The works of classical Modernist architects have time and again inspired exhibitions at the Deutsches Architekturmuseum. Indeed, the protagonists of the “New Frankfurt” movement in the 1920s have been the focus of numerous retrospectives, including those on Mart Stam (1997), Martin Elsaesser (2009), and on several occasions Ernst May, the mastermind behind the Frankfurt model (1986, 2001 and 2011).
Ferdinand Kramer (1898-1985) was one of the leading lights of the May era in Frankfurt. Today he is not only recognized for his furniture designs, but above all known for his magnum opus: the buildings that made up the University Campus in Frankfurt’s Bockenheim district.
Line Form Function
The Buildings of Ferdinand Kramer
November 28, 2015 — May 1, 2016
Tue, Thu / Sun 11:00 – 18:00
Wednesdays 11:00 – 20:00
Closed on Mondays
Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM)
Schaumainkai 43 (First floor)
After World War II, Kramer was instrumental in rebuilding Frankfurt University, which for the most part had been destroyed, opting for a no-frills, functional Modernist style, which today at times seems austere. Now that the university has moved from Bockenheim to the Westend district, only a few of these edifices, which can be regarded as structures symbolic of the democratic new world, remain.
Following last year’s exhibition on Ferdinand Kramer the designer at Frankfurt’s Museum Angewandte Kunst, DAM is now placing the focus on his architectural output from five decades – including residential buildings, institutes, lecture theaters, villas, and dormitories.
Ferdinand Kramer’s oeuvre can be divided into four main periods, which serve to structure this exhibition:
1922-1938 “New Frankfurt” and the aftermath
1938-1952 Exile in the United States
1952-1964 New career as Building Director of Frankfurt University
1957-1974 Late residential buildings
In 1927 typographer Paul Renner characterized Ferdinand Kramer’s early furniture as follows, an assessment that equally applies to his buildings: “(they) embody the new style with such clarity that they serve as classical specimens of the stylistic mind-set of the day.”
The DAM has placed this exhibition under the motto of “Line Form Function”: Line to represent the rectilinear and no-frills quality that informs the entire oeuvre; Form and Function to illustrate Kramer’s principle of subordinating the former to the latter, taking care not to let the form become an end in itself.
THE EARLY FRANKFURT YEARS
In the 1920s Kramer was one of the youngest budding protagonists in Germany’s Modernist avant-garde. Proof of his excellent reputation comes from the fact that Deutscher Werkbund included him on its lists of potential architects to be considered for the construction of a building in Stuttgart’s Weissenhofsiedlung, set to attract ample attention. Initially, at the tender age of just 27 Kramer proudly featured among those architectural heavyweights; however, after the list had been revised several times his name was later taken off.
The “New Frankfurt” (1925-1932) was an exemplary housing and urban development scheme that exerted a strong international appeal. Residential estates built on the fringes of the city and close to the countryside provided 12,000 new homes – designed as terraced single-family houses and apartments.
Trailblazing work was done under the aegis of the then Head of the Frankfurt Building Department, Ernst May (1886-1970), which spawned some much-noted paragons of classical Modernist architecture. Examples include the standardization of ground plans, the design of the world’s first standardized kitchen, the industrial prefabrication of the building shell, functional furnishings, and an integrated urban planning and green area concept.
In conjunction with the “New Frankfurt” building scheme Kramer was fortunate to implement a number of buildings that were to bolster his reputation as a rigorously functionalist architect. From 1925 to 1930 the Municipal Building Authorities employed him as an architect in the Department of “Standardization”.
FRANKFURT UNIVERSITY CAMPUS
In 1952 Max Horkheimer, Director of the Institute of Social Research and since 1951 Rector of Frankfurt University, enticed Ferdinand Kramer to return to Frankfurt from exile in the US by offering him the post of Building Director. Kramer’s brief: to mastermind and implement the reconstruction of the Frankfurt University campus in close liaison with the university’s young curator, Friedrich Rau.
Kramer was very keen to develop an American-style campus on the outskirts of the city. By contrast, the City Council and likewise the university administration were in favor of redeveloping the zone west of Bockenheim’s Senckenberganlage site, which pre-World War II had already been home to the University’s central buildings, but had suffered considerable damage. Kramer’s first assignment as University Building Director was to draw up a general masterplan, which he presented in spring 1953.