The Jewish Contribution to Modern Architecture, 1830-1930
A book about architecture and society, a wide-ranging cultural and historical depiction of successful Jewish entrepreneurs in an increasingly industrialized Europe, from the dissolution of the ghetto and the 1848 liberation movement to Hitler's assumption of power in Germany. Inspired by Jewish messianism, they pursued a modern culture, free from the old feudal society. The principal characters are bankers, merchants, and industrialists together with their architects, from Schinkel and Semper to Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. They build in Paris, Berlin, and Vienna, Budapest and New York, and in more remote centers of Jewish entrepreneurial activity, such as Oradea (Nagyvarad) in present-day Romania and Lodz in Poland, Stockholm and Gothenburg in Sweden. The buildings shed new light on the Europe of today, but also on a Europe that is lost beyond recall.
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THE JEWISH CONTRIBUTION TO MODERN ARCHITECTURE
Ktav Publishing House, Jersey City, 2004518 pages, BW, 24/17 cm, hard cover
Fredric Bedoire’s book is the first integral effort to pinpoint Jewish contribution to 19th century urban development in selected European cities from an architectural, urban and socio-historical point of view. It focuses on urban communities and prominent Jewish or ex-Jewish (baptised) families and their building activities. The author analyses Jewish settling pattern in urban context, choosing the architect and dominant stylistic preferences of Jewish developers as well as some cemeteries in order to sketch the particularity of Jewish involvement in 19th century urbanization and architecture of Europe.
The book investigates urban ensembles, individual houses and palaces as well as furnishing of their interior. Besides Jewish habitat it deals also with other urban constructions of the Jews, like department stores, railway stations, etc.
There are no statistics in the book; it is not strictly "scientific." Bedoire takes up leading families and personalities of Jewish high bourgeoisie in continental Europe and some trend-setting thinkers, artists and architects. The novelty of his approach is ‘clients' history’ rather than "architects' architectural history" or traditional urban history. This is due also to his education; Bedoire is a general historian, who specialized architectural history.
The author focuses on major urban centres, usually capital cities, but in three instances he deals with smaller cities like Gothenburg, Lodz and Nagyvarad (Grosswardein, today Oradea.) The book also contains a chapter on constructions of New York Jews. His choice follows on the one hand, trend setting centres of 19th century Europe with a sizeable Jewish population, like Paris, Berlin and Vienna; and on the other, on cities with a very high percentage of Jewish population, like Lodz, Budapest and Oradea. In these cities the reader gets insight into the provincial Jewish urban contribution that sometimes borders with the vernacular in adapting and transforming/downgrading historical neo-styles and the art nouveau. In all cases the author is interested in the Jewish population whose building activities are well visible, thus, mainly the emancipated Jews who abandoned the traditional Jewish way of life. Traditional and lower class Jewish quarters are not dealt with as they had little impact on urbanisation.
It is hard to locate Bedoire’s book in the traditional fields of humanities. It contains elements of Jewish history, architectural history and urban history; therefore methodologically it is mixed. Certainly, this book can raise the eyebrows of researchers who think strictly in one discipline and one applied methodology. But probably there is no single discipline which could portray the multi-faceted strives and attitudes of emancipated Jews in the 19th century Europe. The other dilemma regarding methodology is how to set apart Jewish and gentile contribution to urbanization, architecture and period tastes – an even more difficult task. The book answers the eclectic spirit of place and time and suggests that juts the multitude of tastes and attitudes constitutes the common ground for the modernising 19th century gentile society and the emerging Jewish middle classes.
When I asked the author, a gentile Swede of Huguenot origin and professor of modern architectural history at the Swedish Royal University of Arts, about his motivation to research the topic, having no former erudition and interest in the field of Jewish studies, he pointed at the introduction of his book:
“During my researches into the architectural history of 19th and early 20th century Europe, I have constantly been coming up against the Jewish entrepreneurs as innovators and developers - builders of banks, department stores, textile mills and fine houses, as well as inner city developers and creators of academic institutions. […] At the same time I have noted on
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