Class Summary: September 20, 2012

For today’s class we were discussing the Birth of Modernism with reference to the Ringstrasse in Vienna.

We started out the class with a recap of last class and the challenges to urban planning. We referenced the role and interest of the state, the challenges of absolutism and high modernism. We said that High Modernism is basically the use of science to better society which came out of Enlightenment thinking. We quickly talked about Haussmannization in Paris and the creation of the three main boulevards and how they were symbol of the power of the state and showed the states greatness by their unobstructed views leading to great monuments, but we also noted that there was a definite and clear alliance between Haussmanns project and capitalism. We also looked at Madrid and the High modernism there where science drove urban expansion, for example with the train.

An important definition from todays class was that of technocracy which is when society places its trust in scientists and highly trained specialists, or in technological bureaucracy. In this model, the power is held by technical specialists. This is important to todays discussion because we are dealing with a period in which there was lots of technology becoming available and the people who understood it were the people with the power over society.

We also defined Modernism which is the pursuit of modern aesthetic. And we defined Functionalism which is where the appearance reflects function.

The reading for todays class was: Carl E. Schorske. Fin de Siecle Vienna, “The Ringstrasse, its critics, and the birth of urban modernism.”

We talked about the concept of a monolith where there is one powerful ruling body and how Vienna up until this period had been ruled by a monolithic power but how that had just changed. The Habsburg Empire/ Monarchy controlled a multi-ethnical empire and as such they were very conservative. The 19th century gave birth to a rise of liberal movements including a separation from the church, the quest for (limited) suffrage, and the rise of the merchant class. These liberal movements wanted a National State. With the election of 1890, the liberals were now in power in Vienna. In essence the power was held by the middle class. This middle class was wealthy and were happy to have some form of political power. They were out to further the interests of a certain group, themselves, rather than control society.

One of the main things that this new liberal government did was to build the Ringstrasse around Vienna. It was mixed usage area which was a combination of boulevard and commercial and residential buildings which replaced the fortifications and no man’s land that had previously surrounded the city. This embraced Liberal values as it made space for public institutions which reflected the advancement. The most celebrated buildings in the Ringstrasse were the museums, universities, the parliament, the theatre, and the city hall. We talked about how there is an emphasis on motion and how this motion was linked to technology and progress. An important part of this Ringstrasse was that the liberals knew that there was the possibility that the monarchs could take over again so the Ringstrasse was built as a liberal noose encircling the city to limit the power of the monarchy.

We also spent some time discussing the reactions to the Ringstrasse by critics Camillo Sitte and Otto Wagner

Camillo Sitte Otto Wagner
Thinks the Ringstrasse is missing Greek and Roman creativity- The human element. Hates historicism- sees it as a lack of creativity
Rejects the modern elements of the Ringstrasse- dislikes the primacy of the road and the fact that the buildings have no relationship to one another. Believes that we are living in a modern age and as such that we need our own style.
Wants to put nature back into the city. He believes that modernity has a disintegrating influence on society and that squares and such would give a sense of community. Loves capitalism and believes that, “necessity is arts only mistress.”


1 thought on “Class Summary: September 20, 2012

  1. This was a really clear and informative summary! I especially liked the comparison of Sitte and Wagner at the end, the way you laid it out made it really easy to compare and contrast between the two opposing ideas of the Ringstrasse.

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