Hans Blumenfeld was born in Osnabrück, Germany, in 1892. He studied architecture in Munich and Karlsruhe in the years leading up to World War I and finished his studies in 1921 in Darmstadt after he had served in the German army. After a short stint at the architectural office of Hans and Oskar Gerson in Hamburg, he started a decidedly international career.
Blumenfeld spent the years from 1924 to 1927 in the United States, working as a draftsman in several cities (Baltimore, Los Angeles, New York). And although he returned to Hamburg during the latter year, taking up short term employment in the office of the well-known modernist architect Karl Schneider, he did not stay in Germany for long. Blumenfeld went to work in Vienna, Austria in 1928 and moved again in 1930, this time to the Soviet Union, were he spent the better part of the 1930s working as a state employed city planner in a number of locations. In 1937, he was forced to leave the Soviet Union by the political elites.
As a son of Jewish parents and a member of the German Communist Party returning from the Soviet Union, Blumenfeld decided not to return to Nazi Germany. He arrived in New York in 1938, becoming a United States citizen in 1944. He stayed in the United States until 1955, primarily working as a member of the city planning commission of Philadelphia, PA. Blumenfeld also started publishing scholarly articles in a wide array of architectural and planning magazines during these years. His work in Philadelphia was interrupted by a short term return to Germany in 1949, during which Blumenfeld advised the American Occupation Administration with regard to the future of German city planning.
Blumenfeld left the United States for Canada after he had been questioned by state agencies with regard to his involvement with Communist Organizations. In Canada, Blumenfeld worked as senior planner for the cities of Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. In 1964, he also joined the faculty of the University of Toronto. He stayed in Canada until his death in 1988.
Blumenfeld’s career is very well suited to highlight the structure and role of the group of European immigrants in American urban planning. The two employers for whom Blumenfeld worked in Hamburg, Oskar Gerson and Karl Schneider, also immigrated to the United States in the 1930s due to their religious and political backgrounds. In New York and Philadelphia, Blumenfeld met and worked with many more émigrés from Europe like Oscar Stonorov and Konrad Wittman. Blumenfeld also contributed to the international outlook of American planners. Particularly during the early years of his stay in the U.S., he repeatedly reported on the housing and planning situation in the Soviet Union. His interest in developments in Europe – as shown by his return to Germany – remained strong.
Blumenfeld, Hans. Life Begins at 65: The Not Entirely Candid Autobiography of a Drifter. Montreal: Harvest House, 1987.
Blumenfeld, Hans. The Modern Metropolis: Its Origins, Growth, Characteristics and Planning: Selected Essays of Hans Blumenfeld. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971.
Hitchcock, John R., Anne McMaster, and Judith Kjellberg Bell. The Metropolis: Proceedings of a Conference in Honour of Hans Blumenfeld. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1985.
Roscher, Volker. "Über Hans Blumenfeld." Die Alte Stadt 12, (1985): 57ff.
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