Discreet Aesthetics: Notes on Heinrich Tessenow’s Architecture and Collective Housing

Alessandro Porotto


Heinrich Tessenow
collective housing
society of Individuals
liquid modernity
Despite being considerably overlooked in architectural manuals, German architect Heinrich Tessenow (1876-1950) can be considered one of the most insightful interpreters of a collective vision of society that is based on the clarity of architectural aesthetics.
This paper investigates Tessenow’s theoretical contributions and projects, which have played a fundamental role in the establishment of a discreet – but intense – architectural language that embodies the aesthetics of collective housing. His work can be defined as having set out the basic and logical principles of this language, as well as the ethics of the architect’s craft. Tessenow’s concern with building a new society based on the concept of “living together,” through the development of a new image with which the inhabitants could identify themselves, lends its critical understanding to the assessment of contemporary conditions.
This paper compares Tessenow’s theories with contributions by philosopher José Ortega y Gasset and sociologists Norbert Elias and Zygmunt Bauman, who stress a social tendency towards individualization and the importance of a return to a collective consciousness. The issues affecting contemporary society can be observed through the role that architectural aesthetics plays in a society’s identity and ethics.
Even the most innovative contemporary projects of collective housing in Europe have failed to consider such pressing social aspects. They tend to interpret collective housing’s needs from functional, constructive, and economic points of view. The resulting contemporary landscape is one that drives towards aesthetic variety, not only without creating a unified image of the city, but also taking to new extremes the diversity of the architectural language that characterizes the urban scenery. As a critical response to this current trend, departing from Tessenow’s contribution, this paper aims to formulate reflections on the importance today to provide initiatives for the future with a perspective on collective identification through aesthetics.
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Porotto, Alessandro. “Discreet Aesthetics: Notes on Heinrich Tessenow’s Architecture and Collective Housing.” studies in History and Theory of Architecture, no. 8 (2020): 31-48. https://sita.uauim.ro/article/8-porotto-discreet-aesthetics-notes-on