Functionalism of Modernity

Origin, development and topicality of a notion central to the 20th century architectural discourse

"A thing is defined by its essence. In order to design it so that it functions well – a receptacle, a chair, a house – its essence must first be explored; it should serve its purpose perfectly, that is, fulfil its function practically and be durable, inexpensive and ‘beautiful’." (Walter Gropius, 1925)

This quote by Walter Gropius from the early Dessau period of the Bauhaus is seen in literature as "the most succinct description of a functionalism based on (utilitarian) objects" (Heinz Hirdina, 2001). Walter Gropius himself only began to use the term functionalism much later, although he did have a considerable theoretical and practical influence on its development into a programmatic term. In the 1960s, he still advised against practicing functionalism as a "singular, straight and narrow path". However, it was exactly this limitation to a thus negatively construed understanding of functionalism that prevailed after 1930, above all in the book "International Style" by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson.

The starting point of the research project, which commenced at the end of 2004, was the issue of the topicality of functionalism. Relevant texts on architectural theory were analysed to discover when and why the term functionalism arose and in response to which problems, and what interpretations and changes the term underwent up to the recent past. In doing so, it was found that the term had been defined and used in very different ways. From the 1960s, therefore, alongside the absolute condemnation of a Bauwirtschaftsfunktionalismus where architecture was reduced to its economic aspects (Heinrich Klotz), a debate came about in which Functionalism was described as a "future-oriented design concept". Different views of Functionalism also emerge within the current discourse. Although the project will be completed in the near future, some of its results have already been incorporated into the book and exhibition commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Bauhaus Building in December 2006. The publication of a book and a symposium are scheduled to follow the conclusion of the project.