Georg Ernst May was born on 27 July 1886 in Frankfurt am Main. His father,
Adam May (1855-1934)
and his brother Karl ran a leather factory which they had taken over from their father Johann Martin,
a long standing city councilor and member of the Demokratischer Verein ( Democratic Association).
May’s mother, Fanny Clara May, nee Politz (1859-1923) came from a well-to-do Jewish family in
Düsseldorf. In early April 1907 Ernst May travelled to London to study architecture at University
College. He lived in the suburb of Hampstead. However, the teaching methods struck him as antiquated
and too focused “on the imparting of historical and traditional techniques. ”He spent increasing amounts
of time in the museums, where he produced numerous studies, from pre-Christian art to Baroque painting.
Some of his early architecture sketches were made while standing on the roof of the Houses of Parliament.
In the autumn of 1907 Ernst May was called back to Germany in order to perform his military service.
In the German encyclopedia, “Brockhaus”, it was written that May spent a brief spell with Otto March
(German architect ) in Berlin. However, no more is known about his work there. In the biographies
and also in virtually all profiles written by May himself, this period is not mentioned at all. Ernst May
probably worked at least sporadically in March’s office at the end of 1911 and beginning of 1921, and
possibly even in 1913. In early 1912, however, May established an office partnership in Frankfurt with
Clemens Musch (1878-1957). Ernst May’s first project to be realized was the design of the family tomb.
His client was his grandfather Martin May who purchased a family grave in the main cemetery in
Frankfurt and commissioned his grandson to design it. In early 1914 August Ernst May was called up
for war service in France. He described the horror of his first experiences of war. The architect May went
on to take over the direction of the building department of the district of “Schlesisches Heim” as well
as taking on the technical and artistic supervision of the building department of the district of “Schlesische Landgesellschaft”.
Furthermore, during in the economic depression of the postwar years he undertook an appointment in Breslau.
Ernst May worked from 1925 to 1930 for housing construction projects in Frankfurt.
This truly short phase in Ernst May’s career lasted for only five years but it surpassed all his other creative periods
in terms of both its importance and its impact. May is still primarily known as the creator of the large Siedlungen
in Frankfurt and as the head of the New Frankfurt movement. From the time of May’s first activities as an architect
and building contractor in Frankfurt he had always maintained contact with his native city. Ludwig Landsmann,
the new mayor, formulated ideas on housing policy at an early stage and had been made aware of May due to his
support of Landmann’s election. Within these new plans May appeared as the right man at the right time to tackle
the pressing problems of the city. May was invited in May 1930 by the Building Commission of the People’s
Economic Committee of the USSR to give lectures in Moscow, Leningrad and Kharkiv on the new city, the
“Status of Housing in Germany and Construction”. In June 1937 the partnership Jackson & May, Nairobi, was
established. During the following years it executed numerous projects. In October 1937 the May family moved to
Nairobi and over the next months they built a house in Karen, a residential suburb of Nairobi. During the
summer and autumn of 1953, May traveled to Germany on another lecture tour and took part in the 9th CIAM in
Aix-en Province, France. He entered into negotiations with the Neue Heimat in Hamburg. In December, 1953 the
May family left East Africa for Hamburg. In 1957 May worked as a freelance architect and town planner, sometimes
in partnership with Jürgen Baumbach. In 1957 May was awarded the honorary Dr. phil. H. c. of the University
of Freiburg and became professor at the Technical University of Darmstadt. On 11 September 1970 Ernst May
died in Hamburg.