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Paper and fire : the images and ashes of Rudolf Steiner's architecture
conference contributionposted on 2011-01-01, 00:00 authored by Fiona GrayFiona Gray
On New Years Eve, 1922, the massive double-domed timber structure of Rudolf Steiner’s First Goetheanum was engulfed in flames and reduced to ashes. In an effort to make his spiritual teachings accessible to all people through the medium of architecture, Steiner had dedicated ten years to the project. Growing hostility towards his occult philosophy however, pointed to arson as the probable cause of the blaze. Not to be defeated, Steiner embarked upon a new design for a second Goetheanum that endeavoured to fulfil the same aim as its predecessor but on an even grander scale. Yet despite being borne out of the same ideational basis, the architectural expression of the second building was vastly different from the first. This paper examines these differences and investigates how the methods Steiner used to create his architecture influenced the final architectural products. Steiner recognised drawing as a creative instrument that could enrich the conceptual potential of his theoretical work, however, with no formal training as an architect and limited drawing ability, this exchange was somewhat limited. The ambiguity of Steiner’s drawings is countered to some extent though by the maquettes and models he produced, which help negotiate the gap between the immaterial idea and the material object. The shared three-dimensional nature of model making and architecture allowed Steiner a more direct means of articulating and mediating his esoteric ideas in built form than the two-dimensional nature of drawing, particularly given the undulating organic forms he enthusiastically employed. Nevertheless, models are still a form of architectural abstraction capable of leaving their own trace on the built work and the distinctive character of Steiner’s non-conventional models serve to illustrate this point. A comparison between Steiner’s models and the buildings themselves reveal the intimate relationship between process and product that exists in his work. While the loss of the first Goetheanum came as a crushing blow to Steiner, its destruction and reconstruction offered him a unique opportunity to reconsider aspects of the design that may have been flawed in the first instance – a situation he embraced unequivocally. What images recurred in his work and why? How did his architecture evolve? This essay will demonstrate how paper and plasticine were utilised in a highly individualised manner by Steiner as a bridge between idea and artefact, to allow new architectural forms to rise from the ashes and produce one of the twentieth century’s most extraordinary buildings.