The "New Building" style

The German terms "Neues Bauen" (New Buidling style) and "Neue Sachlichkeit" (New Objectivity) refer to certain design principles of reform oriented artists and designers of the early 20th century. They are used by art historians as fixed terms to define a certain style that stands out from the historicism of previous eras.

Disciples of the New Building style sought a new approach to architecture in a rejection of established methods. "Old" construction was seen as employing useless decorations on historicised facades. Similar to the Modernists, the advocates of New Building sought to dispense with purely decorative elements in order to find a new language of form – one that was distilled to function, essence and transparency. They rejected the excessive decoration of bygone eras because it arose from the needs of the monarchy and nobility to project prestige, something that simple people would then try to imitate with modest means. This approach was considered outdated, dishonest and undesirable. The political spirit of the age was to question the class system while strengthening democracy and the labour movement – ideals that did not sit well with the upper-middle class and pompous nobles. Instead, clearly structured, brightly lit and transparent buildings should emerge in order to reflect the Age of Enlightenment, industrialisation and progress. The ideals of New Building thus had strong ideological parallels to Functionalism and the spirit of Modernism.

Housing estates designed by the craftsmen’s association Deutscher Werkbund played a special role in the New Building style. Although actually habitable, these dwellings were built for demonstration purposes in Germany and some neighbouring countries. The Werkbund's most famous estate is located in Stuttgart-Weissenhof in south-west Germany, a joint experimental project of several prominent architects in the organisation. Apart from this partly preserved complex in Stuttgart, cities with New Building estates in Germany include Düsseldorf, Oberhausen, Cologne and Munich, while elsewhere in Europe, sites can be found in Brno, Paris, Prague, Vienna, Wroclaw and Zurich. Some of them, too, have been only partly preserved.

It should be noted that many of these progressive ideals had a slight totalitarian streak: not only did they seek to build a better future, but sometimes to demolish the past. Time and again, the stucco of richly decorated facades was removed purely for the sake of creating something new. This was known as "de-decoration", a process that affected large parts of the Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg districts in Berlin, which at the turn of the 20th century still had a considerable number of stucco facades.