The Earth that Modernism Built

Book Project

Kenny Cupers

This book argues that it was during the age of empire that the remaking of land, soil, and the earth became a biopolitical project, in which design took a central role. As such, the book brings the history of modernism to bear on what it usually ignores, namely the very ground under our feet and our fundamentally colonial relationship to it.

Focusing on Germany and its global entanglements, The Earth that Modernism Built examines the roots of the modernist project—both heroic and tragic—to design the human by reshaping the earth, from the individual garden and the national territory to the planet at large. It reveals how statesmen, scientists, and designers mapped ethnicity onto territory and biology onto architecture, and in doing so, conceived of land and life as objects of design. Its analysis ranges from folklore studies to modern environmentalism, from soil ecology to the Bauhaus, and from the colonial exploitation of sub-Saharan Africa to planned villages in the Prussian countryside. In doing so, The Earth that Modernism Built offers a new exploration into the foundations of governing by design. It demonstrates how novel ways of thinking about and designing the human environment were bound up with empire, asking us to reconsider long-held assumptions of humanity’s relationship to the earth.

German colonial prison in Swakopmund, Namibia
© K. Cupers 2014