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Ernst May

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Ernst May

*  1886 Frankfurt
† 1970 Hamburg


Ernst May, who was most famous for his achievemnets in architecture, urban development and design for the "Neues Frankfurt" (New Frankfurt) was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1886. He began to study architecture in London in 1908, but soon changed to Darmstadt, where he also did military service. After working as an urban developer for Raimond Unwin in London (1910-12), Ernst May completed his studies in Munich in 1913, and finally settled in his home town where he would work as a freelance architect.
May's career was interrupted by World War I, he could not continue to work in his profession before 1919. He was technical director of the Silesian Landgesellschaft (Rural Association), building rural settlements, two years later May was appointed director of the land settlement society "Schlesisches Heim" (Silesian Home) and also published a newspaper of the same name. It was as early as in those days that May began to deal intensively with the construction of settlements and social housing projects by means of standardization and rationalization, as well as the idea of satellite towns, with which he had already come in contact in London under Unwin.
May was able to put his plans into practice as the director of the Frankfurt municipal building department from 1925 to 1930 - creating a phenomenon that was called "Das Neue Frankfurt" (The New Frankfurt), just like the magazine he published. Among his most prominent colleagues were Martin Elsaesser, Ferdinand Kramer and Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky - together with them May attempted to fight the urgent housing problems in Frankfurt in those days. A settlement concept that was based on the satelite sytem brought forth standardized and functional small housing units that were made in a large-block construction manner in the style of the "Neues Bauen" (New Architecture). Among the projects that originated from the five years of May in this position are the Niddatal project and Westhausen, as well as the housing estates Bruchfeldstraße, Höhenblick, Riederwald and Bornheimer Hang.
Also industrially made and standardized home furnishings for the "Neue Frankfurt" (New Frankfurt) were made by order of Ernst May: besides the famous "Frankfurter Küche" (Frankfurt Kitchen) by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, Ferdinand Kramer created functional furniture and objects of utility. These works were intended to suit the new living situation. Its reduced esthetics, based on its social origin and the functional concept, have not palled up until today.
Ernst May went to the Soviet Union in 1930, where he was also working as an urban developer, in 1934 he went to Tanzania where he worked as a farmer, followed by a time in Nairobi, where he was an architect up until 1953. His works from this period accommodate the local climatic conditions and material requirements, Ernst May's construction style became airier and livelier. Having returned to Germany in 1954, he was director of the settlement organization "Neue Heimat" (New Home) in Hamburg and also published the magazine of the same name. He was working as a free architect up until his death in 1970, making contributions to numerous settlement projects.

Cf.: Ernst May und das Neue Frankfurt. 1925-1930, ex. cat. Deutsches Architekturmuseum Frankfurt am Main, Berlin 1986.