The permanent housing exhibition as a spectacle of consumption

Historical transformations of the 20th-century European housing exhibition, from a platform of experimentation to the promotion commodities.

By Marcelo Sagot Better, Bauhaus Universiteit Weimar

The thesis reflects on modernity and the processes of massification, led by capitalism upon the growth of technology, that generated a greater shift towards the industrialization of housing units and estates, and the adoption of means of mass communication to legitimize and spread the conceptualization of these developments.

An outcome of this massification that has been often overlooked is the promotion of housing as a spectacle, specifically the permanent housing exhibition as an event that originates at the beginning of the 20th century when artists, urban planners and architects confronted the possibility of their disciplines embracing and re-imagining the modern condition.

These exhibitions were focused on the critique of previous forms of living in urban settlements and the introduction of new approaches to housing together with elaborated schemes for dissemination and communication of the new concepts and designs. Nevertheless, these changes also represent a drastic shift towards the alienation and the transformation of the living unit as a commodity and consequently, its fetishism. The experience of dwell that once was directly lived became mere representation.

As architecture became modern by the process of massification of its content and its form, it is essential to evaluate the spectacle of housing and its broader relation to capitalism, as the aforementioned phenomenon follows the objectives of an economy of power that profits not from the content per se but from an idée fixe with the means of communication and desire for commodities. This condition has been widely analysed as the historical moment at which consumerism thrived and the relation between commodities became more important than any other form of cultural relation, what Guy Debord labels as the complete colonization of social life.

Therefore, the objective of the proposed research is to develop a historical examination of the permanent housing exhibitions developed across Europe during the 20th century as legitimizing spectacles in relation to mass production and mass media, in order to analyse its outcomes and long-term consequences in contemporary forms of consumption of architecture and urban planning.