Ernst May

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Ernst Georg May (born July 27, 1886 in Frankfurt am Main ; † September 11, 1970 in Hamburg ) was a German architect and urban planner . Between 1925 and 1930 he was responsible for the planning and implementation of the New Frankfurt project as the head of the Frankfurt housing estate . 1930–1933 he led the construction of several Soviet cities, u. a. Magnitogorsk .


May was born in 1886 as the son of a manufacturer of leather goods who promoted his artistic interest at an early age. On the advice of his father, he started in 1908 at the University College London with the study of architecture , but came in the same year back to Germany in order in Darmstadt his military service abzuleisten. He then stayed there and continued his architecture studies at the Technical University of Darmstadt . In 1910 he went back to Great Britain for an internship with Raymond Unwin , where he learned the principles of the garden city movement while working on the Hampstead settlement and translated Unwin's work, The Basics of Urban Design, into German . In 1912 he returned to Germany and finished his studies at the Technical University of Munich with Friedrich von Thiersch and Theodor Fischer , a co-founder of the German Werkbund .

As head of the "Silesian Home"

Early work: The "Rural Houses" for the Wroclaw suburbs

From 1913 May worked as a freelance architect in Frankfurt am Main, but was called up as a soldier in 1914. After the First World War he worked from May 1919 as the technical director of the Silesian regional company in Breslau , where he was involved in promoting rural settlements. In June 1919 the “Schlesisches Heim” society was founded. This supported the housing construction with materials and knowledge and was also involved in construction. In 1921 this company was renamed "Schlesische Heimstätte Provinzielle Wohnungfürsorge-Gesellschaft" mbH. May initiated the magazine "Schlesisches Heim", at the same time he thought about typification in residential construction. The variants of the houses designed by May were still very numerous and took up traditional forms. For example, the model house at Dahnstrasse 8, Leerbeutel (today: Stanislawa Moniuszki 6 in Zalesie).

In 1921 he took part in an urban development competition for a general development plan for Wroclaw, which earned him an order for the design of a development plan for the district of Wroclaw. May's activity during this time is linked to the concept of the satellite town . By this term, May understood an expansion of the city ​​that was spatially detached from the core city , but was quickly accessible via railroad lines and had a high degree of independence. B. own workplaces .

Due to the innovative concept of decentralized settlements he proposed there , he was appointed city planning officer in his hometown of Frankfurt am Main in 1925, where he headed the building construction and settlement office under Lord Mayor Ludwig Landmann . There May was responsible for the entire building industry in the city, from urban and regional planning to civil engineering and gardening and cemetery management. Herbert Boehm and Carl-Hermann Rudloff followed him from Breslau to Frankfurt .

The "New Frankfurt"

Society house of the Palmengarten in Frankfurt
Administration building of the Charles Hallgarten School, Frankfurt
Residential buildings of the Bornheimer Hang settlement seen from the Bornheimer Hang

Equipped with extensive competencies in various areas and supported by a broad coalition in the city council, May initiated the ten-year housing program “New Frankfurt”. Together with Martin Elsaesser and a staff of 50 avant-garde architects and designers, May looked for residential and settlement concepts that not only create affordable living space, but also avoid the social and hygienic problems of conventional housing. May and his employees relied on an industrialized construction method with prefabricated components, functionally optimized floor plans and a high level of open space with a loosened-up row construction and roof terraces . Architecturally, he linked the approaches of the garden city movement with the goals of new building :

“The architects of New Building have a warm heart for all people in need across all borders of the countries, they are unthinkable without a social feeling, yes, one can actually say that this group of people consciously put the social elements in the foreground of New Building . "

The core of the large urban development project was the Niddatal project , which includes the best-known and largest settlements Römerstadt , Praunheim , Westhausen , Bornheimer Hang , Höhenblick , the property on Dornbusch on Fallerslebenstrasse (Dichterviertel) - corner of Raimundstrasse and Miquelallee. Although the Frankfurt Architects and Engineers' Association clearly spoke out against building the flood-prone Niddatal Valley, May implemented his concept, as this location offered a favorable building land price and enabled him to plan several settlements on a larger scale and to fit them into the existing green corridor .

Especially in the arrangement of the buildings, May succeeded in setting individual accents despite simple basic elements - in Praunheim the lines were still arranged at right angles, in the Römerstadt settlement they were curved to match the course of the Nidda and in the Bruchfeldstrasse settlement they were sawtooth-like, which is why they are popularly known " Zigzaghausen " is called. In 1925/26 Ernst May's house was built at Ludwig-Tieck-Straße 11 in the Höhenblick estate in Frankfurt-Ginnheim . The building is still a private residence to this day.

May saw the "New Frankfurt" not only as an architectural task of a residential building program. He relied on a rigid cost reduction policy by means of typing the components, the use of local companies and the employment of the unemployed. For the implementation and the aesthetic demands, he engaged specialized designers from the disciplines of architecture, industrial design and graphics. Including the Viennese architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky , to whom he entrusted the implementation of the Frankfurt kitchen (the forerunner of today's fitted kitchens ), Ferdinand Kramer , who designed the furniture, stoves and the famous door fittings, and the Jena graphic artist Walter Dexel for the visual appearance. The products were summarized in the “Frankfurt Register” and advertised beyond the project.

Accompanying the construction projects, May and others published the magazine Das Neue Frankfurt from 1926 , which was intended to serve as a mouthpiece and to provide broad and easily understandable information to the population. In it he represented a departure from outdated ideas about living and design.

May was a founding member of the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne in La Sarraz in 1928 . A total of around 15,000 new apartments were built under May within five years . The successes in cost reduction and aesthetic standards attracted worldwide attention. Therefore, Frankfurt am Main was selected in 1929 as the venue for the second CIAM conference The Apartment for the Subsistence Level. Although the major housing project was not yet completed, it came to a standstill in the late 1920s as a result of the global economic crisis . Catherine Bauer Wurster, one of the protagonists of social housing in the USA, visited the buildings in 1930 and named May alongside Jacobus Johannes Pieter Oud as one of her two role models. The cartoonist Lino Salini drew him with a set square and slide rule and right-angled facial features.

Finally, under the National Socialists, in view of the planning of the war, a general construction freeze was also imposed on private projects.

Soviet Union

Ernst May's team for the project in Nizhny Tagil (1932)

In 1930 the government of the Soviet Union invited May to work in the Soviet Union ; He was promised that his staff would help build 1.4 million apartments. May led a group made up of 26 western and 11 Russian employees, including the architects Mart Stam , Heinrich Eggerstedt , Gustav Hassenpflug , Fred Forbát , Walter Kratz , Walter Schwagenscheidt , Erich Mauthner and the graphic artist Hans Leistikow . The May Brigade drafted general development plans for new industrial cities, mainly in the Asian part of the country, including for Balkhash (today in Kazakhstan ), Magnitogorsk , Karaganda (today in Kazakhstan), Leninsk-Kuznetsky , Makejewka (today in Ukraine ), Nizhny Tagil , Novokuznetsk , Orsk , Shcheglowsk (today Kemerovo), as well as for new residential areas and districts, for example Avtostroi in Gorki (today Avtosawodski rajon in Nizhny Novgorod), Leninakan (today Gyumri , Armenia ), Tyrgan in Prokopyevsk and Stalingrad (today Volgograd). An urban expansion plan drawn up for Moscow was not implemented.

Just a year later, May found that it was difficult to implement holistic concepts. He spoke to Stalin as follows: “Instead of uniform planning of industry, traffic, housing estates and green spaces, there is often a fragmented project planning that does not cover the overall problem, but is satisfied with partial solutions.” Although nothing changed, May built an extension by the end of 1932 more than twenty places huge settlements with standardized, prefabricated materials, where previously people only lived in mud huts. His colleague, the Austrian Erich Mauthner, went on vacation in Vienna in 1932 and reported that even there the lives of Jews had meanwhile become much more difficult. A return to Germany would probably not be possible. From 1933 onwards, differences of opinion with politicians in the Soviet Union increased, and in 1933 the first employees returned to Western Europe. Hans Schmidt and Grete Schütte-Lihotzky left the Soviet Union in 1937 as the last foreign architects who did not want to adapt to the requirements of the architecture increasingly oriented towards socialist classicism . Others, including Kurt Liebknecht - who joined Ernst May's group in 1931 - were naturalized in the USSR and adapted to Stalin's ideas.


In Germany, meanwhile, the National Socialists had come to power, who rejected the modernity of the New Building and propagated a homeland security style , which is why May did not return to Germany, but emigrated to Tanganyika in East Africa. May wanted to withdraw from architecture for the time being and acquired 160 hectares of bushland to devote himself to the cultivation of coffee , grain and pyrethrum . From 1937 onwards, he made the occasional architectural project his main occupation again and opened an office in the Kenyan capital Nairobi , where he worked until his internment by the British in 1939. Due to the war situation and his German origins, Ernst May came under suspicion. He was accused of being an anti-Semite and working as a Nazi spy in Russia. The suspicions also led to internment in the Union of South Africa from 1940 to 1942.

post war period

Housing construction in the post-war period, the Neue Vahr planned by May in Bremen

Classified as unencumbered by National Socialism and due to his worldwide recognition, Ernst May was remembered again after the Second World War . He resumed his work as an architect and took part in the reconstruction . In 1950 he was the first person to receive the title of Dr.-Ing. Eh awarded by the Technical University of Hanover. Since 1957 May was an honorary professor at the TH Darmstadt .

In 1954 he accepted the position as head of the planning department of the Neue Heimat in Hamburg . Several of the most famous German post-war settlements and reconstruction plans, such as Neu-Altona in Hamburg and the Neue Vahr in Bremen, are associated with his name. Just one year later, on May 4, 1955, Der Spiegel dedicated the title page and story to him. With the competition Umgebung Fennpfuhl (1956–1957) May won the only urban planning competition in which East and West German architects could participate equally. In doing so, May oriented himself to the contemporary models of the structured and loosened city and organic urban planning and distanced himself from the garden city model and housing construction of the 1920s.

In 1958, at the age of 72, Ernst May was appointed planning officer for Mainz . He drafted a general development plan that provided for the creation of high-rise housing estates outside the city center as well as a car-friendly city with a ring road and a ring road to the old town. This plan was approved by the city council in 1960 and parts of it were quickly implemented.

In the 1960s, after a competition, Ernst May was commissioned to build new settlements in Wiesbaden. There he campaigned for the construction of high-quality and green living space. As a planning officer, he also successfully campaigned for the expansion of the Biebrich Castle Park . May wrote the work Das neue Wiesbaden in 1963 , in which he documented his views on the development. Against the background that they were not prepared to invest in old buildings, he pleaded for the demolition of villas close to the city and for the site to be rebuilt. These unrealized proposals and the demolition of other buildings were later blamed on Ernst May.

In the 1960s and until his death in 1970 May was involved in several other projects for the renovation of older parts of the city and in planning for densely populated housing estates that followed the model of urbanity through density .


Ernst-May-Platz in Frankfurt-Bornheim
Garden side of the Ernst May House

Ernst May Prize

Since 1988 the Nassauische Heimstätte has been awarding the Ernst May Prize for particularly socially oriented housing and urban development to architecture students at the TU Darmstadt . It is endowed with 5,000 euros.

Ernst May House

In the Römerstadt housing estate in Frankfurt am Main- Heddernheim , a row house from the 1920s designed under Mays' direction was renovated as Ernst May House by the Ernst May Society and restored to its original state with objects from the New Frankfurt. It is open to the public as a museum and illustrates the achievements of the “New Frankfurt”.

The house in the street Im Burgfeld with the house number 136 was completed in 2010 and presented to the public. On August 15, 2010, the Ernst-May-Haus also took part in the 2010 series of events on the Route of Industrial Culture Rhine-Main . Particular emphasis was placed on the Frankfurt kitchen and Ernst May's contribution to modern housing construction, taking into account the basic social needs of the population .

Streets and squares

Projects (selection)

Bruchfeldstrasse settlement ("Zickzackhausen")
Home settlement
  • Settlement of Wroclaw Goldsmiths (Zlotniki), 1919/20
  • Villa May, Frankfurt am Main, 1925
  • Villa Elsaesser, Frankfurt am Main, 1925–1926
  • Höhenblick settlement, Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1927
  • Bruchfeldstrasse settlement , Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1927
  • Riederwald settlement, Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1927
  • Praunheim settlement , Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1928
  • Römerstadt settlement , Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1928
  • Bornheimer Hang housing estate , Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1930
  • Heimatsiedlung , Frankfurt am Main, 1927–1934
  • Hellerhofsiedlung , Frankfurt am Main, 1929–1932
  • Röderberg Reform School , Frankfurt am Main, 1929–1930
  • Westhausen settlement , Frankfurt am Main, 1929–1931
  • Dornbusch estate, Frankfurt am Main, 1927–1931
  • Kenwood House, Nairobi, Kenya, 1937
  • Residential houses Delamare Flats, Nairobi, Kenya 1947–1951
  • House for an African family, 1945
  • St. Lorenz-Süd settlement, Lübeck, 1954–1957
  • Grünhöfe settlement, Bremerhaven, 1954–1960
  • Neu Altona, Hamburg, 1955–1960
  • Garden City Vahr, Bremen, 1954–1957
  • Neue Vahr , Bremen , 1956–1961
  • Competition in the vicinity of Fennpfuhl, Berlin-Lichtenberg, 1956–1957
  • Parkfeld Estate, Wiesbaden, 1959–1970
  • Heidberg settlement (Braunschweig) , Braunschweig, 1961–1965
  • Rahlstedt-Ost settlement, Hamburg, 1960–1966
  • Klarenthal settlement , Wiesbaden, 1960–1965
  • Schelmengraben settlement, Wiesbaden, 1961
  • Kranichstein settlement , Darmstadt, 1965–1970


  • 1986: Ernst May and the New Frankfurt 1925–1930 , German Architecture Museum , Frankfurt am Main
  • 2001: Ernst May in Africa , German Architecture Museum, Frankfurt am Main
  • 2011: Ernst May 1886–1970 New Cities on Three Continents , German Architecture Museum, Frankfurt am Main


  • Architectural sketches from England. Berlin / Schöneberg 1911.
  • Memorandum of the district of Wroclaw on the question of incorporation. Published by the district of Breslau, 1925.
  • The Niddatal project in the Frankfurt general plan . In: Die Baugilde, Vol. 9, 1927, No. 20, pp. 1213–1216
  • Frankfurt housing policy. Lecture given at the constituent assembly of the International Housing Association on January 12, 1929 ( International Housing Association; Publication 2, Frankfurt, 1929).
  • Report on the Kampala extension scheme Kololu-Naguru. Prepared for the Uganda Government. Government Printer, Nairobi, 1947.
  • The social foundations of today's urban planning (presentation on the occasion of a reception by the Neue Heimat non-profit housing and settlement company on November 18, 1957). Hamburg, around 1958.
  • The Trabant, an element of the modern city. (Presentation on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition of the working group of trade union housing companies on January 28, 1958 in Stuttgart). Stuttgart 1958.
  • with Ludwig Neundörfer: People in everyday life in the big city, 4 lectures. Frankfurt am Main, 1960.
  • with Kurt Leibbrand, Felix Boesler (Ed.): Das neue Mainz. Margraf and Fischer, Mainz 1961. In it by May: Explanatory report of the planning officer for the general planning of the city of Mainz.
  • Speech on the Fritz Schumacher Prize. Publication by the Hamburg cultural authority, November 4, 1961.
  • Paul Nevermann with Ernst May: Fritz Schumacher Prize 1961 of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. Ernst May. Hamburg 1962.
  • The new Wiesbaden. Urban development is not a condition, but a process! City, traffic, structure. ed. by the municipal authorities of the state capital, Wiesbaden 1963.
  • The new Vahr. Merian Bremen, Hamburg 1965.


  • Helen Barr, Ulrike May, Rahel Welsen: The new Frankfurt . B3, Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 978-3-938783-20-7 .
  • Justus Buekschmitt: Ernst May. Buildings and planning (= buildings and planning. 1). Stuttgart 1963.
  • Thomas Flierl (ed.): Standard cities. Ernst May in the Soviet Union 1930–1933. Texts and documents. Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-518-12643-1 .
  • Susan R. Henderson: Building Culture: Ernst May and the New Frankfurt Initiative, 1926–1931. Peter Lang, 2013.
  • Eckhard Herrel: Ernst May - Architect and Urban Planner in Africa 1934–1953. Exhibition catalog. Wasmuth, Tübingen u. a. 2001, ISBN 3-8030-1203-1 (= series of publications on the plan and model collection of the German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt am Main. 5).
  • Rosemarie Höpfner:  May, Ernst. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 16, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1990, ISBN 3-428-00197-4 , p. 518 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • KC Jung, D. Worbs, M. Schütte-Lihotzky, FCF Kramer, L. Kramer, C. Mohr, P. Sulzer, J. Ganter, H. Blumenfeld, R. Hillebrecht, C. Farenholtz: Lifelong for the “big thing “: Ernst May July 27, 1886 to September 11, 1970. In: Bauwelt. No. 28/1986, pp. 1050-1075.
  • KC Jung, D. Worbs: Ernst May's “New Home”. In: Bauwelt. No. 33/1991, pp. 1688-1689.
  • Heinrich Klotz (Ed.): Ernst May and the New Frankfurt 1925–1930. Exhibition catalog. Ernst and Son, Berlin 1986, ISBN 3-433-02254-2 .
  • Ralf Lange : Hamburg. Reconstruction and re-planning 1943–1963. Langewiesche, Königstein im Taunus 1994, ISBN 3-7845-4610-2 (including a short biography).
  • Elisabeth Lücke: The Roman City. In: Elisabeth Lücke: Frankfurt am Main: Tours through Frankfurt history. Sutton, Erfurt 2008, ISBN 978-3-86680-395-4 .
  • Christoph Mohr, Michael Müller : Functionality and Modernity. The New Frankfurt and its Buildings 1925–1933. Edition Fricke, Cologne 1984, ISBN 3-481-50171-4 .
  • Elke Pistorius: The general plan drafts of the Ernst May group for Magnitogorsk and the plans for the first and second quarters (1930-1933) . In: INSITU. Zeitschrift für Architekturgeschichte 6 (1/2014), pp. 93–116.
  • Claudia Quiring, Wolfgang Voigt, Peter Cachola Schmal, Eckard Herrel: Ernst May 1886–1970. Exhibition catalog. Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-7913-5132-2 .
  • Florian Seidel: Living climate. Ernst May's settlement planning in the years 1954–1970. Exhibition catalog. Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-00-020168-4 .
  • Florian Seidel: Ernst May: Urban development and architecture in the years 1954–1970 . Dissertation. Technical University of Munich 2008 (PDF; 7.4 MB).
  • Our cities are sick . In: Der Spiegel . No. 52 , 1963 ( online - December 25, 1963 , interview).
  • Karl-Klaus Weber: May, Ernst . In: Franklin Kopitzsch, Dirk Brietzke (Hrsg.): Hamburgische Biographie . tape 2 . Christians, Hamburg 2003, ISBN 3-7672-1366-4 , pp. 276-277 .

Web links

Commons : Ernst May  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ernst May: in Das Neue Frankfurt 1928
  2. Leill Levine, Frank Lloyd Wright: Modern Architecture: Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930 ; 2008; S. ix
  3. Cf. Elke Pistorius: May in Magnitogorsk, in: moderneREGIONAL 16, 3 ( , access date: April 14, 2016).
  4. Ernst May: Letter to Stalin from September 7, 1931 . In: Thomas Flierl (Ed.): Standard cities. Ernst May in the Soviet Union 1930–1933. Texts and documents . 1st edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-518-12643-1 , pp. 425 .
  5. Klaus Englert: Urban planner Ernst May: The one with the flat roof ; taz, August 9, 2011.
  6. ^ Friedrich Stadler: Expelled reason ; 2004; P. 632
  7. ^ Eckhard Herrel: Ernst May: Architect and urban planner in Africa 1934–1953 ; 2003; Page 61
  8. ^ Konrad Hahm: New architecture. House May , Frankfurt a. M. In: Die Form, vol. 1, 1925/26, issue 13, pp. 293-298 ( digitized version ).
  9. Frankfurter Kitchens for Nairobi in: FAZ of July 27, 2011, page 37
  10. But the roofs cannot be seen in: FAZ of August 4, 2011, page 31