Representative of the German “Neues Bauen” movement
The city planner Martin Wagner was a representative of the German “Neues Bauen” movement who after his emigration to the United States held a teaching position at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design and never lost interest in urban developments in Germany.
Wagner studied architecture in Dresden and Berlin, were he graduated in 1910. After a brief employment period at the office of Hermann Muthesius, Wagner started his professional career working as a city official in northern Germany. After World War I, he concentrated his professional activities on Berlin and became the city’s head planner in 1926. In this position, Wagner was responsible for the creation of several modernist housing projects like the “Hufeisensiedlung” or the “Weiße Stadt.” While in Germany, Wagner was active in the Werkbund as well as the national CIAM Chapter (Congrès internationaux d'architecture modern, or International Congresses of Modern Architecture).
As a committed member of the German social democratic party with rather radical political positions, Wagner ran into trouble soon after the Nazis took power in 1933. He was expelled from the Werkbund and lost his position with the city administration of Berlin. As a result, Wagner left Germany for Turkey in 1935 where he became a lecturer and adviser to the state government, working in Istanbul and Ankara.
In 1938, Walter Gropius, a fellow Germanémigré architect, provided Wagner with a position at the City Planning Department of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), and Wagner left Turkey for the United States. Aside from his teaching obligations Wagner continued to work on prefabricated dwellings suitable for mass production, a project which he had been developing since his years in Berlin.
Although Wagner repeatedly stated that he was willing to return to Germany after 1945 he never made the move. He retired from his position at Harvard in 1950, but remained active as an author writing about city planning and housing issues in Europe and the United States until his death in 1957.