Housing as a social issue has occupied architects with varying degrees of urgency since the Weimar Republic. After the First World War, architects tried to provide solution to the acute housing shortage through novel approaches. New standards in the understanding of society, construction and design led to paradigms such as “Licht, Luft und Sonne” (light, air and sun), the “Existenzminimum” (minimum dwelling) and the “Klein(st)wohnung” (smallest possible flat). In the shadow of architects such as Walter Gropius, Bruno Taut and Le Corbusier, who are still an important part of the architectural canon today, Alexander Klein developed new methodological approaches to the housing question between 1920–1933 that are known only to few experts today.
Klein’s remarkably innovative design methodology, which combines aspects of the economy, hygiene, ease of use and comfort, is based on an analysis of the economic-legislative premises of housing production in the Weimar Republic. He developed the Raumgruppengrundriss (space-group floor plan) as an alternative to the central corridor-based floor plan. He further developed his findings regarding the organization and area optimization of floor plans into graphic analysis tools. He methodized this approach as Graphisches Verfahren (Graphical Method) in the context of comparing different types of floor plans to determine objective parameters for evaluating design qualities. Klein investigated the problem of housing in its complexity, paying particular attention to the effects of housing conditions on the human psyche and physique based on a Taylorist point of view.
Klein expanded his research work as a member of the Reichsforschungsgesellschaft für Wirtschaftlichkeit im Bau- und Wohnungswesen RFG (Reich Research Society for Economic Efficiency in Construction and Housing) and also put his knowledge to practical use in built projects. Klein thus shows a path of scientification and systematisation of architectural practice between spatial quality and economic efficiency that is worth looking at – even today. His contribution to the evaluation and development of floor plans is relevant both methodologically as a tool for architects and from the political perspective of current building and housing policy constraints, such as scarcity of resources and affordability. Klein doesn’t consider economic efficiency in terms of profit maximization, but formulates a realpolitical vision of housing: how to produce as many good flats as possible for a variety of users’ needs with limited resources? This paper lays the foundation for an update and reinterpretation of Klein’s approaches: A New Housing Standard.