A New Edition of Catherine Bauer’s Modern Housing

Left: Modern Housing, new edition 2020; right: Modern Housing, early edition, ca. 1934.

This year, Catherine Bauer’s seminal book, Modern Housing, first published in 1934, is being reissued by University of Minnesota Press with a foreword by architectural historian and Places columnist Barbara Penner. The new edition builds on the resurgence of interest in Bauer’s work sparked by the republication of her essay, “The Dreary Deadlock of Public Housing,” introduced by Penner, in Places’ Future Archive series in 2018.

As Penner wrote then, it seemed strange to have to “introduce” Bauer – for three decades one of America’s most prominent advocates for public housing – at all. But surveying her prodigious accomplishments as a public intellectual, writer, curator, activist, and educator on a visit to the Catherine Bauer Wurster Papers at UC Berkeley in 2017, Penner found that the inaccessibility of much of her writing – out of print, undigitized, or hidden behind paywalls – has meant that her work has been little discussed in architectural histories.

“It was at this point,” Penner explains, “that Places entered the frame. The Future Archive series was set up exactly for situations like these, with a mission to make neglected but important writing publicly available again for a new generation of readers. Featuring a piece by Bauer also offered a welcome chance to reflect on the origins and possibly the remedies for one of the leading problems of our own time: the crisis in affordable housing.”

For Pieter Martin, senior acquisitions editor at University of Minnesota Press, the contemporary resonances of Bauer’s work brought to light in Penner’s Future Archive article were central to the republication of Modern Housing. “Encountering Barbara’s Places article really crystallized the decision for me, after Reinhold Martin at Columbia first mentioned the book’s relevance in terms of the housing crisis and the growing discourse around the Green New Deal. Her piece beautifully articulated the book’s importance but also Bauer’s remarkable life and work, and (remarkably) the extent to which both her book and her life’s work have been somewhat forgotten.”

As Penner observed in her Places essay, Bauer’s “belief that democracy depended upon the provision of well-designed, high-quality housing for all citizens feels more prescient and compelling than ever.”

Future Archive was seeded by a grant from the Graham Foundation and now supported by the generosity of our readers. Since its launch in 2014, the series has brought a dozen (and counting) significant 20th-century writings on design and the public realm online for a new readership. To learn more about supporting Places, visit our Donate page.