Projecting in Space-Time: The Laboratory Method, Modern Architecture and Settlement-Building, 1918-1932.

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Projecting in Space-Time: The Laboratory Method, Modern Architecture and Settlement-Building, 1918-1932.

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Title: Projecting in Space-Time: The Laboratory Method, Modern Architecture and Settlement-Building, 1918-1932.
Author: Rupnik, Ivan ORCID  0000-0001-7777-7422
Citation: Rupnik, Ivan. 2015. Projecting in Space-Time: The Laboratory Method, Modern Architecture and Settlement-Building, 1918-1932.. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: Between 1918 and 1932, a number of European modern architects described their work as “scientifically managed” or “taylorized”, and as “laboratory work” or “practical experiments”, all of which were approaches attributable to the principles of organization used in American industry. Scholars would later dismiss these claims as “ideological” or “propagandistic”, since many of the architectural works of this period were in fact neither fabricated like industrial products nor did they perform as efficiently. However, relying on recent scholarship regarding the history of American industrial organization between 1880 and 1918, this dissertation reassesses the claims of these architects, revealing a more nuanced and thorough comprehension of the principles of American industrial organization, particularly scientific management, than has been previously acknowledged. While many modern architects admired the tools, products and spaces of industry, a select group also showed interest in scientific management’s central ontological theory, the “laboratory method”, which called for the fusion of inquiry and material production within a single space. While the laboratory method is most closely associated with Frederick Taylor, who developed this approach specifically for use in the industrial plant, it was Frank Gilbreth, who, by 1918, had translated this theory for use in a different space of production, the construction site. Frank and his partner, Lillian Gilbreth, developed a “multi sensory” approach to projecting processes in “space-time”, one that combined orthographic projection with data mapping and new media, such as photography and film. Their “visualization theory” offered modern architects assistance in an already defined design problem, namely the projection of architectural artifacts at the scale of the pre-modern urban unit, the village or settlement, with the intricacy of a pre-modern manufactured product, such as a door or window, all while considering the perception of a moving subject. Utilizing the principles of modern management, architects sought to rationalize their own “mental work”, the production of drawing sets, as well as to participate in the bureaucratization or standardization of material parameters and social conventions, occurring at the municipal, national and international scales, during this period.
While an interest in scientific management among interwar architects was widespread, this dissertation will show that there were few actual examples of the application of these principles to the process of architectural production; the most notable examples were those conducted by Peter Behrens (1918-1920), Le Corbusier (1923-26), Martin Wagner (1924-1929), Walter Gropius (1926-1929) and Ernst May (1926-1930). In all five cases, the primary goals were the same as they had been for Taylor and Gilbreth, the derivation of novel tentative standard methods, and not solely increase in the efficiency of material production. The application of the laboratory method to settlement-building by these architects was not revolutionary so much as it was evolutionary, with Hermann Muthesius’ notion of typological evolution and adaptation, summarized in Kleinhaus und Kleinsiedlung (1920), as well as a set of projection instruments included in Raymond Unwin’s design manual, Town Planning in Practice (1909), providing a crucial foundation for the interwar work. This interwar work was further informed by a series of American experiments in industrialized settlement-building, including the Atterbury, Harms and Small, and Unit Systems.
The laboratory method and visualization theory of scientific management required a particular balance of control and feedback, which proved difficult to achieve in architectural production, helping to explain the relatively few applications of these principles. Expanding conjecture from the atelier onto the construction site and into use itself, exposed architects to a myriad of problems that they were not entirely equipped to handle. The unique context of Weimar Germany afforded architects like Wagner, Gropius and May a framework that combined the degree of bureaucratization necessary to support experimentation without the “over-bureaucratization” that would define the postwar period. A similar framework of control and feedback afforded a team of architects, working within in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, between 1957-1964, an opportunity for applying the laboratory method to architectural production. This work would in turn attract the attention of an international group of artists and theorists, the New Tendencies movement (1961-1973), who saw in it the architectural equivalent of “programmed art”. As one of the most frequently cited books at these conferences, Norbert Wiener, explained in 1952, “the notion of programing” was itself rooted in the “work of Taylor and the Gilbreths on time study”, before it was “transferred to the machine”. This research will serve to show that modern architects had translated the principles of industrial organization well before programing became digitized.
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