Housing complex Nová doba, view to the courtyard shortly after the completion, 1935

Josef Hofer, Archív hl. mesta Bratislava

Unitas and Nová Doba: A (Forgotten) Contribution to Politically Engaged Theories of Housing

The present study analyses the circumstances of the construction, and the urban, architectural and structural qualities of the Bratislava residential colonies of Unitas and N ová doba, two of the most important works of ‘left-wing architectural Functionalism’ in Slovakia. In addition, it aims to present the social situation in the era along with the professional and personal orientation of the architect, Friedrich Weinwurm, which underlay the creation and the final appearance of both building ensembles. Attention will be paid to the contemporary reflection of these two construction efforts, as well as their later reception by the general public. At the same time, it is hoped that an explanation will be found as to why, in the context of interwar Czechoslovakia, it is possible to view the contribution by Friedrich Weinwurm to the theme of housing for the poor as an exceptional instance of ‘politically engaged architecture’.“Costs of approx. 25,000,000 crowns, every day around 500 – 600 men at work, wages of around 8,000,000 crowns and completion within 7.5 months of working time“. Such was the summary of the course of construction of the Bratislava residential complex Unitas, in the article published in the magazine Nová Bratislava (New Bratislava), immediately after its completion in the spring of 1931. Yet with this laconic summary, the authors also noted the key factors in the construction: the speed of completion, the low price, and the jobs made available for workingclass applicants. Along with the austere listing of facts, characteristic of the entire presentation of the project, there was nonetheless an extensive text by the architect himself, Friedrich Weinwurm, offering an essential argumentation on behalf of the project based on universal humanistic values. In it we may read that the shortening of construction time, the implementation of prefabrication or even the increasing height of the buildings “is today a matter of course, since it makes it no longer necessary to address any of the technical problems”. Now, in Weinwurm’s view, attention could be concentrated “only on the human individual and his society, his way of living, working and being”. The path to fulfilling a happy human fate lay, according to the architect, in the rational comprehension of facts, in planning and efficient organisation. In addition, he added, a decisive role was played by the “planned organisation of manufacturing and consumption” and “standardised mass production” that would allow its products to become generally available….

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