In fact, Wigley explained more recently, in discussion with the MoMA's curator Danial Burbaum and the artist Olifur Elison, white exteriors have only reemerged very recently:
The polemical exhibition of modern buildings in 1927 had a kind of off-white. It takes a long time to become white - white, like that of a Richard Meier building today which is completely unlike the white of classic modern architecture. The pioneering buildings had more like an eggshell color, so there is a way in which modern architecture whitens over time. One could argue that it does so as a reaction to the black-and-white photographs...The famous black-and-white photographs make white famous, and then the buildings try to look more like the photographs and become really white and all the other colors are removed.
The link Wigly makes between photographs of Weissenhofsiedlung white and modern architects is the weakest aspect of the case he makes in his book. It's not that there is no relationship at all, its just that Wigley in no way acknowledge that photography came first. He imagines the relationship as totally asymmetrical. While a romance with the Weissenhofsiedlung white captured in photographs after the fact may influence more recent desires of architects to develop durable and stable white materials suitable for the exterior of buildings, it does not explain how the technologies and aesthetics of photography pressed down on the architects of Wiessenhofsiedlung in the first place.
Like modern architecture itself, photography as a constellation of material science, processes and aesthetics. There is every reason to believe that Wiessenhofsiedlung photographed so well, and still look so relevant, because it was created with photography in mind, but also because the architects like the photographers were working under new lighting conditions.
Because of the newly developed technology of flash photography, modern elites were confronted with images they read as objective (Riis posed his pictures - an photojournalism ethical no-no that had not yet developed) of filthy light less spaces that, until then, had been hidden from view from polite society. Everything the early moderns wrote about was founded in socially progressive rhetoric and focused on the problem of housing on a mass scale. Even if those arguments were entirely cynical, which it is impossible to imagine, the atmosphere that made those arguments compelling was one clearly concerned with reforming the squalor Riis and other muckraking photographers had brought to light.
The modern architects working in 1927 weren't all that much more distant from the widespread availability of photography and electric light than we are from the inception of the mobile phone. They were the first generation to build with the imagination of their spaces being photographed. The white wall was born out of new relationship to light. Already in 1947 Ansel Adams wrote that, "thinking of Riis's achievement in terms of comparative equipment and materials" was a "line worn thin by now," but if I can be forgiven, it is a meaningful line when it comes to whiteness and technology.
Pierre Jules Cesar Janssen, Fusil Chronophotograhique (1874); Thomas Edison, Kinetoscope (1888)
Kittler enjoys enjoys highlighting the more sinister military aspects of technologic development. He makes a lot of the importance of ballistics in particular. Equally clear is that one of the reasons Riis' photos were so compelling is because Daguerreotypes were immediately valued as objective scientific evidence, replacing the arbitrary "falsifying hand of the painter" Kittler writes, with "modern scientific reading."
Karl von Vierordt, Sphygmograph, (1854); Alexander Gardner, Lewis Paine (1865)
The para-scientific words created by early photographic innovators, like Eadweard Muybridge's "zoopraxiscope" betray the objective recorders they believed themselves to be - and were believed to be by their audiences. Kitler writes that after Muybridge's success proving the theory of unsupported transport, he wanted to reform painting:
His magnificent volumes on "animal locomotion" were published for the express purpose of presenting artists from drawing or painting false positions, like the galloping horse. Muybridge's nude photographs provided them instead with a scientific model model of all possible body movements. Like the renaissance perspective and the camera obscura, instantaneous photography was supposed to discipline art.Kittler is hilariously dismissive of art, writing that modernist painting "had practically no effects on everyday life," and asserts that no perfecting of painting would "have been able to the transition from visual arts to optical media. In spite of all beliefs in progress" he writes, "there is no linear or continuous development in the history of media" (not even 1% for art it seems). To become photography image-making had to become "the half-military, half-scientific technology of instantaneous photography." For those working to use and develop new technologies in the early twentieth century, like the modernist architects and the German V-2 rocketeers, white was not classical essence, it was scientific rigor. (Continue reading Part 4.)
Unsupported Transit: Eadweard Muybridge, Sallie Gardner at a Gallop (1878); V-2 Launch