Modernism and the Posthumanist Subject: The Architecture of Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Hilberseimer

fac_pub_hays_modernismDrawing on the work of modern theorists like Georg Lukacs, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and Siegfried Kracauer and on more recent poststructuralist thought, K. Michael Hays creates an entirely new method of reading architectural production. Challenging much of the traditional wisdom about modernism and the avant-garde, Hays argues that a rigorously articulated post-humanist position was actually developed in the modernist architecture of Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Hilberseimer. He reinterprets their buildings, projects, and writings as constructions of this new category of subjectivity.

Posthumanism is an aesthetic and epistemological response to technological modernization. It embraces the anti-individualist consequences of technological progress and, in the case of Hannes Meyer, attempts to turn the perceptual effects of modernity to explictly collectivist sociopoltical ends. As the case of Hilberseimer shows, posthumanism also harbors a contradictionthe ecstatic surrender of the subject to the very forces that assure its dissolution.

Situating his analysis within the wider domain of artistic practices and the history of the subjectas well as in relation to architects such as Adolf Loos, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and Le CorbusierHays examines the ideological underpinnings of urban and architectural projects long rejected as antihumanist.

“In this original, rigorous, and sophisticated study, K. Michael Hays draws on European theory to illuminate the philosophical and epistemological assumptions of the utopian and revolutionary architectural avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s. Hays breaks new ground in identifying the gradual disappearance of the autonomous subject as a central motif of modern architectural history.”
–Anson Rabinbach, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
“Beyond the field of architectural history, Michael Hays’ study is exemplary for cultural studies and avant-garde history in several ways: in its successful integration of Frankfurt School theory into architectural history of the 1920s and 1930s; in its convincing synthesis of the legacy of Adorno and Benjamin with contemporary poststructuralist thought; and, perhaps most importantly, in its complex dialectical reading of the oppositions of Neue Sachlichkeit and Productivism in the architectural work of Ludwig Hilberseimer and Hannes Meyer.”
–Benjamin Buchloh, Assistant Professor of Art History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Director of Critical and Curatorial Studies, the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program
“This stimulating exploration of the work of Ludwig Hilberseimer and Hannes Meyer is a tour de force which not only directs our attention to an alternative current in the modern movement, but triumphantly reinterprets that workoften associated with a technological or engineering ideologyin utopian terms. Michael Hays thereby produces a new conceptposthumanismcapable of identifying antimodernist tendencies within high modernism that are very different in spirit from their postmodern analogues.”
–Fredric Jameson, Professor, Duke University

MIT Press