Ernst May


Ernst May was born in 1886 in Frankfurt am Main. He commenced his study of architecture in 1908 in London under Raymond Unwin, continued in Darmstadt under Friedrich Thiersch and in Munich under Theodor Fischer. He worked initially as freelance architect in Frankfurt am Main. After positions as Director of the Silesian State Corporation in Breslau and as head of the housing estate organization »Schlesisches Heim«, he returned to Frankfurt in 1925 as Head of the Planning Department. May’s ambition was to reform social housing construction in the City of Frankfurt. He planned peripheral satellite towns that were to relieve the city centre and simultaneously ease the housing shortage. In order to reduce the costs for this mammoth project he made use of the newly developed prefabricated construction with systemized dwellings and fittings. To this purpose May appoints employees to the Department whose work is also committed to the new movement of simplicity and functionalism in design and architecture. Under his direction around 10,000 dwellings are built, with architects such as Mart Stam, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, Martin Elsässer, Ferdinand Kramer and Walter Gropius participating an advisory and planning capacities. The City of Frankfurt is to be given a new, modern image. However, May’s attempt to completely revamp the image of the City, starting with its coat of arms, founders in the face of resistance from press and people. But the architectural »New Frankfurt«, which emerged in the short period between 1925 and 1930, becomes famous. In 1930 May went to the Soviet Union where he was commissioned to plan new industrial towns and design a general plan for the Moscow region. As the climate for foreigners in the Soviet Union sharpened May emigrated to Africa in 1934, where he lived in Tanzania as farmer and architect until 1953. Returning to Germany he worked until 1961 for the communal residential building organization »Neue Heimat« in Hamburg and subsequently as Planning Representative for the City of Wiesbaden. From 1957 he also taught in parallel as professor at the Darmstadt Polytechnic. Ernst May died in 1970 in Hamburg.