Ernst May - Germany

Ernst May (07.27.1886 - 09.11.1970) was a German architect and city planner, who was especially known for his work as head of the department for settlement in the city of Frankfurt am Main, between 1925 and 1930. In this function he was responsible for the planning and implementation of the project New Frankfurt. In 1928 Ernst May was a founding member of the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM) in La Sarraz.

The artistic interest of the young Ernst May was supported already early by his parents. On advice of his father, Ernst May began to study architecture in 1908 at the University College London, but returned to Germany
the same year to do his military service in Darmstadt. He then stayed there and continued his architectural studies at the Technische Hochschule Darmstadt. In 1910 he went back to Greatbritain for an internship at Raymond Unwin, where he encountered the principles of the garden city movement while working on the Hampstead settlement. In 1912 he returned to Germany and completed his studies at the Technical University of Munich under Friedrich von Thiersch and Theodor Fischer. From 1913 onwards Ernst May worked as a freelance architect in Frankfurt, but was called to military service as a soldier in 1914. After World War I, from May 1919 onwards, he worked as technical director of the Silesian Society in Wroclaw and dealt there with the promotion of rural land settlements. Already at this point, Ernst May thought about standardization in housing. Ernst May designed numerous variants of houses which respected traditional forms.

In 1921 Ernst May took part in an urban design competition for a master plan for Wroclaw, which earned him a contract to design a development plan for the district Wroclaw. Mays activity in this period is strongly related to the idea of the satellite towns. Ernst May considered satellite towns to be
urban expansions spatially detached from the main town, but well connected to the city by fast railroads,  owing a high degree of autonomy with own workplaces. As a consequence of his innovative proposals for decentralized settlements, he was appointed councilor of city building in 1925 in his hometown Frankfurt, where he headed the construction and housing department under Mayor Ludwig Landmann. In this function Ernst May was responsible for the entire construction activity of the city. With extensive responsibilities and authority in various fields and supported by a broad coalition in the City Council, May initiated the 10-year housing program "New Frankfurt". Along with Martin Elsaesser and a staff of 50 architects and designers of the avant-garde, Ernst May sought for settlements concepts resulting not only in affordable housing, but tried to avoid the social and hygienic problems of the conventional housing. To achieve these goals, Ernst May and his colleagues trusted in industrialized construction with prefabricated components, functionally optimized floor plans and an enhanced relationship to the exterior in connection with an urban layout characterized by a loosend form of continuous rows of houses and the introduction of roof terraces. In these Settlements Ernst May achieved an architecturally connection of the approaches of the garden city movement with the objectives of the new style. Ernst May regarded the "New Frankfurt" not only as an architectural object of a housing program. He settled on a rigid cost-cutting policy achieved by standardizing the components, the use of local companies and the employment of unemployed people. From 1926 onwards Ernst May edited the magazine "Das Neue Frankfurt" together with some of his collegues. The magazin served as the speaking organ of the movement and intended a wide and easily understandable information to the public. In the journal was promoted the departure from outdated tenure and design ideas. Within five years total of around 15,000 new flats have been built under Ernst May. The success in cost reduction and the aesthetic ambition found worldwide attention. Therefore Frankfurt was chosen in 1929 as the venue of the second CIAM conference with the theme "The apartment for subsistence". Although the large housing project had not yet been completed, it came to a halt in the late 1920s as a result of the global economic crisis.

In 1930 Ernst May was invited by the government of the Soviet Union to work in Russia. He was promised to cooperate with his staff on the construction of 1.4 million flats. Ernst May initiated a group composed of 26 western and 11 Russian employees. The so-called May-Brigade worked on general development plans of new industrial cities in Siberia, among others for Magnitogorsk, Leninsk-Kuznetsky and Kuznetsk as well as on an urban expansion plan for Moscow. Just one year later Ernst May had to realize that it was difficult to enforce holistic concepts. Although nothing changed, Ernst May built
huge settlements with standardized, prefabricated materials by the end of 1932. Thes settlements were located in more than twenty different places, providing apartments for people previously housed in mud huts. From 1933 the disagreements with the policy of the Soviet Union increased, in 1933 the first employees returned back to Western Europe. The last foreign architects, who refused to adapt to the imposed socialist classicism architecture, were Hans Schmidt and Grete Schütte-Lihotzky who left the Soviet Union in 1937. In the meantime, the national socialist party had come to power in Germany, so that Ernst May decided not to return to Germany but emigrated to Tanganyika in East Africa. Initially Ernst May wanted to withdraw from architecture and acquired 160 hectares of scrubland, to devote himself to the cultivation of coffee, cereals and pyrethrum. In 1937 he started again to make architectural projects, but on a rather occassional basis. A little later he opened an office in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, where he worked until his internment by the British Forces in 1939. As a consequence of the war and his German origin Ernst May became suspected to have been active as a Nazi spy in Russia. These accusations led to internment in the Union of South Africa from 1940 to 1942.

In 1954 Ernst May was appointed head of the planning department of the "
Neuen Heimat" in Hamburg. Several of the most famous German postwar settlements and reconstruction plans such as Neu-Altona in Hamburg, and the Neue Vahr in Bremen are associated with Ernst May. In 1958 Ernst May, at the age of 72 years, was appointed planning officer of Mainz. He designed a master plan, which intended for the creation of high-rise developments outside the city center. His plan was approved by the City Council in 1960 and quickly implemented in parts. In the 1960s, after a competition success, Ernst May was commissioned with the construction of new settlements in Wiesbaden. He promoted the construction of high quality and greened settlements. In the 1960s and until his death in 1970, Ernst May was involved in several other projects for land revitalization of older neighborhoods and in planning for compacted settlements that followed the model of urbanity by density.

1926 - 1927  Bruchfeldstrasse Settlement - Frankfurt

1926 - 1928  Bornheimer Hang Settlement - Frankfurt
1929 - 1930  Charles-Hallgarten School Building - Frankfurt