Ernst May  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Ernst May (27 July 1886 – 11 September 1970) was a German architect and city planner.

May successfully applied urban design techniques to the city of Frankfurt am Main during the Weimar Republic period, and in 1930 less successfully exported those ideas to Soviet Union cities, newly created under Stalinist rule. It is saidTemplate:Who May's "brigade" of German architects and planners established twenty cities in three years, including Magnitogorsk. May's travels left him stateless when the Nazis seized power in Germany, and he spent many years in African exile before returning to Germany near the end of his life.


May was born in Frankfurt am Main, the son of a leather goods manufacturer. His education from 1908 through 1912 included time in the United Kingdom, studying under Raymond Unwin, and absorbing the lessons and principles of the garden city movement. He finished a study at the Technical University of Munich, working with Friedrich von Thiersch and Theodor Fischer, a co-founder of the Deutscher Werkbund.

Working for himself and others through the 1910s, in 1921 he helped win a competition for rural housing estate developments in Breslau. His concepts of decentralized planning, some of which had been imported from the garden city movement, he won the job of city architect and planner for his home city from 1925 through 1930. Working under Mayor Ludwig Landmann, the position gave him broad powers of zoning, financing, and hiring. There was copious funding and an available labor pool. He used them.

the "Rundling" in the Römerstadt in Frankfurt

The New Frankfurt

In the context of a housing shortage and a degree of political instability, May assembled a powerful staff of progressive architects and initiated the large-scale housing development program New Frankfurt. May's developments were remarkable for the time for being compact, semi-independent, well-equipped with community elements like playgrounds, schools, theatres, and common washing areas. For the sake of economy and construction speed May used simplified, prefabricated forms. These settlements are still marked by their functionality and the way they manifest egalitarian ideals such as equal access to sunlight, air, and common areas. Of these settlements the best known is probably Siedlung Römerstadt, and some of the structures are colloquially known as Zickzackhausen (zig-zag houses).

In 1926 May sent for Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky to join him in Frankfurt. Lihotzky was a kindred spirit and applied the same sort of functional clarity to household problems, and so in Frankfurt, after much analysis of work habits and footsteps, she developed the prototype of the modern installed kitchen, and pursued her idea that "housing is the organized implementation of living habits".

May's Frankfurt was a civic and critical success. This has been described (by John R. Mullin) as "one of the most remarkable city planning experiments in the twentieth century". In two years May produced more than 5,000 building units, up to 15,000 units in five years, published his own magazine (Zeitschrift Das Neue Frankfurt) and in 1929 won international attention at the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne. This also brought him to the attention of the Soviet Union.

Catherine Bauer Wurster visited the buildings in 1930 and was inspired by the work of May

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ernst May" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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