p103). 

Meyer's logic is furthermore one that aims to subvert the system not by aesthetically juxtaposing it, but by supplanting it: by doing what it does better than its 'enemy' does it. His design methodology suggests an ethos of diagnosis and shame as a means of revolution. It is in this regard that Meyer's architecture can be viewed as "harsh", in its explicitly anti-, post-humanist ideology. 
"the Petersschule organizes its elements in such a way as to reveal the present order as unsatisfactory ... it produces the concrete effects of what the city lacks. Like a prosthetic device that is both the mark of and compromised solution to a debilitation, the Petersschule produces a significant absence, that is to say an absence that it at the same time represents." (Hays, p107)
A point which I will be developing in greater detail soon, the displeasure caused by Meyer's architecture is not only to be expected but is itself intentional. Crucially, it is not displeasure with Meyer's architecture but a subsequent displeasure of everything that is not Meyer's architecture.

As its potentially Fascist consequences can be gleaned from Hilberseimer's Hochhausstadt project, the task at hand is to determine if, and in what way, this type of revolutionary logic can be used to implement not only a socialist society, but a society that we want to live in.

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