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Op-Ed: Some Pointed Architectural Queries for Three Connoisseurs of Albert Speer's Monumental Classicism on the Occasion of the Re-publication of "Albert Speer: Architecture 1932-1942" by Leon Krier



By Norman Weinstein
June 18, 2013


Editor’s addendum: Click here to read Krier’s answers to Weinstein’s questions – and their ensuing debate.

 

 

Some questions for author Leon Krier:

 

  • You refer to Nazi architect Albert Speer as “a born-form giver.” Could you please define this phrase? Does it suggest a genetic predisposition for design?
  • How would you briefly summarize your sense of how successfully Speer fulfilled his professional obligations for a design-driven dialogue with Hitler?
  • Should his architectural career in any way take into consideration his preference for using forced labor teams to realize his designs?
  • Was Speer’s first substantial independent job as “Commissioner for the Artistic and Technical Presentation of Party Rallies and Demonstrates” an ideal preparation for the development of his classical monumental architectural style?
  • How might you have experienced the architectural grandeur of the Zeppelinfeld at night, the time Speer most wanted the stadium inhabited?
  • What do you think might have prompted Speer’s father responding to his son’s model for the three-mile wide Prachtallee (Boulevard of Dreams), “You’ve all gone completely insane”

 

Some questions for Robert A.M. Stern, author of preface to Krier’s Speer book:

 

  • You describe Speer’s designs as “reprehensible politically, but perhaps laudable architecturally.” Doesn’t your architectural judgment include the intended function of architecture?  Are you familiar with the comic Monty Python skit, “Architects Sketch,” where a British architect who was expected to give a presentation for a high-rise housing project instead offers his prospective clients an abattoir? Funny or offensive in light of Speer’s clients? Couldn’t even the comic’s architectural funny face be taken seriously on one level since the comic, like Speer, offered “one of the boldest urban plans in modern times” (to note your praise of Speer’s achievement)? After divorcing politics from architectural form and practice, why not find equally laudable as architectural triumphs a democratic capitol city’s design and Hitler’s vision for Berlin? An artful abattoir as well as an artful Hospice building?
  • You wrote: “He (Krier) should have been instead praised for pointing out the complexities of the interwar struggle between classicism and modernism that centered on the failure of modernism to develop a convincing response to the requirements for monumental public architecture.” So Speer was a martyr to an internecine stylistic tug-of-war within architecture? Then who were those forced under death threats to construct Speer’s architecture? Unprofessional subcontractors? Were they lucky to have not been engaged in an architecturally “unconvincing” modernist work of monumental public architecture?
  • Please explain why you are bothered by the removal of traceries of Speer’s influence on the design of contemporary Berlin.

 

To Krier’s enthusiastic book reviewer, Witold Rybczynski:

 

  • You respond to a key question Krier poses in his book, “Can a war criminal be a great artist?” with “Evidently, yes.” How does that question change when reframed as: “Can a self-admitted genocidal designer be a great architect?” Can a great architect of any era or political ideology be removed from any traditional definition of ethical professional practice? And was Speer’s architectural greatness aided or hindered by the design team he worked with? And what kind of major architect perceives urban buildings and pathways scaled primarily in terms of gigantism?

 

To the Author, the Dean, and the Professor:

 

  • Have you no shame? Responses from all are welcome.

 

 

Norman Weinstein writes about architecture and design for Architectural Record, and is the author of “Words That Build” – an exclusive 21-part series published by ArchNewsNow.com – that focuses on the overlooked foundations of architecture: oral and written communication. He consults with architects and engineers interested in communicating more profitably; his webinars are available from ExecSense. He can be reached at nweinstein@q.com.

 

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