Visions of Space – Albert Speer

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Albert Speer

Albert Speer

This is the second part in the series Visions of Space that I saw. This is a look at how the works of three remarkable architects of the 20th century shaped our modern world. It examines how each one of them used space to express our response, respectively, to the power of the corporation (Meiss van der Rohe), the power of the State (Albert Speer), and religion (Antoni Gaudi).

The second part is about Albert Speer and is called Size Matters.

In 1979 Robert Hughes met and interviewed Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, for his landmark series, Shock of the New. Speer died shortly afterwards but in 2002, Hughes discovered the long-lost tape of that conversation and was inspired to travel back to Germany to examine the legacy of a man who was, for a brief period, the most powerful architect in the world.

It covers a very much overlooked subject of urban planning and housing under Hitler’s regime.Speer’s aborted designs bring a fascinating insight into the manipulation of style, space, and size to achieve political and ideological goals.  After watching this episode, the intelligent viewer will undoubtedly become more aware of instances in daily life where grandiosity (physical or otherwise) is used as a subconscious means of fostering collectivism and avoiding criticism.

Hughes turns his keen eye and incisive mind to the life and work of Albert Speer, confidant of Adolf Hitler and the man chosen to construct the sorts of buildings and stadiums suitable to accompany the Nazi leader’s dreams of world domination.

Hughes ponders the role that Speer, with his imposing, austere design style, his “stripped down, modernised classicism”, played in shaping the 20th century and wonders what might have been if his side had won. He also examines the claims that Speer, despite his subsequent denials, had a role to play in the atrocities committed against the Jewish population. Hughes’s profile is aided by the discovery of an old and long-presumed lost audio tape of an interview that he conducted with the ageing architect just before his death in 1981. Touring the little that remains of Speer’s work in Germany, Hughes pronounces it to be “devoid of all fantasy, except fantasies of power . . . Its elegance soon became a crushing orderliness. It was about architecture as ideology: function, obedience, efficiency.”

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