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Swiss ambivalence towards great idealist

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Letters

Congratulations to Andrew Mead for his excellent contribution on Alan Johnston and the artist's fascinating interpretation of the heritage of Modernism (AJ 20.7.00). It is through art of this quality that we may learn to observe our environment more precisely, and eventually recognise the need to enhance the quality of our urban developments.

Hans Schmidt's aspirations to create housing adapted to the basic needs of its inhabitants were handicapped by his strict adherence to a doctrinaire socialist model of society. Twice in his lifetime they were brutally disappointed: firstly, when he tried to bring modern building techniques to the Soviet Union between 1930-37 and was eventually suspected of bourgeois decadence; and secondly, when he went to the German Democratic Republic in 1956, full of enthusiasm to build 'The Socialist City'.

What remains of his works are his excellent theoretical texts, which await translation into English, and his courageous experiments with steel frame construction in the late 1920s, of which the Colnaghi House was the first to be realised. Schmidt's native Switzerland has remained ambivalent about this most creative but embarrassing architect.

Hans Ulrich and Maria Iselin, Riehen, Switzerland

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