ARKHITEKTURA I ANTHROPOSOPHIA
Edited and introduction by Anna Sokolina. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo KMK, 2001. 268 pages, 348 illustrations.1

William Craft Brumfield

William Craft Brumfield is Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, LA,
and a member of the State Russian Academy of Architecture and Construction Sciences.

 

In her introduction to this pioneering Russian volume, Anna Sokolina notes that the anthroposophical movement, established by Rudolf Steiner, arose on the basis of dissatisfaction with an increasingly rationalistic, technological bias in approaches to society and culture at the beginning of the twentieth century. Seeking to return modern culture to a holistic attitude toward human creativity and the environment, Steiner was particularly interested in the challenge of architecture - at once the shaper of the physical context and one of the preeminent forms of artistic endeavor.

Indeed, architecture played a central role in the creation of the anthroposophical community at Dornach, not simply as a means of erecting buildings but also as a material expression of the principles of anthroposophy. The author of a treatise entitled “Ways to a New Style in Architecture”, Steiner was also the designer of two versions of the Goetheanum, the central structure of his Dornach ensemble. Goethe was for Steiner the supreme embodiment of the union of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual aspects of humanity.

Steiner’s approach to integrative architecture arose in part from a rejection of urban architecture during the late industrial period, with its pastiche of decorative elements masking a box frame. In this he was not alone. European architecture at the turn of the twentieth century demonstrated numerous attempts to restore elements of craftsmanship and non-standardized design in modern architecture.

From John Ruskin and the Arts and Crafts Movement (and its successor Charles Rennie Mackintosh) to the organic elements of Art Nouveau and Jugendstil design to the idiosyncratic exuberance of Antonio Gaudi, many architects and designers used sinuosity of form as a liberation from the predictable and from the prison of the urban grid. Of course the architects and movements mentioned above had little, if any, direct relation to anthroposophy. Rather, there were many tendencies in the reaction against generally accepted parameters of urban architecture.

Steiner, on the other hand, conceived of the liberation of form as part of a much broader quest that would define the spiritual essence in modern existence. Free form and organic motifs in architecture were intended to contribute to an environment of healing in a technological age. Architecture was both context and catalyst for a higher state of human development. As Steiner stated in a lecture given in 1914:

“And when we animate everything that presses, bears, and curves, that crafts surfaces and masters completed forms --we begin to live by opposing and playing with the forces that shape the world, and by creating art we explore fantasy and endless metamorphoses, but we realize that we cannot understand the secrets of the world of forms until we try to express ourselves in the universal organic motion and in creative activity.” (p. 264)

All of this is very subjective and deliberately so, yet Steiner succeeded at Dornach in the challenge of implementing his ideals in the material forms of large structures. In this sense the contributors to the present book examine both the ideational frame and specific buildings related to anthroposophical ideals.

In her introductory overview Sokolina establishes the context for these ideals and discusses their reception during the twentieth century. (This introduction also appears in English at the end of the book.)

The text proper consists of two parts divided into thirty-two brief chapters, each of which is extensively illustrated with photographs of varying quality. Beginning with an extract from Steiner’s own writings, the first part focuses on Steiner’s work and on the buildings at Dornach, especially the Goetheanum in both its first and second versions.

The second part surveys related movements, including expressionism, the early work of Erich Mendelsohn, and designs by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. This broader context reinforces the value of the book for a Russian audience, particularly since these phenomena have received relatively little attention in Russia and were deliberately ignored during the Soviet period.

At the same time it should be noted that this book, consisting primarily of translations of commentary by Western specialists, overlooks pre-revolutionary Russian examples of the topic, such as the work of Alexander Zelenko for the Vadkovskii Lane school and the Pfeffer dacha (both around 1910).2 Whether or not there exists a direct connection with anthroposophy, these examples should have been included.

Steiner’s principles and the ensemble at Dornach served as an important stimulus in the development of free form in architecture during the twentieth century. Contemporary computer-aided designs by architects such as Frank Gehry demonstrate the importance of this direction for contemporary architecture. Although no serious historian would claim that Steiner’s approach was the one and only path for these developments, it is nonetheless gratifying to have such a substantial work, in Russian, on the role of spiritual principles in concepts of modern architecture.


Notes
1.
Review published in ARTMARGINS, March 2004.
2. See William C. Brumfield, The Origins of Modernism in Russian Architecture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 97-99.

 


 

ARKHITEKTURA I ANTHROPOSOFIIA
Edited and with an introduction by Anna Sokolina. Moscow: Izdatelístvo KMK, 2001. 268 pages, 348 illustrations.

Kristi A. Groberg

Professor, North Dakota State University

 

The editor, Russian native Anna Sokolina, brings her skills as architect (MA in Architecture, Moscow Architectural Institute) and theorist (Ph.D. in Theory of Architecture and Urban Design), and her distinguished international career as curator, to this volume. She has compiled thirty-two articles, some excerpted or translated from published works by subject specialists, which address the influence of Rudolf Steiner on twentieth-century “organic” architecture; to these she brings several talented translators. Architecture and Anthroposophy is the first volume to be published in Russian on the influence of Steiner’s Anthroposophy on architecture worldwide. As such, it is an important addition to a little-studied field of endeavor with virtually no contemporary exposure in Russia. Sokolina takes Steiner’s “new impulse” in “new architecture” to Russia with the volume. An English edition would be welcome, at the very least as the logical conclusion to Steiner’s Architecture as a Synthesis of the Arts (2000 edition), and as companion to Werner Blaser and Walter Kugler’s Nature in Buildings: Rudolf Steiner in Dornach 1913-1925 (2002) and Ake Fant, Arne Klingborg, and Rex Raab’s Eloquent Concrete: How Rudolf Steiner Employed Reinforced Concrete (1996 edition). Despite the wide net cast by the Rudolf Steiner Press, most scholarly work on Steiner’s architectural legacy is not available to an English-reading audience because it is generated out of northern Europe.

Steiner (1861-1925), an Austrian, studied at the Vienna Technical College and was educated in the ideals of Goethe and Nietzsche. A scholar of Goethe and an eccentric mystic, he played a major role in the spread of theosophical ideas at the turn of the 20th century, later founding the Anthroposophical Society to foster his own Christological spiritual views and practical theories on society and the arts. Steiner’s influence today is perhaps most evident in the over 900 Waldorf schools around the world (at least ten are in Russia), each of which perpetuates his innovative pedagogical theories, as do the Camphill communities for the mentally disabled. Eurhythmics and biodynamic farming are also Steiner’s working theories. Deeply interested in the alignment between matter and spirit, and science and nature, he worked out an approach to architecture and brought it to life at the Anthroposophical Colony at Dornach, Switzerland, in the years between 1913-25. Steiner’s highly eclectic organic style, a kind of non-historical functionalism, was far more intuitively practical than the material functionalism of the architect Gottfried Semper, whose work he admired; yet Steiner was never reluctant about using new construction techniques and technological innovations.

Steiner lectured extensively--giving over 5,000 lectures throughout Europe (although he refused to set foot in Russia).1 A prominent topic was how an architecturally coherent and integrated community affects social harmony. He produced few buildings in his lifetime, but designed his extraordinary masterpiece, the Goetheanum, for the campus-like Anthroposophical community in Dornach. The first, largely wooden Goetheanum was built by master craftsmen and artists, beginning in 1913. After it burned in 1922, a second, reinforced concrete building was created between 1923-28.2 It was, and remains, a 1,000-seat centerpiece for the community, serving as church, auditorium, and center for the arts.

Among Steiner’s complex and far-ranging cosmological ideas stands the idea that cultural elements are intuited out of the spiritual realm. The soul and the body find their spiritual paths by way of the architectural forms that vault above them.3 This is in direct opposition to what Steiner saw as the raison d’etre of architecture in his time: to ensure that people are “protected while eating roast beef.”4 The task of art and architecture is, in short, to carry the spiritual-sacred into the earthly-profane, as well as to provide society with a conduit that lifts it up and out. Steiner’s ideas spoke to artists--leading figures (Jawlensky, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Schlemmer) of early 20th century art and architecture studied his ideas and incorporated them into their work. The Goetheanum itself inspired Le Corbusier’s monumental church at Ronchamps.

Architecture and Anthroposophy is presented in two parts. Sokolina’s introduction provides a general overview of Steiner’s ideas and approach to art and architecture. Book One, “Origins,” focuses on Steiner’s designs as well as the realized structures for the Goetheanum in its first and second incarnations. It includes Steiner’s “The Architectural Concept of the Goetheanum” and Frans Carlgren’s “Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy”; these provide the intellectual background for the book and are illustrated with remarkable early photographs of the first Goetheanum. The other articles are excerpted from works published by the Anthroposophical Society for use at the Goetheanum and from the works of architects and artists who have applied Steiner’s theories to the form and function of contemporary buildings.

Prominent are those whose works earlier appeared in Hagen Biesantz and Arne Klingborg’s Das Goetheanum. Der Bau-Impulse Rudolf Steiners (1978). They include Ake Fant’s “The Creative Impulse of Rudolf Steiner in the Contemporary History of Architecture,” in which Fant directs the reader to note similar tendencies toward artistically fanciful yet functional organic structures such as those by Antonio Gaudí, Max Berg, and Bruno Taut; rare photos are sometimes poorly reproduced. Sokolina has chosen three pieces by the architect Hagen Biesantz. His “On a Path to the New Style” from Das Goetheanum, suggests a few temples and churches (fitting to Steiner’s Christological ideals) built in Germany 1900-20. The second, Biesantz “The First and Second Goetheanums,” is critical to this volume because it includes fascinating on-site photographs of the first Goetheanum (1913-20) under construction and equally appealing photos (many in color) of the second Goetheanum (1922-28). Biesantz’ third article, “The Aesthetics of Rudolf Steiner,” is brief. And from Das Goetheanum we also have Nikolaus Ruff and Rex Raab’s “The Development in Architecture of the Concepts of Rudolf Steiner,” with its focus on homes and public buildings built in the Dornach colony from the 1920s to the 1980s.

Several other articles also deal directly with the Goetheanum(s). These include the British architect Rex Raab’s “Plans, Facades, Cross-Sections.” Raab, a lecturer for the Anthroposophical Society who is sometimes called Steiner’s successor, applied his mentor’s holistic principles to the design of clinics, churches, and schools (notably Waldorf schools) in Germany. Raab discusses the plans for the entire colony at Dornach, with the Goetheanum at its heart; the article is beautifully illustrated with floor plans and elevations for each facade of each Goetheanum. Following this is Rex Raab, Arne Klingborg, and Ake Fant’s “Buildings Around the Goetheanum,” excerpted from their Sprechender Beton. Wie Rudolf Steiner den Stahlbeton verwendete (1978). The aesthetically pleasing organic forms of the Dornach complex will capture the reader’s imagination; the practical nature of functional form is often whimsically encased by structures, which seem a curious admixture of medieval English village, Art Nouveau sinuousness, and outer-space technology. This is in keeping with Steiner’s idea that an architect should design each building individually (and not necessarily in concert with the whole).

Fant and Klingborg reappear in their article with the American sculptor A. John Wilkes, “The Wooden Sculptures of Rudolf Steiner and Their Architectural Environment,” excerpted from their Die Holzplastik Rudolf Steiners in Dornach (1981). Steiner’s carving, notable his surviving sculpture of Man positioned between the Anthroposophical deities Lucifer and Ahriman, is represented in photographs.

Georg Hartmann’s “Windows of the Goetheanum” will likely be of special interest to the Russian reader. Asya Turgeneva, and her husband the Russian writer Andrei Belyi, were so taken with Steiner’s Anthroposophy that they traveled to Dornach and spent several years working at the colony. Turgeneva was a glass-etcher and worked on the stained-glass windows of the first Goetheanum. Belyi, who with his fellow Symbolists was a color theorist and applied color theory to his writings, must have been drawn to Steiner’s color theory. Much of it, which proposes that colors are the direct expressions of ancient spirit-beings, was borrowed by Steiner from Goethe’s subjective understanding of color perception. It is fitting that Hartmann has illustrated his article with color photographs of the second Goetheanum windows, which were meant to be (and are) mysteriously compelling spatial elements.

Christian Hitsch’s “The Teachings of Goethe about Metamorphosis and the Architectural Impulse of Rudolf Steiner” is another seminal article for this volume. Steiner, first and foremost, was a Goethe scholar, and his work (at least from his own point of view) was meant to embody Goethe’s teachings, especially on the idea of the soul.

John Ermel’s “Concepts of the Bauhaus and the Goetheanum” is a well-illustrated piece, which argues that the “City of the Bauhaus” was meant to be more than just easy to construct and maintain. Bauhaus (a movement rejected by Anthroposophists) was to be pleasant to look at and allowed for fantasy and personal expression in form and function. Photographs of modern homes and apartment buildings (some as late as 1990s Switzerland) buttress the case for practical yet visually exciting mass-constructed housing. German works include Wolfgang Pehnt’s “Toward the Architecture of Expressionism” on how expressionist architecture in 1910s-20s Germany might fit within the Steinerian worldview; Pehnt addresses the work of Erik Mendelsohn, Hans Sharon, Bernhard Hoetger, and Fritz Höger (roughly Steiner’s contemporaries).

Especially welcome (for Russian readers) in this section of the volume would be a comprehensive scholarly article on Steiner’s influence in Russia from 1908 (when an intellectual elite took up Anthroposophy, established societies and publishing endeavors, and attended Steiner’s lectures in Europe) through at least the 1920s (when a handful of his followers continued to promulgate Steiner’s views on education by living and teaching at orphanages and camps set up for orphaned, abandoned, and displaced children in the years of revolution and civil war)5, but particularly on into the present, when Waldorf schools and Steiner’s pedagogical theories are establishing a presence in Russia. Such an addition would help to explain how it is that Steiner’s Anthroposophy continues to influence architecture in the greater world.

Part Two, “New Impulses,” focuses on related architectural forms in Europe. Danish architect Erik Asmussen’s “With All the Senses,” opens this part of Sokolina’s volume. Asmussen, another of Steiner’s successors, was the founder of the Rudolf Steiner Seminariet (established 1966), which has become the Scandinavian center of Anthroposophy in the Swedish village of Järna, on the Baltic Sea. Like Dornach, Järna is considered a “new world” of and onto itself, and it reflects Asmussen’s theory that all architects would perforce gravitate to organic forms if they just took the time to address the function of the form itself.

The true scholars of Asmussen’s work at Järna, American professors of Architecture Gary Coates and Susanne Siepl-Coates, explore some fantastic examples of Asmussen’s work, both practical and divine, in their “Spiritual Functionalism in the Architecture of Erik Asmussen.” Little known are Asmussen’s hospital (in which rooms are painted according to Steiner’s color theory) at Järna and his magnificent auditorium, the House of Anthroposophy.

Jens Peters’ “Architecture and Anthroposophy” includes colony plans, designs, and photographs of completed projects (pleasing modern buildings, soaring yet somehow comfortable) in which architects have taken an Anthroposophical approach.

British architect, sculptor, and design consultant Christopher Day, here represented by an excerpt from his Places of the Soul: Architecture and Environment Design as a Healing Art (1993), gives us kindergartens and other buildings straight out of Tolkein’s trilogy and its recent epic motion picture adaptation, but these examples of “sensitive chaos” are highly practical and remarkably comforting. Low, medieval looking forms are well adapted to the land in Day’s holistic approach to architecture.

Dutch scholar Rudolf Mees’ “Toward the Creation of Organic Architecture” includes color plans for, and photographs of, a contemporary urban complex of a major bank with public spaces, gardens, and fountains, which embody Anthroposophical ideals. It is, according to Mees, “the architecture of the future.” Architect Joachim Eble, the “grandfather of green” building design in Germany today, surveys ecologically sound housing and community structures in his article “Ecological Architecture.”

Sculptor A. John Wilkes’ “Water in Architecture,” which deserves better photographs, gives ample illustrations of his talent for the organic design of spilling fountains, which are beautiful even when frozen. Many of Wilkes’ “flow forms” are designed for hospitals and meant to incorporate holistic spirituality into high technology (to cleanse the spirit and the air, as it were). Professor Eckart Hahn’s “Ecological Concept of Potsdamer Platz in Berlin” is brief and has no illustrations.

Espen Tharaldsen, Norwegian architect and designer of Bergen’s Waldorf schools, gives us “The Aspiration to Play,” in which ground-hugging homes (with keyhole doors and verge boards that recall the prows of Viking ships and the super-structures of stavkirken) make an argument for the cultural importance of organic forms. Tharaldsen’s Scandinavian wooden homes and public outbuildings strongly reflect his own immersion in Anthroposophy, yet they are extremely eloquent within their cultural context.

The remaining articles further illustrate Anthroposophical ideals in architectural design. They include Professor Karl-Dieter Bodack’s “Organic Design,” about the interior and exterior design of bullet trains, Alexander Boehm’s “Life and Work,” on a German colony suited to both, Isabelle Val de Flor’s “Organic Architecture,” with its illustrations of “organic” homes in France, Stuart Murray’s “Art for the People,” on stained glass windows in America, and Andreas Engelhardt’s “Bio-solar architecture in Aalen.” Most spectacular among the articles is Peter Gaboriany’s “Hungarian Organic Architecture.” Photographs comprise stunning churches and public structures whose impetus must surely have welled up out of the Magyar soul. Organic forms in wood--operatic fantasies all--seem like medieval helmets springing from the ground or great winged beings cleaving to hillsides or nationalistic folktale illustrations. The photographs of their interiors recall the deeply spiritual atmosphere within wooden churches and synagogues everywhere.

Especially welcome in Part Two would be an article on buildings in Russia which may have Anthroposophical connections or which reflect the trends--such as Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, Style Moderne, and others--which likely influenced if not Steiner’s organic architectural forms, then at least his milieu. This is, of course, a difficult request; Sokolina writes in her introduction that there are no Steiner-influenced buildings in Russia.6

Sokolina has selected a remarkable group of essays, many by the leading contemporary proponents of Steiner’s theories on architecture. Careful translations and a large and remarkable group of illustrations make this a worthy volume for historians of architecture and art in Russia, and it deserves an English translation.


Notes
1. See Maria Carlson, “No Religion Higher Than Truth” (Princeton, 1995) on Theosophy and Anthroposophy in Russia.
2. Rudolf Steiner, Ways to a New Style in Architecture (London, 1927); five lectures given during the building of the first Goetheanum.
3. Rudolf Steiner, The Arts and Their Mission, trans. Lisa D. Monges and Virginia Moore (Spring Valley, 1964), 19.
4. Ibid., 18.
5. Kristi Groberg, “Behind the Veil of Cherubina de Gabriak,” Theosophical History 7, no. 6 (1997): 285-97.
6. Ibid, 262.