The Death and Life of the Total Work of Art – Henry van de Velde and the Legacy of a Modern Concept


ISBN 978-3-86859-261-0

The Death

and Life

of The



of Art

Henry van de Velde and the

Legacy of a Modern Concept

Carsten Ruhl, Chris Dähne,

Rixt Hoekstra (Eds.)

Introduction 7

Carsten Ruhl, Rixt Hoekstra, Chris Dähne


Carsten Ruhl

Educating the Gesamtkunstwerk 24

Henry van de Velde and Art School Reform

in Germany, 190014

Katherine Kuenzli

A Collision of Worlds 41

Art and Commerce in the Age

of Henry van de Velde

John V. Maciuika

Existenzminimum as Gesamtkunstwerk 63

Robin Schuldenfrei

Pans, Art, and Architecture 79

Theo van Doesburg and the Question

of the “Aesthetic Unity of All the Arts”

Matthias Noell

Gesamtkunstwerk and Gender 94

From Domesticity to Branding and Back Again

Kathleen James-Chakraborty

Expressing Politics in Urban Planning 105

Two Projects by Herman Sörgel for Munich

between the Monarchy and Republic

Rainer Schützeichel

The Symbolic Dimension between

Nature and Artifact 117

The Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm

Carlotta Torricelli

The creative destruction of the total work of art 128

From Hegel to Wagner and Beyond

Wolfram Bergande

Insular Utopias? 146

Henry van de Velde, Peter Zumthor, and the Gesamtkunstwerk

Ole W. Fischer

The Notion of the Total Work of Art and

Italian Building Culture after World War II 164

Silvia Malcovati

Can the Immigrant Speak? 179

Autonomy and Participation in IBA 1984/87

Esra Akcan

The Critical Arabesque 195

On Jean-Luc Godard’s Nouvelle Vague (1990)

Regine Prange

Acute Aesthetics 217

Anke Finger

Architectures to be Inhaled 226

Constructing the Ephemeral

Ákos Moravánszky

the Gesamtkunstwerk in the age of terror 243

Esther da Costa Meyer


Carsten Ruhl, Rixt Hoekstra, Chris Dähne

This volume collects the lectures that were held during the 12 th International Bauhaus

Colloquium, organized April 2013 in Weimar at the Bauhaus-Universität.

While the focus of this book is on the contributions of the invited speakers in the

so-called plenum, we have also included some examples of the presentations held

by young scientists in the workshops.

The 12 th International Bauhaus Colloquium took the 150 th birthday of the Belgian

architect, artist, and designer Henry van de Velde (18631957) as an opportunity

to ask for modern conceptions of the Gesamtkunstwerk (Total Work of Art) in the

twentieth century, and its impact on current architectural discourse. As such, this

colloquium was dedicated to an important aspect of the Bauhaus’s history, and to a

key element of the modern conception of architecture in general. In addition, connections

were made to a larger discourse involving current discussions about the

experience of image and space, immersion, mediality, aura, and authenticity, which

were viewed from an interdisciplinary perspective.

The Bauhaus Colloquium is the oldest and most renowned conference on architectural

theory and history in the German-speaking realm. The first Bauhaus Colloquium

was organized in 1976, during the years of the GDR regime in Eastern

Germany. It was an outcome of the debate by scholars, architects, and the Socialist


From Total

Design to

Total Theory

Carsten Ruhl

Panem et Circenses

In 2008, the American writer Suzanne Collins published a remarkable science fiction

novel called The Hunger Games. 1 The protagonist of the novel is sixteen-yearold

Katniss Everdeen, who lives in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem, a dystopia

created after the destruction of the United States of America by unknown powers.

Panem’s most important city is the Capitol—a highly advanced metropolis that exercises

political control over the rest of the country. In contrast to the “old” country,

Panem is ruled by a dictator and no longer has a democratic constitution.

12 From Total Design to Total Theory

Everyday life in this post-apocalyptic society is dominated by the elaborate rules of

court life. Accordingly, its members dress in remarkable costumes and veil their aspirations

in subtle rhetoric. This play of simulatio and dissimulatio serves as a means

to correspond to the dictator’s expectations, while simultaneously competing with

other courtiers in terms of social reputation. An important highlight for Panem is

the Hunger Games, an event in which the participants—the so-called tributes—

must fight to the death in an outdoor arena controlled by the Capitol, until only

one individual remains.

Moreover, this spectacle is captured in a television show hosted by a famous entertainer

and supplemented with documentation on the former games. All of this

occurs in the arena, which evokes the Roman Empire and its gladiator fights. Yet

different from the monumental arenas the Romans erected for panem et circenses,

Panem’s arenas have no specific architectural shape. Instead, they are made up of

mountains, woods, and deserts populated by dangerous animals and permanently

plagued by natural catastrophes.

While the tributes struggle to survive, the dictator and his team act as stage directors.

Through the use of hidden cameras, they are informed about events in the

arena; when the entertainment value of the games is threatened by a lack of action,

they also intervene—for example, when a day goes by without the death of at least

one of the tributes.

To prevent the show from such deadly boredom, dangerous animals are released

to hunt the remaining tributes, who are generally surrounded by a world solely

dedicated to killing them. Nevertheless, while the tributes are steadily confronted

with the regime’s perverse plans, they are also aware of being observed by a mass

audience expecting a spectacular setting, convincing actors, and dramatic action.

In this respect, there are some tributes who are more convincing than others: for

instance, Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the story. She falls in love with Peeta,

one of her competitors, though one day he may possibly kill her. The audience is

enormously thrilled by this ambivalent relationship, and Katniss knows that the

popularity of her character could ultimately help her to survive. In short, acting,

entertaining, and performing become a question of death or life.

But what is the point here? Why start a discourse on the legacy of the total work

of art by referring to a novel that at first sight scarcely has anything to do with this

topic? Well, first of all because it once more reminds us that acting, more than

anything else, is indispensable for the maintenance of a regime. In The Hunger

Games, the regime’s decline begins with an unforeseen deviation from the games’

storyboard. Through an unprecedented act of provocation, Katniss forces the regime

to accept two winners instead of one. She and Peeta decide to commit suicide


ing by the extinction of its critical distance towards reality. What is striking in this

context is the fact that Rebentisch avoids using the term Gesamtkunstwerk, though

it contains a paradox crucial to any reflection on the relationship between art and

politics. On one side, it expresses the artist’s aspiration for total autonomy, while at

the same time fostering the dissolution of art itself. For once it has reached its point

of perfection, the Gesamtkunstwerk inevitably turns into a Gesamtwirklichkeit, as

Odo Marquard stated on the occasion of the legendary exhibition “Der Hang zum

Gesamtkunstwerk.” 10 Thus, it serves as a means to equate political differences in

favour of an all-embracing identity—represented, reproduced, and embodied by

an authoritative stage director as introduced in Craig’s theater reforms and Collin’s

dystopian novel.

Dictators and Artists

However, this phenomenon is by no means restricted to modern theater or dystopian

novels. Quite the contrary: reality is more telling in this respect than any fictional

story ever could be. From Italian fascism to the German National Socialists,

from Franco’s regime in Spain to Stalin’s Soviet Republic and current totalitarian

states, total design serves as a means to identify the will of the people with the will

of the dictator. For this purpose, numerous forms of manifestations and spectacles

are conceived that display reality as something supernatural. In 1936, for example,

Adolf Hitler commissioned Albert Speer to design a monumental light dome consisting

of 152 floodlights for the regime’s public functions at the Nazi party rally

grounds in Nürnberg (Figure 1); and with 200,000 participants, it must have had

an intimidating effect. But above all, it could be regarded as the realization of modern

art’s unfulfilled desire for a total work as it was imagined for instance in the

visionary monuments of early modernism. Well acquainted with the avant-garde’s

dream of a state run solely by the artist, modern dictators became anxious to introduce

themselves as artists. For instance, Hitler was frequently presented as an architect

addicted to the totalitarian design of the Third Reich (Figure 2). In a special

edition of the magazine Illustrierter Beobachter entitled “Adolf Hitler—A Man and

His People,” Hitler even acts as a trained architect, though he never was. 11 We see

him sitting or standing in front of a drawing table covered with a great number of

plans, while his assistants—Troost and Speer—are carefully listening to the leader’s

threatening promise: “Germany shall become more beautiful.”

However, taking this all into account, Walter Benjamin regarded fascism as a fatal

“aesthetization of political life.” 12 From here, it was only a short step to Adorno’s

general critique on the Gesamtkunstwerk. In “Die Kunst und die Künste” (Art and

16 From Total Design to Total Theory

1 Albert Speer: Lichtdom (light dome), Nazi party rally grounds in Nürnberg, September 1936.

2 Adolf Hitler—Deutschland soll schöner werden!

the Arts), he stresses the fact that with the idea of an all-encompassing art—the

so-called Verfransungsprozess—any critical distance to the existing society has been

lost. 13 Quite the contrary: it turned into an aesthetic formalism that no longer allows

for resistance to the ruling political forces. Thus, the philosopher Boris Groys

was no longer willing to accept the Gesamtkunstwerk as a harmless idea exclusively


Educating the Gesamtkunstwerk

Educating the


Henry van de Velde and

Art School Reform in

Germany, 190014

Katherine Kuenzli

Henry van de Velde arrived in Weimar in 1902 with two distinct missions. The

first assignment, given to him by Wilhelm Ernst, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-

Eisenach, was above all practical. The Grand Duke hired van de Velde to serve

as Artistic Advisor to the Grand Duchy with the aim of improving the quality of

local manufacturing. Through design, Wilhelm Ernst sought to modernize his

Duchy’s traditional and provincial manufacturing sector. Van de Velde received

the second task from Count Harry Kessler, who worked behind the scenes to

bring the artist to Weimar. A few years previously, Kessler had invested his personal

fortune in moving the ailing Friedrich Nietzsche and his personal archive to

24 Educating the Gesamtkunstwerk

the court city. The establishment of the Nietzsche Archive related to a larger project

to create a “New Weimar” that would build on Weimar classicism. 1 Through

the contributions of Goethe and Schiller, Weimar’s golden age had been devoted

above all to literature and drama. Franz Liszt’s arrival in 1848 marked the second

period of cultural greatness and demonstrated the vitality of music. The New Weimar

as Kessler conceived it would foreground the visual arts, which he conceived

in relationship to a Gesamtkunstwerk. Weimar would supersede Richard Wagner’s

Bayreuth as a site of cultural and national regeneration, Kessler reasoned. Upon

arriving in Weimar, van de Velde immediately set to work on his twofold mission

by founding an Applied Arts Seminar where he could work closely with the

Grand Duchy’s manufacturers. He also renovated the Nietzsche Archive building

to create spaces for a library and a salon devoted to poetry readings and musical

performances. 2

However distinct van de Velde’s practical and aesthetic spheres of action might

seem, they were united by Nietzsche’s idea of Lebenskunst, which Jugendstil artists

defined as a kind of “self-willing” or “self-constitution” that fuses science and art,

theoretical knowledge and embodied creation. 3 Nietzsche referred to the self as a

sculptor, craftsman, and productive form-giver. The self thus constituted is not essential

or fixed, but is always in the act of becoming. Nietzsche emphasized the importance

of experience and experiment and insisted on the value of education. One

must “learn life,” Nietzsche argued, as one “learns a handicraft,” through doing

and constant practice. Breaking down boundaries between art and life, Nietzsche’s

Lebenskunst takes a variety of forms ranging from body movements and dress to

everyday objects, according to Jugendstil artists. Whatever shape it takes, Lebenskunst’s

contribution to life is unwaveringly positive. Artists such as van de Velde

sought to realize Nietzsche’s dictum that “every art, every philosophy should be

seen as a remedy and a stimulant in the service of a growing, affirmative life.” 4

Whereas Nietzsche had defined Lebenskunst through his writings and musical

compositions, Kessler and van de Velde sought to complete what the philosopher

had left unfinished by lending Lebenskunst tangible, visual form through a series

of Gesamtkunstwerke that incorporated literature, music, and—most importantly

for Kessler and van de Veldethe visual arts. Hired by the Grand Duke in 1903 to

direct Weimar’s Grand Ducal Museum of Art and Applied Art, Kessler envisioned

coordinating the curricula of the Grand Duchy’s Arts Schools with museum exhibitions

and theater and musical performances to create a vibrant and living artistic

culture. To this end, he supported the Nietzsche Archive’s programming and publications

and sought to institute a summer theater festival. Van de Velde played

a leading role in all these endeavors, counseling Kessler on painting purchases,


1 Wertheim department store “Kopfbau” and Leipziger Strasse façade by Alfred

Messel, 18971904, view from Leipziger Platz with Prussian Ministry of

Commerce and Industry at right, approximately 1912.

2 Peter Behrens, view of living room in Wertheim department store home

interiors exhibition, 1905.

42 A Collision of Worlds

The Department of Domestic Art and the State Trades Office, inaugurated in the

seemingly disparate settings of a privately owned department store and a state ministry,

in fact shared a similar purpose: to educate producers and consumers alike

about the social, economic, and cultural value of a tastefully designed, properly

furnished German home. To a degree previously unseen in German history, the

German home in the early years of the twentieth century assumed new cultural

meanings and symbolic significance as a site of economic, political, artistic, and

social intervention. The widespread and energetic focus on providing new designs,

furnishings, and products for the German home around 1900 would influence

cultural production in Germany in ways that would be felt for decades to come.

Looking backward in time, this intense focus also reflected larger processes that

had been transforming German society for decades. These processes included a

rapidly increasing national population, unprecedented urbanization and economic

growth, and massive organizational changes and restructuring in such economic

spheres as the crafts, industrial manufacturing, advertising and distribution, and

the retail industry. By no means static, these processes were also influenced by reform-oriented

groups, including, among them, the late nineteenth-century Movement

for Artistic Education, the Dürerbund (founded 1902), the Association for

Homeland Protection (Bund Heimatschutz, founded 1904), and the Deutscher

Werkbund (founded 1907).

The focus on the German artistic home and the cultivation of a consciously middleclass

German consumer identity, I contend, was closely linked to the efforts of

a wide variety of Wilhelmine institutions to adapt to the dizzying conditions of

twentieth-century Wilhelmine capitalist modernity. As numerous contemporaries

and later historians of the period after 1900 note, the creation and securing of

markets for Germany’s domestic products was an important motivating factor for

the focus on domestic goods and interior furnishings. Yet this was far from the

only issue at stake. The organization of new systems for designing and outfitting

the home reflected a variety of middle- and upper-middle-class German attitudes

toward the “masses” as consumers and citizens; toward the role of businesses and

government in shaping an economy increasingly shifting in the direction of large

enterprise, mass production, and mass consumption; and toward the role of artists,

design associations, and even department stores as self-appointed educators of the

modern German consumer. For this reason, a comparison of the Wertheim store’s

new home interior displays to the Commerce Ministry schools’ emphasis on the

design of integrated domestic spaces offers insights into the variety of forces that

were shaping early twentieth-century German industrial, commercial, and artistic

culture in new and profound ways.


2 Hannes Meyer, “Co-op Interior,” 1926.

This paring down to essentials has important social repercussions in Meyer’s formulation.

“Because of the standardization of his needs as regards housing, food,

and mental sustenance,” Meyer argues, “the semi-nomad of our modern productive

system has the benefit of freedom of movement, economies, simplification

and relaxation,” while “the degree of our standardization is an index of our communal

productive system.” 18 The result, Meyer suggests, is “true community.” This

proposed outcome—community achieved through the provision of all basic needs

within a single unit intended to ease a condition of heightened mobility—is a similar

effect to what later occurred among the occupants of the Isokon Flats; it would

be echoed in numerous modernists’ designs, from the 1930s well into the postwar

period, including Archigram’s propositions for fully serviced, completely nomadic,

plug-in units.

Other texts published in same period, such as the Czech Karel Teige’s 1932 book

The Minimum Dwelling, show how widespread the issue was. He defined the “minimum

dwelling” as “the central problem of modern architecture and the battle cry

of today’s architectural avant-garde … it sheds light on a situation that has reached

a point requiring the radical reform and modernization of housing.” 19 Like Hannes

Meyer, Teige saw in “embryonic form a new conception in the culture of dwelling”

linking architectural form to social content, whereby “particular types of small

apartments, such as those with a live-in kitchen, a small kitchen, or a living room

68 Existenzminimum as Gesamtkunstwerk

with a cooking nook,” were “not simply commensurate variants and alternatives”—

rather each corresponded “to a different lifestyle and a different social content” and

represented “a manifestation of a different cultural level and a different socially

determined world.” 20 Teige and Meyer both believed they were effecting political

change by refuting bourgeois individualism absolutely—they, like other modern

architects, believed that carefully designed spaces would allow for a new kind of

society to emerge—but they, and others, were, effectively, simply creating another

way of thinking about design that could and would be appropriated by the middle

and upper classes.

Gropius’s architectural office had also been working on the issue just before his

emigration in 1934 (although in a vein more directed towards solving needs pragmatically

through modern means, without the strong political convictions behind

Meyer or Teige’s assessment of mass housing and production). In an unpublished

manuscript titled “Minimal Dwelling and Tower Block” (1934), Gropius advocated

a reduction in floor space in part achieved by increasing the window size so

that the overall room size could be decreased. He summed up with a call for an

“objective minimum and a standard dwelling unit.” 21 In collaboration with Franz

Möller, a former employee who had emigrated to Buenos Aires, he proposed the

“Gropius Standard,” a small, one-bedroom unit. 22

Existenzminimum as a problem for both architects and planners was also discussed

collectively in professionalized environments. For example, the second CIAM

(Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne) met in Frankfurt in 1929, taking

up as its theme “Die Wohnung für das Existenzminimum,” the problem of the

minimal dwelling. There, important protagonists of the modern movement offered

solutions. Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, promoted “standardization, industrialization,

and taylorization,” while Frankfurt architect and city planner Ernst May

appealed for affordable rental units “just satisfying the material and mental needs

of their occupants.” 23

Gropius, lecturing at the congress on the “Sociological Foundations of the Minimum

Dwelling,” described a process in which households were splitting up into

smaller units and called for a commensurate increase in the number of ever-smaller,

self-contained dwelling units. 24 He also acknowledged the inherent difficulties in

getting the populace to embrace architects’ and planners’ new proposals for living,

noting that the modern industrial population of the city originated from the

countryside. These new urban dwellers, he lamented, lived as yet in a reduced form

in the city, retaining earlier “primitive demands upon life,” rather than adhering

to “the totality of the new form of life.” 25 Like Meyer and Teige, Gropius believed

that modern life might be transformed through mass production, standardization,


Gesamtkunstwerk and Gender


and Gender

From Domesticity

to Branding and Back Again

Kathleen James-Chakraborty

In 1895, the Belgian artist Henry van de Velde participated in an exhibition mounted

in Paris by Siegfried Bing, which gave the name to the style Art Nouveau. 1 Van

de Velde was the key figure in introducing the whiplash curves already popular in

Brussels to Paris, where they became the face of the fin-de-siècle. Five years later, the

Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his artist wife Margaret Mac-

Donald Mackinstosh contributed a room to the annual exhibition of the Vienna

Secession. 2 This reinforced the more rectilinear direction the Jugendstil was taking

there and exposed them to the work of Otto Wagner and Josef Hoffmann. Van de

Velde and the Mackintoshes would thus seem to be at polar opposites of the design

94 Gesamtkunstwerk and Gender

1 Eisentropon poster, Henry van de Velde, 1898.

reforms that swept across Europe in the last years of the nineteenth century and

the first decade of the twentieth. Yet if one turns away from the details of form to

the way that art functioned within a rapidly changing society, similarities emerge

that point to the way in which the emergence of the Gesamtkunstwerk in Germanspeaking

Europe was linked as well to the British Arts and Crafts movement and to

the increased importance of what we now know as branding.

Both van de Velde and Mackintosh were involved with healthy eating as a manifestation

of social and aesthetic reform. In 1898, van de Velde was responsible for

what the National Gallery of Art website terms “a comprehensive design program,


3 The mound with the Meditation Grove and the Chapel of the


needed to understand it. Therefore, architecture superimposes images on reality

that are the media to reveal that death is not an end point, but a passage between

two realms. Thus, architecture itself acts as a door. Along a gentle slope, crossed

by a long lake, a high and narrow building is set. At the end of the entry stairway,

visitors find themselves in a high, dark, and introverted space: the Place of Death.

From here, through two semicircular ramps, they pass under the choir and organ

loft, to arrive at a long, narrow room: the Room of Life. The route then continues

outdoor toward the Colombarium, to end in the Temple of Memory. From here,

the mourners can walk toward the Wood of Memories, to collect themselves in

124 The Symbolic Dimension between Nature and Artifact

a moment of reflection before returning to daily life. The symbolic nature of the

individual elements is very strong, even the choice of the terms that define the individual

spaces as moments of a secular and universal liturgy. This project, for its

grace, simplicity, and the lyrical atmosphere that encompasses all the elements, has

assumed many of the characters that would soon become signs of recognition of the

experience of Nordic Classicism. 22

The Epiphany of the Sacred Place

The project by Lewerentz and Stubelius shows many affinities with the one that

would soon be conceived for the Chapel of the Resurrection 23 in the Woodland

Cemetery of Stockholm. Here Lewerentz envisioned a so-called chapel of passage,

meaning that the death is not an end point but rather a gateway toward a new dimension.

In the project for the Chapel of the Resurrection, the temple represented

the principal of order that was in a state of tension with the dark and changeable

face of nature. This tension between a craving for order and the uncontaminated

forest (the Urskog, representing the original background) produced an effect of

estrangement. Lewerentz decides to reveal the presence of the sacred place with

one single image, one icon: “from far away, in the middle of Nordic pinewood is

glimpsed a vision of a temple of classical antiquity, as a revelation and promise of

something rather more perfect, beyond the earthly.” 24

Going closer to the building, following the Way of the Seven Wells that connects

the Meditation Grove to the Chapel of the Resurrection, we discover that the image

of the temple is just a part of a more complex composition: the column-born

entrance hall is a free-standing enclosure from the chapel, and is placed slightly

diagonally in relation to it. That is, the image of the temple is a single word, isolated

and independent, which acts as a medium to create a tension across the itinerary. In

this way, Lewerentz creates two completely autonomous worlds: a volume defined

by a wall system and a hall based on a trilitic system. The whole building itself “acts

as the ‘gateway’ or ‘door’ between two realms” 25 and the entrance portal has a completely

different character from the exit passage. After the ceremony, the funeral

procession would continue through a door opposite to the entrance. The mourners

would not turn back on the same path by which they had come, but rather would

rejoin life through an unbroken sequence of movement.


Insular Utopias?

Henry van de Velde,

Peter Zumthor, and the


Ole W. Fischer

Prologue: The Gesamtkunstwerk Then and Now…

The instrumentalization of the Gesamtkunstwerk 1 as a point of resistance against

the ever progressing modernization of society goes back already to Richard Wagner.

He proposed the unity of art—at least on the level of perception, if not on

the level of production—in opposition to the fragmentation of capitalist division

of labor. And it is the same romantic notion underlying the theory of Henry

van de Velde, who puts forward the claim for a synthesis of the arts against a

contemporary urban civilization, which seemed to him disintegrated and chaotic.

Symptomatic of its decline would be the division of the arts into various

disciplines and their separation from life. This culture critique resonates in Peter

Zumthor’s houses and writings: again he positions synthesis, unity, and authentic-

146 Insular Utopias?

ity against postmodern overkill of images and fragmentation. And not for nothing

Zumthor’s all-encompassing design is primarily present in indoor spaces—like

the Thermal Bath in Vals—similar to van de Velde’s meticulously crafted Gesamtkunstwerk


If van de Velde turns against the mechanical reproduction of historic objects and

styles, then Zumthor rallies against the untrustworthiness of the things close to

us, against fakeness, irony, quotation, medialization, and digital simulation of our

second (reflexive?) modernity. While van de Velde constructs for modern man a

shelter against the “ugliness” and “amorality” of contemporaneous society with abstract

references of nature and psychological “lines of force,” aiming for a renewed

“Greek serenity” and “harmony,” it is Zumthor who searches to create “things” of

an implicitness that transcends to meditative spirituality against the all too banal

experiences of everyday life. This ethical impetus of both architects asks for some

consideration: the aim for a synthesis of the arts under exclusion of all so-called

disruptive effects, even if restricted on the limited range of the interior, carries the

allegation of control and totality (if not to say totalitarianism). Or at least the accusation

of reactionary retreat into the inner self, if we follow Walter Benjamin’s caricature

of the Art Nouveau interior as the last refuge of bourgeois interiority. 2 And

how should one understand the rhetoric of authenticity, authorship, and handcrafted

quality? Or the heavily evoked return to the (anonymous) origins, to immediacy

and to sensuality? Especially when hyper-modern technology is deployed

to achieve these effects: van de Velde uses visible iron trusses as well as reinforced

concrete and experiments with electrical light fixtures integrated into ceilings and

furniture. Zumthor operates with the most advanced building technology (as seen

in the Kunsthaus Bregenz with its free span concrete floors, and the light design

by Zumthobel blurring between “natural” and “artificial”), as well as custom-made

structural designs or high-tech material solutions, in order to stage sensual atmospheres,

where the means disappear behind the searched for effects respectively are

sublated and transcended.

If Wagner had already envisioned the Gesamtkunstwerk as a unification of the

arts in the music drama (in the footsteps of Attic tragedy) in connection with an

alternative, communitarian social order—what do the two architects say about

their political aspirations? Shall one read their holistic designed spaces as political

reactionary, as Benjamin and other Marxian critics have suspected, as insular

phantasies of well-to-do individuals, which actually hinder social change? Or shall

one interpret these designs as islands of utopia, built to prove that alternative ways

of life as much as alternative practices are possible, even within the given societal



of the reactionary Weimar court and the conservative Weimar bourgeoisie, at least

in the eyes of van de Velde and Count Kessler. The Archive was meant to be a space

of the new area—modernity—and at the same time hoist the cult of Goethe with

its own petard: to proclaim the aesthetic superiority of the philosopher on the hill,

over the classicist poet in the valley. And maybe it is not a coincidence that the Finish

architect Sigurd Frosterus, who collaborated with van de Velde in Weimar at the

time, compared the “atmosphere” of the Nietzsche-Archive with the “alpenglow” of

Nietzsche’s Zarathustra.

If these intentions are legible, what about the achieved effects of these Gesamtkunstwerk

interiors? Are these constructions of insular difference able to act critically

on society and sustain a lasting agency, or is the project of an artistic avantgarde

operating with total works of art—with or without Wagnerian undertones—

falsified and even counterproductive? Adorno’s criticism of Wagner’s mysticism is

legendary, 14 but in this context, the position of the Italian architectural historian

Manfredo Tafuri seems more revealing. Informed by the critical theory of Adorno

and French structuralism, Tafuri discusses the proposition of a “Neo-Avant-Garde

forming in the early 1970s. These architects (mainly “The New York Five” around

Peter Eisenman, but in general the whole formalistic approach of postmodern architecture),

Tafuri argues, exercise artistic finger exercises and “language games”

of refined singular master pieces, but have given up the historic project of a critique

and/or change of society by the means of architecture and urban design, in stark

difference to the historic avant-gardes of the 1920s. Even if the window of opportunity

has closed and the political and economic situation changed, architects

(of the 1970s) would have to address pragmatically the contemporary problems of

capitalist society by solving questions of organization and distribution, that is, of a

prototypical nature. Instead of the unfulfilled promise of enlightenment for freedom,

participation, and self-determination (or autonomy), which translates into an

architecture of the people beyond the churches and palaces of the elite, the liability

to total control of the refined singular object (and we are free to include: of the

architectonic Gesamtkunstwerk) ends in absolute arbitrariness and randomness.

Or put differently, with a detour to Adorno’s and Horckheimer’s reading of the

sexual excesses of Marquis de Sade in their Dialectic of Enlightenment: the excess

of rational control—of the formal elements of architecture and of its discourses

by author-architects—would be the necessary condition (and not the opposite)

for absolute libertinage and opportunistic optionality, if not to say insignificance:

L’architecture dans le Boudoir. 15

160 Insular Utopias?

4 Henry van de Velde, Haus Hohe Pappeln, Ehringsdorf near Weimar, 190708, entry


5 Henry van de Velde, Haus Hohe Pappeln, Ehringsdorf near Weimar, 190708, salon.


2 Casabella-Continuità 237 (March 1960), monographic issue dedicated to

Henry van de Velde.

Henry van de Velde

The monographic issue on van de Velde is compiled and edited mainly by Rogers

himself. It begins with his long editorial “Henry van de Velde o dell’evoluzione”

(Henry van de Velde, or the evolution), which immediately identifies the fundamental

approach to the reader 27 —namely, to recognize the history of an epoch in

the direct life experiences of an artist, and thus to derive chapters in the history of

modern architecture from the interpretation of Henry van de Velde: “In his long

life”—Rogers writes—“the most important artistic movements of a century mold

him, imbue his spirit, affect him, derive from him, or are devised by him: Naturalism,

Symbolism, Impressionism, Expressionism, Rationalism, and maybe even a

little Surrealism.” 28 According to Rogers, influencing the “environment”—Rogers

170 The Notion of the Total Work of Art and Italian Building Culture after World War II

actually uses the German term (Umwelt)—is the primary task of architecture. Van

de Velde had complied with this by establishing “from the smallest to the largest …

the relationship between life lived and the tangible objects needed for the extension

of the physical and spiritual capacity of our experience.” Besides the images and the

words, one must provide “a convincing reality for new ideas: … which must hold

true every hour in every gesture of individual and social life.” 29

This higher goal, the construction of reality itself, was enough for Rogers to absolve

van de Velde of the highly aestheticizing tones in many of his writings and some

of his works. Because van de Velde wants to be “neither aesthetic nor utilitarian.

‘Beauty for beauty’s sake’ is not part of his notion—nor is the thought that “everything

which is perfectly useful is necessarily beautiful,” as some of his contemporaries

believed. In this regard, how Rogers interpreted the theory of empathy is also

interesting; namely, in a very concrete and anti-abstract sense of rational observation

and of personal sympathy overlapping with the things. The dialectic between

“abstraction and empathy” presented by Worringer describes rather precisely the

extremes of the Italian architectural debate in these years, which oscillates between

rationalism and organic architecture, between autonomy and contextuality. And

Rogers evidently shares van de Velde’s position, inasmuch as he attaches great value

to being able to reach the same results “in very different ways”: not only through

the abstraction of “an inorganic and dead line,” as Worringer contends, but also the

opposite, “through an organic and living concept of it.” 30 It was no coincidence that

Rogers also includes three texts by van de Velde in his issue: “Amo” from 1907, “La

Voie Sacrée” (The Sacred Way) from 1933, and “Die Linie” (The Line) from 1910,

which is translated into Italian for the first time.

“Amo” is an emphatic avowal of the affirmation of life, entirely in the spirit of

Nietzschean-Dionysian vitalism. The second text offers a balance of his own experiences.

According to Rogers, the third essay—about the line—represents van

de Velde’s most profound contribution with respect to the situation of his time, a

successful synthesis of the rational approach and personal sensibility, of classicism

and expressionism. One must keep just a few quotes from “Die Linie” in mind to

understand this assessment.

Thus in the first line we see only an expression of vitality and excitement, childlike joy,

wholehearted passion. … The ability to draw lines comes in addition and enroots itself, and

in the drunkenness of the recognition of this ability, people first had to be driven to demand

from the line a sensuality similar to that of the dance, the struggle, the caress. … Rhythm

bestows the line with ornamental character! … The lines of the new architecture … are the

lines of the engineer. 31


3 Oswald Mathias Ungers, Axonometric Drawing for Building at Block 1.

The Super did not let any children play in the courtyard, anyone speak loud or come

late to the apartment. We collected signatures to have him removed, but now we live

in complete chaos.” Residents fault each other but many of the controversies result

from the building’s design and dimensions, now nicknamed Asihaus (anti-social

building). 22 The fact that kids played football in this small courtyard and frequently

broke windows on all of the encircling walls was a constant source of controversy,

even though the building was commissioned for migrant families with many kids

and IBA otherwise was proud of the ample playgrounds inside perimeter blocks.

While some enjoyed grilling on the sixth-floor terraces, others just across complained

that the smoke directly entered their apartment due to proximity. When

friendly neighbors enjoyed talking to each other from one window to another across

the courtyard, night shifters who tried to sleep during the day wished the blocks

were not so close to each other.

Ungers, much like the fictional architect of Loos’s “poor rich man,” stated that he

would not like it if users changed and violated his designs. 23 However, acting on

one’s private space seems one of the few remaining possible acts of harmless subversion.

Even though alterations were not anticipated in Asihaus, residents did leave

their marks on the building much beyond usual repair and maintenance. For one,

188 Can the Immigrant Speak?

the contrast between the corridors that led to Barış family’s flat and the interior

was indeed striking. After moving to Berlin, this was the cheapest flat the Housing

Office provided for a family of their size and budget. I went unattended, but

the apartment seemed always ready for visitors, in an aesthetically unified way that

Gesamtkunstwerk supporters would approve.

Fatma remembered in minutest detail the apartment’s condition before they moved

4 Barış’s Unit in Building at Block 1 for IBA 1984/87 (architect: Oswald Mathias Ungers).

5 Karaçizmeli’s Unit in Bonjour Tristesse housing for IBA 1984/87 (architect: Alvaro Siza).


Have Not (1944). Richard, unlike Roger, knows the answer to the question of the

dead bee. With a dignified speech, Elena dismisses the staff, the actual producers

of the cinematic total work of art, and drives away with Richard—an image commonly

used by Godard for the imaginary journey that the feature film offers, at the

exclusion of all real social conditions, to its viewers. 22

The Arabesque as Motif and Cinematic Form

Originally a decorative motif used to frame jewelry, the autonomized arabesque in

romantic and neo-Romantic total works of art testifies to the existence of a form

that emerges from the innermost forces of nature itself. In this sense, Henry van

de Velde had based his vision of a synthesis of the arts on a philosophy of the line

as “transferred gesture[s].” 23 He referred back to primitive techniques, to which he

attributes an immediate expressive power that is comparable to nature as an artist:

Psychic forces led the hand armed with primitive tools—bones or stone—just as natural

forces bend the tip of the blade of grass to Earth, where it draws small circles in the sand.

Natural forces shook the rock, which, upon falling, left behind visible traces on the surfaces

it hit; natural forces created those capricious, fleeting arabesques in moving water. 24

2 Shot from Nouvelle Vague: Arabesques in

the moving water.

Godard makes reference to this tradition of modern “natural” ornaments, and indeed

not only in the image of glistening, rippling water surfaces that are filmed

decidedly in such a way that sharply contoured biomorphic patterns emerge. The

arabesque, in its art theoretical importance as an aesthetic form that—as Runge

and Schlegel have shown us—is in keeping with the fullness of being and directed

against historical imagery and the linear narrative of the novel, is both subject and

agent of the film Nouvelle Vague.

202 The Critical Arabesque

The challenge for our consideration, however, is that nature, as a form-defining

creative power in its infinite wealth, by no means brings forth a structural or meaningful

totality, but only ever cites this, albeit with pathos. Godard admittedly uses

the modernist idea of a “development of art into life,” which was also propagated

beyond van de Velde’s conception of a new ornamentation, in order to represent

the Nouvelle Vague ambition to resurrect and reform cinema by liberating it from

the fictional plot continuum of the Hollywood film and by developing a documentary

and essayistic quality. 25 The previously commented, sobering rebirth of pensive

Roger in the guise of cool businessman Richard showed that Godard does not

revere this myth, but construes it as a service to the capitalist enterprise (of the company

Torlato-Favrini and of the cinema). The birth of the entrepreneurial subject

Richard Lennox from Lake Geneva 26 is likely to have constituted an attack on the

author ideal of the Nouvelle Vague, yet the movement was based, as can be read in

Francois Truffaut’s article “Une certaine tendance du cinéma francaise” (1954), on a

reliance on the creative force of the director as an author who no longer just implements

prescribed stories from the script, but recreates them instead (récréer). 27 The

demand that the director, for the purpose of cultivating a personal signature, must

help fashion all the sectors and stages of the film production himself can be read as

a continuation of Becce’s hope, cited at the outset, for a director who is the creator

of a total work of art.

So in the image of the arabesque, Godard cites the total artistic impetus of the

Nouvelle Vague and reveals its system-stabilizing effect. At the same time, the

arabesque principle of cinematic form serves as a moment of disturbance that undermines

the option of totality. Godard develops the arabesque as a critical form

by establishing it as an order of (“painterly”) surface positioned against the narrative

space of the romance, which is absolutely laid out in van de Velde’s cited

examples of nature’s “draftsmanship.” From the beginning, as already described,

nature appears as an autonomous power and activity, so very much so that Morgan

has rightly pointed out that its grandeur is tamed to the benefit of beauty, but

nature plainly always remains a product of human activity. In the beautiful order

of nature that is cultivated to the arabesque, it must be added, however, that the

film reflects itself as an image-producing machine—more specifically, it exhibits its

“negative” actions, which Godard represents in the temporal quality of the context,

which is defined primarily through the editing: much more distinctly than painting,

film constitutes itself through the boundary of the image; it must incessantly

remain accountable for the chosen view and how it is modified through tracking

shots and pans; it must consciously manage the boundaries between the shots. This

structural conditionality of the film image, that it is contingent upon its boundary,



to be Inhaled

Constructing the Ephemeral

Ákos Moravánszky

The demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing estate in St. Louis with a controlled

explosion in 1972 announced, according to Charles Jencks, thedeath of modern

architecture.” 1 The big bang was the salute in the funeral of modern architecture

and at the same time, the starting shot for the postmodern movement. The photograph

published in his popular book The Language of Post-Modern Architecture

(1977) showed the tumbling fourteen-story slabs of the estate disappearing in a

thick gray cloud of debris. In the aftermath of the collapse of the concrete blocks,

hundreds of thousand of the inhabitants of neighboring areas inhaled the at mosphere

containing pulverized concrete, fiberglass, and asbestos. Jencks proposed

that architects should learn from the failure, and understand architecture as language

and use visual metaphors to make architecture communicate. However, the

“arsenal of communicational means” that he proposed in his book has since lost its

appeal. But in the meantime, other pulverized buildings have entered the digestive

and respiratory system of humankind, and we carry the codes of modernity inside

our bodies or even genes.

The Pruitt-Igoe housing estate became an object of architectural history in the precise

moment when it ceased to exist physically, underlining that atmospheric events

determine our perception of epochs more than concrete constructs. They seem to

contradict the more than 2,000-year-old dictum of firmitas (firmness, solidity),

226 Architectures to be Inhaled

one of the three virtues of good architecture as formulated by Vitruvius. But long

before the Pruitt-Igoe explosion, architectural theorists such as Gottfried Semper

had started to look at the evolution of “technical and tectonic arts” 2 as a liberation

from primary, directly material-bound forms.

The Haze of the Carnival Candles

Gottfried Semper’s evocation of Karnevalskerzendunst, the “haze of the carnival

candles” as the “true atmosphere of art” sounds like a call for liberation from the

material-tied firmitas of Vitruvian theory. Semper emphasized the interplay between

between reality and illusion in a frequently quoted footnote in his magnum opus,

Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten oder praktische Ästhetik (Style

in the Technical and Tectonic Arts, or Practical Aesthetic): “The spirit of the masks

breathes in Shakespeare’s drama. We meet the humor of masks and the haze of candles,

the carnival spirit … in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.” 3 Semper seemed to echo his

friend Richard Wagner’s concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk—however, in contrast to

Wagner, he moved beyond the singular artwork to emphasize the integration of arts

under the guidance of architecture, which was exemplified for Semper less by the

musical drama than by the architectural monument. In his essay “Vorläufige Bemerkungen

über vielfarbige Architektur und Skulptur bei den Alten” (Preliminary

Remarks on Polychrome Architecture and Sculpture in Antiquity, 1838), Semper

used his favorite metaphor of the textile, as a networked, interwoven way of cultural

production when he commented that “formerly all the fine arts cooperated closely

on monuments of every kind, harmoniously and powerfully assisting one another,

woven into a well-proportioned whole.” 4

For Wagner, it was the flowing, evolving character of music that helped it to overcome

the burden of materiality. Semper, too, spoke of the need of annihilating the

material in the work of art: “The destruction of reality of the material, is necessary

if form is to emerge as a meaningful symbol, as an autonomous human creation.” 5

This liberation from matter resulted in an interest for theatricality and for mimetic

strategies, as put forward in the concept of Stoffwechsel (metabolism or material


The “haze of the carnival candles,” a mixture of hot air and smoke that scatters light

and obscures the clarity of vision, is a modern dream of returning to an earlier, less

intellectual, more material state of consciousness. It was described by Friedrich

Nietzsche as the “haze of the unhistorical” in his essay “Vom Nutzen und Nachteil

der Historie für das Leben” (The Use and Abuse of History for Life), the second of

his four Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen (Untimely Meditations), published in 1874:


Dissolving Utopias

The New York-based office of Diller + Scofidio created an ephemeral structure as

part of the Schweizer Landesausstellung—Swiss National Expo 2002 in Yverdonles-Bains

over the Lake Neuchâtel. Originally “Cloud Machine,” then renamed

Blur Building, it was a 65 x 100-meter-deep and 25-meter-tall lightweight metal

framework that sprayed a fine mist of filtered lake water from 31,500 high-pressure

nozzles with tiny apertures only 120 microns in diameter. A “smart weather system”

measured the temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, processing the data

in a computer that regulated the water pressure to adjust the cloud to the changing

climatic conditions. Walking down the long ramp from the shore, visitors arrived

on a large open-air platform at the center of the fog, where the only sound to be

heard was the sizzle of the pulsing water nozzles. Observed from the shore, their

bodies dissolved increasingly in the fog. There was a bar they could visit inside the

cloud, to taste different brands of mineral water from all around the world. 47

Like Zumthor’s Swiss Pavillon, the Blur Building sought to question the usual spectacles

of the national exhibition, offering literally “nothing to see.” But still it was

“spectacular”: along with Jean Nouvel’s rusty Monolith, which was very much solid

and object-like, the Blur was the most successful and memorable (non-)building of

the Expo. However, like the Pruitt-Igoe housing estate thirty-two years before, the

Blur Building was blown up on May 24, 2004. As if it were cloud that kept the iron

skeleton stiff, a “soulless” carcass lay on the shore of the Lake Neuchatel displaying

the bent armature of the Blur. The observer had to realize that there is striking

difference between the relationship of building and atmosphere in the work of

Zumthor, Rahm, and Diller + Scofidio. While in Zumthor’s case the term “atmosphere”

is used as a scenography using light and material textures guided by his personal

recollections of concrete situations, Philippe Rahm acts as a scientist, working

exactly on the displacement of the concept of space from subjective perception.

The images he uses to explain his projects are not much more than notations to

a program, whose visual aspects are secondary. The “blur” by Diller + Scofidio is

blurring the boundaries between the aesthetic experience of the atmospheric interior

and conceptual art. It is exactly the coexistence of the metal construction that

conjures nineteenth-century images of technical progress (Jules Verne’s machines)

and the ephemeral immateriality of the released atmospheric place that fascinated

the visitors. The intentional “imperfection” of the control system (a programmed

delay between measuring and adjusting the nozzles) distinguishes this project from

both the control of the architect on the perfect artifact, executed with utmost care,

as well as from the utopia of control of human nature through technology.

240 Architectures to be Inhaled

4 Diller + Scofidio, The Blur Building at the Swiss National Expo 2002

in Yverdon-Les-Bains.

Space, a term that entered architectural theory only in the late nineteenth century

in connection with theories of visual perception, became in the twentieth century

a milieu of social relations and a container of noise, congestion, and pollution, and

is today a projection screen for dreams about the Alpine sublime, tropical fecundity,

or bodily dissolution. Tracing the historic development of an idea that was

long unrecognized because of the hegemony of Vitruvian values, immateriality is

an ambiguous development, both as a counter-proposal to the digital production

of images and as a further step to the total technical control of the environment

and the disengagement with social world. That would be the ominous side of the

Gesamkunstwerk legacy—the haze of the carnival candles, but not as the half-light

of the theater, where we are aware of our presence as spectators, but something we

inhale to blur our sense of judgment.


1 Charles A. Jencks, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (London: Academy, 1977) 9.

2 Gottfried Semper, Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts; or, Practical Aesthtetics. A Handbook for Technicians, Artists, and

Friends of the Arts, transl. by Harry Francis Mallgrave and Michael Robinson (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute,


3 Ibid., p. 438f. “Maskenlaune athmet in Shakespears Dramen; Maskenlaune und Kerzenduft, Karnevalsstimmung (…)

trifft uns in Mozarts Don Juan entgegen; den auch die Musik bedarf (des) Wirklichkeit vernichtenden Mittels …,” in

Gottfried Semper, Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten oder praktische Ästhetik, Bd. 1: Die textile Kunst

(Frankfurt am Main 1860, Reprint Mittenwald: Mäander, 1977) 232.

4 Gottfried Semper, “Preliminary Remarks on Polychrome Architecture and Sculpture in Antiquity (1834),” in Semper,

The Four Elements of Architecture and Other Writings, transl. by Harry Francis Mallgrave and Wolfgang Herrmann

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 51. “…dass einst alle bildenden Künste in inniger Verbindung

zusammenwirkten und an Monumenten aller Art in ein ebenmässiges Ganzes verwebt, harmonisch und kräftig ineinander

griffen…” Gottfried Semper, “Vorläufige Bemerkungen über vielfarbige Architektur und Skulptur bei den

Alten,” in Semper, Kleine Schriften (Mittenwald: Mäander, 1979) 223.

5 Semper, Style, 439. “Vernichtung der Realität, des Stofflichen, ist nothwendig, wo die Form als bedeutungsvolles

Symbol als selbstständige Schöpfung des Menschen hervortreten soll,” 232.

6 Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, transl. by R.J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983),


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