German Expressionism: A Crystalline Utopian Society

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23/09/19 Arts Reference this

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“Today there is no art. The various disrupted tendencies can find their way back to a single unity only under the wings of a new architecture…Everything will be one thing: architecture”. Bruno Taut, A Programme for Architecture

This was the ideology of Bruno Taut, a German Expressionist architect who pushed the idea of a utopian architecture; an architecture that would bring together all of the arts in a time of turmoil.  At the beginning of the 20th century, artists, writers and creative professionals started to express themselves through their work, with a tendency towards pieces that were “escapist, visionary, or festive.”[1] This influenced architecture and led to designs that reflected personal experiences. Architecture and art were to redeem its spiritual and social role from the chaos of the First World War. Many architects had fought in the war and their experiences, combined with the political struggle and social upheaval in Germany, resulted in a utopian outlook.[2] This can be seen in all creative fields such as Franz Marc’s Dreaming Horses, Hans Poelzig’s film set for Golem and Paul Scheerbert’s novel Lesabéndio. Scheerbert was described by Bruno Taut as “the only poet in architecture,”[3] as he understood the impact of the ideas in artwork and architecture in shaping Germany. Scheerbert believed the artist had the ability to overcome these social and national differences as he stated that: “an artist [is] an imitator of Christ and his passions, the artist sacrifices himself for the sake of the world.”[4]

Dreaming Horses by Franz Marc (1913)

Film set for Golem Hans Poelzig (1914)

Expressionist architecture has too much diversity to allow it to be categorized under a unified aesthetic. Expressionists were torn between a “Utopian view of modern technology and a Romantic nostalgia for Volk.”[5] Architects took inspiration from artists and began to develop new ideas that were highly emotive. This led to most of the expressionist projects being executed in the most favourable conditions, as many buildings did not make it past sketches.[6] Taut understood the need for this imaginary architecture, and speculated ideas for “a new age of social harmony.”[7] He understood the need for a new cultural structure, a utopian architecture that would lead to a civilized society. Taut also understood the need for Crystalline architecture and the importance of new materials in forming this new utopian realm.

Principles of Architecture by Hans Scharoun (1919) a post-war crystalline architectural concept

The Crown City (1918) elevation showing the rising sun reigning over the new utopian city/realm.

The idea of creating a utopian city was an attempt to reply to the Great War and the turmoil of the German Reich by creating a better social structure for Germany. Taut expressed his frustration for the social circumstances through the idea of bringing together architecture and art by “capturing the essence of the medieval city in modern terms”[8] to discover the source of origin in German architecture: the Volk. This allowed Taut to find a cultural connection with the inner spirit, internal thoughts and the realm.[9] Taut’s project Die Stadtkrone (The City Crown) 1918, began to explore these ideas through urban planning concepts that promoted an agrarian way of life that would “transform old Europe’s Habits of thought and feeling.”[10] The city is centred around a “city crown,” which is a large crystalline structure that reigns above the site as a pure architecture. The crystal house reigns over the entire city like a “sparkling diamond”[11] that would become the “carrier of cosmic feelings, a religiousness”[12] and “like a sea of colour, the municipality spreads itself around the crown, as a good sign of fortune.”[13] Taut described himself as “a solid cliff in a restless sea,”[14] linking himself to a Godly figure that had the ability to recreate the world in at a time of chaos. He believed that his work would “convince us that the early dawn of a new culture is already emerging on the horizon,”[15] and this can be directly seen in the elevation of Die Stradtkrone with the sun rising behind the crystalline house that shimmers over the city spreading “good fortune of a new life.”[16] Motivated by his disgust of the social circumstances, Taut’s designs projected a complete reconstruction of the world which was an attempt to discover the architect’s ability to alter life and nature, which can be further seen in his obsession of crystalline forms.

The Crown City begins to define Taut’s idea of a utopian city using crystalline structures.

Crystalline architecture had a major influence in expressionist architecture which was formed by the use of new materials of glass, steel and concrete. These new materials allowed for architects to express their ideas beyond the classical ideal of harmony, assisting architects in their aspirations of a new heralding of the arts, with more abstract built forms and ideas.[17] These materials allowed for a new fluidity as walls no longer had to be vertical. Steel allowed for concrete to be used in a thin articulation and glass opened up structures to the environment, as architects believed that “glass architecture will bring a new culture.”[18] Glass architecture specifically influenced the work of Bruno Taut which allowed for him to experiment with crystalline forms. The collaboration of Taut and Scheerbart attempted to address the problems of German society through glass architecture. Scheerbart wrote about the influence of glass in his manifesto: Glass Architecture stating that “culture is in a sense of the product of architecture”[19] and that “sunlight and the light of the moon and stars must be let into as many rooms as possible.”[20] Learning from this, Taut designed his 1914 Glass Pavilion at the Werkbund exhibition. This pavilion was a utopian realm of spiritual regeneration through architectural design that played with light, colour and spiritual qualities. The building was described to be similar to a Kaleidoscopic image projection, as entering this structure gave the feeling of entering another world.[21] There were inscriptions by Scheerbart about the wonders of glass architecture such “coloured glass destroys hatred”[22] and “building in brick only does us harm.”[23] Taut’s ideas of crystalline architecture were further explored in his Alpine Architecture. He saw the mountains as a location for architectural transcendence, which transformed the surface of the earth, as in Scheerbart’s utopian novel Lesabéndio that describes life on an asteroid.[24] Taut imagined these crystal forms as “architecture that would dominate the world, and transform mountains into buildings existing for the beauty alone and virtually ceasing to serve any useful purpose.”[25]  In Taut’s Alpine Architecture, especially in Firns in Ice and Snow, he is returning to the idea of medievalism, where architecture represented all of the arts in these glass superstructures located in the European Alps. These structures would be “the crystal needles of the mountaintops”[26] forming “cliff cathedrals”[27] that are implicitly defined by Taut as the absolute limit of architecture.

Glass Pavilion by Taut (1914)- Elevation and Plan: a prismatic glass dome constructed from concrete and glass.

Inside the Glass Pavilion showing the use of glass and the transcendental nature of the room similar to a Kaleidoscope. (note: the glass was coloured)

Through Crystalline architecture and Utopian urban designs, Taut was able to generate ideas of an architecture that would be able to bring the union of paintings, sculptures, and architecture, resulting in a society that could overcome national and social difference. Taut was able to influence many artist and architects through his work and collaborative groups such as the Glass Chain, which led to the development of Expressionism in Germany. In my opinion, Taut’s ideas of architecture influenced a society that was in extreme turmoil giving hope to a country that had just lost the war. Furthermore, his belief in the importance of glass allowing light to enter a building is something that is at the forefront of modern architecture and will always be important. As stated by Taut: “Hurray for the transparent, the clear! Hurray for purity! Hurray for the everlasting architecture!”[28]

Firns in Ice and Snow by Taut- a coloured glass city located high in the alps silhouetted by the rising sun

Bibliography:

Books:

  • Beil, Ralf, Dillmann, Claudia (2011). The Total Artwork in Expressionism : Art, Film, Literature, Theatre, Dance, and Architecture, 1905-25. Ostfildern, Germany : Hatje Cantz
  • Colquhoun, Alan (2002). Ch ‘Expressionism and Futurism.’ in Modern Architecture. Oxford; New York : Oxford University Press.
  • Conrads, Ulrich, (1970). ‘Bruno Taut: Down with Seriousism! (1920)’, in Programs and manifestoes on 20th-century architecture. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Conrads, Ulrich, (1970). ‘Bruno Taut: Fruhlicht (Daybreak) (1921),’ in Programs and manifestoes on 20th-century architecture. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press,
  • Conrads, Ulrich, (1970).  ‘Erich Mendelsohn: The Problem of a New Architecture (1919)’, ‘in Programs and manifestoes on 20th-century architecture. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Conrads, Ulrich, (1970). ‘Paul Scheerbart: Glass architecture (1914)’, in Programs and manifestoes on 20th-century architecture. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Frampton, Kenneth (2007), Part II. ‘A Critical History 1836-1967: The Glass Chain: European architectural Expressionism 1910-25’ in Modern Architecture: A Critical History. London: Thames and Hudson, revised and enlarged edition.
  • Kostof, Spiro (1995), Ch 26. ‘The Trials of Modernism’ in A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Kruft, Hanno-Walter (1984), Ch 25 ‘Germany and its Neighbours 1890s-1945’ in A History of Architectural Theory from Vitruvius to the Present, translated by Ronald Taylor et al, New York: Zwemmer and Princeton Architectural Press, pp 364-392
  • Mallgrave, H.F. (Ed) (2006). Part III: D. German Expressionism and the Bauhaus – ‘Bruno Taut, letter announcing the “Crystal Chain”(1919) in Architectural Theory Vol II, Malden Mass.: Blackwell, pp 202-203.
  • Pehnt, Wolfgang (1985). Expressionist architecture in drawings. London: Thames and Hudson
  • Schirren, Matthias (2004). Bruno Taut, Alpine architektur: Munchen; Lakewood, N.J.: Prestel Publishing
  • Taut, Bruno (2015). ‘The City Crown by Bruno Taut’. Ashgate Publishing Limited

Internet:

Lecture:

  • Hamann, Conrad. 2018. “Expressionism in the Netherlands, Austria and Germany, from late-Art Nouveau.” Lecture. RMIT

[1]Kostof, Spiro (1995), Ch 26. ‘The Trials of Modernism’ in A History of Architecture: Settings and   Rituals, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 688.

[2] Schirren, Matthias (2004). Bruno Taut, Alpine Architektur: Munchen; Lakewood, N.J. : Prestel Publishing, 6.

[3]Conrads, Ulrich, (1970). ‘Paul Scheerbart: Glass architecture (1914)’, in Programs and manifestoes on 20th-century architecture. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. , 32.

[4] Conrads, ‘Paul Scheerbart: Glass Architecture’, 14.

[5] Colquhoun, Alan (2002). Ch ‘Expressionism and futurism.’ in Modern Architecture. Oxford; New York : Oxford University Press, 87.

[6] Pehnt, Wolfgang (1985). ‘Expressionist Architecture in Drawings’. London : Thames and Hudson, 6.

[7] Colquhoun, ‘Expressionism and Futurism’, 91.

[8] Colquhoun, ‘Expressionism and Futurism’, 91.

[9] Hamann, Conrad. 2018. “Expressionism in the Netherlands, Austria and Germany, from late-Art Nouveau.” Lecture. RMIT.

[10] Conrads, ‘Paul Scheerbart: Glass Architecture’, 32.

[11] Colquhoun, ‘Expressionism and Futurism’, 91.

[12] Taut, Bruno (2015). ‘The City Crown by Bruno Taut’. Ashgate Publishing Limited, 67.

[13] Taut, ‘The City Crown by Bruno Taut’, 67

[14] Pehnt, ‘Expressionist Architecture in Drawings’, 11.

[15]Pehnt, ‘Expressionist Architecture in Drawings’,8.

[16] Taut, ‘The City Crown by Bruno Taut’, 67.

[17]Colquhoun, ‘Expressionism and Futurism’,,89.

[18] Kostof, ‘Trials of modernism’, 690.

[19] Conrads, ‘Paul Scheerbart: Glass Architecture’, 32.

[20] Conrads, ‘Paul Scheerbart: Glass Architecture’, 32.

[21] Miller, Tyrus. 2017. “Expressionist Utopia: Bruno Taut, Glass Architecture, and the Dissolution of Cities.” Accessed September 17 2018., 16.

[22]Wikipedia. 2018. “Expressionist Architecture.” Accessed September 17 2018

[23] Wikipedia. 2018. “Expressionist Architecture.” Accessed September 17 2018

[24] Miller, ‘Expressionist Utopia: Bruno Taut, Glass Architecture, and the Dissolution of Cities.’, 16.

[25] Kruft, Hanno-Walter (1984), Ch 25 ‘Germany and its Neighbours 1890s-1945’ in A History of Architectural Theory from Vitruvius to the Present, translated by Ronald Taylor et al, New York: Zwemmer and Princeton Architectural Press, 373.

[26] Pehnt, ‘Expressionist Architecture in Drawings’, 7.

[27] Pehnt, ‘Expressionist Architecture in Drawings’, 7.

[28]Conrads, Ulrich, (1970). ‘Bruno Taut: Down with Seriousism! (1920)’, in Programs and manifestoes on 20th-century architecture. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press,1.

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