Erich Mendelsohn vs. the Skyscraper Primitives: A Berliner in Jazz-Age Manhattan
Greg Castillo, Associate Professor of Architecture
Tuesday, November 20, 1-2:30pm | Wurster 170
Presented by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative
Upon first sight of the Manhattan skyline in 1924, Erich Mendelsohn proclaimed it an object lesson in the tragedy of madness, deranged power, the intoxication of limitless victory. Amerika: Bilderbuch eines Architekten (America: An Architects Picture Book), his bestselling travelogue, portrayed a culturally primitive society degraded by jungle capitalism, but advanced in building technology. Maintaining that American architecture had unexpectedly little to offer a prophetic observer, Mendelsohn returned to Berlin and a flourishing career as a designer of commercial buildings with advertising signage integrated into streamlined facades. He never acknowledged the importance of New World exemplars to his so-called Reklame (advertising) architecture, nor its relationship to the aesthetically subversive postulates issued in Broom, a Berlin-based avant-garde journal whose American expat editors were dubbed the skyscraper primitives by critic Gorham Munson.
Greg Castillo is an Associate Professor at the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley and a Research Associate at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, Australia. He has received grants and fellowships from the German Fulbright Fund, the Getty Research Institute, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and the Ford Foundation. His publications on cold war design politics and practices include a monograph, Cold War on the Home Front: The Soft Power of Midcentury Design (University of Minnesota Press, 2010), and essays in numerous collections and museum catalogues. His current book project, Cold War Under Construction: Architecture and the Cultural Division of Germany, examines German partition through opposing design theories and practices. While continuing to investigate European interwar and postwar design, he is also researching San Francisco Bay Area counterculture design, with essays published in the exhibition catalogue Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia (Walker Art Center, 2015), the online journal Places, and with co-editor Lee Stickells, a collection of essays in development titled Design Radicals: Spaces of Bay Area Counterculture.
See the full Fall 2018 Global Urban Humanities Colloquium schedule.