Modernism and the Environment: An Epistemological History

Independent Book Project
2014–2019

Kenny Cupers

This study examines how environmental thinking has shaped modern architecture and planning since the late nineteenth century. As cultural reformers, architects, and state administrators sought to reform city, countryside, and colony at this time, they revolutionized an earlier landscape sensibility. Rather than relying on the picturesque tradition, they were inspired by new biological, geographical, and anthropological conceptions of the environment, characterized by a belief in the causal effects of soil, landscape, and climate on human culture and behavior. Focusing on the pioneering environmental reform movements of imperial Germany, the book examines how this belief shaped design, from Heimatschutz architecture to the International Style, and from new village settlements in the Prussian countryside to the planning of colonies in Africa. In explaining the rise of modern architecture and planning, scholarly accounts have long emphasized the role of industrialization in prompting a new aesthetic and new forms of organization. The main goal of this project is to provide an alternative genealogy that demonstrates how modernism was based on a novel way of thinking about the environment, prompted by natural science and colonialism. The book will interest not only architecture, urban, and environmental historians, but also to scholars of modern Europe, empire, colonized Africa, and the history of science.

Catalog of village designs by Paul Fischer
© Paul Fischer 1904