In a previous post I looked at how the box as products and packaging can offer spatial efficiency, improved functionality, and economic benefits. But if we stop thinking about the box as a small cardboard container, and expand our interpretation to consider larger box-like design, do we still see these benefits?
Lets think about the buildings we live in, the places where we consume products and discard packaging. They are basically expanded boxes, so does the box-like design of our homes bring spatial efficiency, improved functionality, and economic benefits? Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, believed it did.
It was 1920s Germany where the Bauhaus began designing mass urban housing that would modernize our expectations of the ‘home’. Their ambition went beyond simply designing the buildings, seeing their role as an opportunity to ‘educate men and women to understand the world they live in and invent and create forms symbolizing that world.’
In 1926, when the Bauhaus were commissioned to plan and build the Törten Housing Estate, Gropius felt it was the ideal opportunity to demonstrate Henry Ford’s principals of mass-production applied to architecture. By combining the speed of the assembly line with simple tasks that used standard, interchangeable parts, Ford had revolutionized the manufacturing world. Showing that an item with the complexity of an automobile could be mass-produced inspired Gropius. There was a housing shortage in Germany at the time, so the design for Törten needed to be both spatially efficient and capable of construction by these principles of mass-production.
The Bauhaus’ plan for the estate consisted of 314 two-storey single-family houses. The simple box-like design used pre-fabricated parts, which allowed construction by crane, the most efficient method available at the time. Inspired by the box’s ability to tessellate a three-dimensional space, the design was repeated on small plots of land to build as many houses as possible. As a result, they were cheap to buy and rent.
Unfortunately, this density meant insufficient space was allocated for amenities and Törten suffered from having no real town centre. The rigid, repetitive layout also meant some homes were badly positioned for sunlight. But ignoring these external failings, the box worked as a functional home and showed its inhabitants that modern buildings could more accurately reflect their lifestyles.
After meeting with a mixed reaction from critics and residents, it is safe to say that Törten alone did not radically change our expectations of the home. However, when the Bauhaus were asked to extend the Törten Housing Estate in 1930, they returned with a new interpretation of the box as a home that would cement their legacy as progressive urban architects.