Stuttgart aims for World Heritage status | DW Travel | DW | 12.07.2016
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Stuttgart aims for World Heritage status

The Weissenhof Estate is a classic example of the "international" style of modern architecture. Now, two of the estate buildings designed by Le Corbusier have been nominated to become UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

These buildings are well known to students of architecture. In 2002, they were converted from residential units into a museum. The structure is an accurate representation of Le Corbusier's concept of what a modern apartment block should look like.

Last year alone, the exhibition drew more than 26,000 visitors; 11 percent more than in 2014. Museum director Anja Krämer hopes that the UNESCO nomination will create an even more substantial profile for the museum: "We're already well-known among serious students of architecture, but we'd also like to attract visitors who may simply want to enhance their knowledge of late 1920s architecture and design."

From Art Nouveau to 'residential machines'

The city of Stuttgart and Germany's UNESCO commission have been campaigning for World Heritage status for these buildings since 2002. The units that comprise the Weissenhof Estate were designed by renowned architects including Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe.

The estate was built for an exhibition in 1927. The designers' aim was to avoid the excesses of art nouveau, and create living space that was open, well-lit, and functional. The Weissenhof Estate redefined the concept of modern German architecture.

The single-family unit and the duplex designed by Le Corbusier have taken on an iconic status in the world of modern architecture. The Stuttgart exhibition was Le Corbusier's first opportunity to implement his five key principles of modern architecture, including the use of horizontal windows, reinforced concrete columns instead of supporting walls, and roof gardens.

Deutschland Weissenhof-Siedlung in Stuttgart Le Corbusier Innenraum, Copyright: picture-allianc/dpa/N. Försterling

The home's interior was reconstructed for display at the museum

The interior areas make use of sliding doors and furnishings that can be easily moved around, creating arrangements that are suitable for day or night. The structures became known as "residential machines" that were both practical and functional, and could be mass-produced. It was a radical change in housing design: modern function over traditional form. Herbert Medek, the head of Stuttgart's monument protection authority says these buildings were enormously controversial at the time.

Third attempt for a World Heritage nomination

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier, died in 1965 at the age of 77. He was born in Switzerland, and became a French citizen in 1930. He was one of the most influential architects of the 20th century. Buildings designed by Le Corbusier can be found around the world.

Germany's application for World Heritage Site status is actually part of an international effort, because it involves 17 Le Corbusier buildings from Germany, France, Argentina, Japan, Belgium, Switzerland, and India.

The selection process is rigorous. Germany's application was turned down in 2009 and again in 2011 - so they're trying again. Katja Römer, spokeswoman for Germany's UNESCO commission says, "We want to increase the profile of the works of Le Corbusier. They have outstanding and universal value in the world of 20th century architecture."

Bildergalerie Le Corbusier 50. Todestag, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/AFP

Le Corbusier was also an urban planner. In the 1950s, he laid out the design for the northern Indian city of Chandigarh

Some critics have asked whether World Heritage status should be granted to a series of architectural works, rather than an individual site or monument. Some of the buildings listed in the application need repairs, and questions were raised about the role of national governments in administering the sites.

So this year, the applicants took a new approach. Römer says the commission chose the 17 sites to be listed because they reflect five decades of unique architectural history, and represent some of the most important concepts of modern architecture on an international scale.

Herbert Medek, the head of Stuttgart's monument protection authority, says he believes the participation of a non-European country like India will improve their chances in the selection process.

This new concept has already won the backing of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), which works to conserve and protect cultural heritage sites around the world. ICOMOS has recommended that Germany's application be approved.

That's an important endorsement, but the final decision will be up to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. They're meeting in Istanbul from July 10 - 20, and it will be up to them to decide whether Germany will be able to add the Le Corbusier project to its list of 40 World Heritage sites.

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