Abstract: Creating Lebensraum at the Factory: Plant Design and the Human Factor of Production in Early Twentieth-Century Germany

Karsten Uhl


This paper will show how industrial experts in the early twentieth century faced the so-called factory problem. It had two important components that were interrelated: on the one hand, the plant's spatial order, on the other hand, the sought-for more effective ways of exercising power inside the plant. Both were centered on a new interest in the human factor of production. Workers were no longer regarded as mere objects of discipline but rather as individuals whose individuality was to be utilized. In this context a new discourse on work environment was started. Some of the most important German architects and engineers were determined to beautify the factory and to create lebensraum (living space) inside. It was intended to make way for a "human rationalization." The problem they faced was how to create an atmosphere of trust which then should become the basis for efficiently utilizing workers' abilities. External discipline had to be more and more replenished by chosen workers' self-discipline. It was most important to humanize the workplace, respect the worker as subject of production, and create conditions that increase the workers' joy in work and will to work.