The Interpretation of the Glass Dream- ExpressionistA rchitecturea nd the History of the Crystal Metaphor R O S E M A R I E H A A G B L E TTE R

Extracts taken from (title) : pg 20 – The best one can say in defining the Expressionist style in terms of its forms is that no inhibiting principles seem to have been adopted. It appears to be the first style without at least a few rules. This freedom – or what some might characterize as lawlessness. in Expressionism is conventionally assumed to be an indication of extreme self-expression.

Most Expressionist Projects were produced after World War one by a group of architects belonging to the circle around Bruno Taut and the Arbeistrat Fur Kunst. Loosely based on the worker’s soviets active in Germany during the November Revolution of 1918

21 – Many Expressionist projects have in common the use of glass or crystal as proposed construction material. The fact that glass is a viscous material that can be molded into any desired shape may lead us to assume that it might have been chosen as the perfect  embodiment of Expressionism’s idiosyncratic forms. Concrete,
however, could also have been used to do the same job. Hence another property of glass, aside from its malleability, must have been the reason for its frequent use

A recurring motive in many of these designs (in addition to glass and crystal as material) is
transparency and flexibility. Such projects, had they been built,would have produced a rich, shimmering, and illusory world of reflections.

if not always continuous history of glass and crystal symbolism. Bruno Taut’s statement “The Gothic cathedral is the prelude to glass architecture” and one of the couplets written by the poet Paul Scheerbart for Taut’s Glass House of 1914, “Light seeks to penetrate the whole cosmos / And is alive in crystal

pg 32 –

At the outset of his career in the i89os, Scheerbart’s imagery is not far removed from that of Symbolism or Jugendstil: crystalline architecture is introduced as the metaphor of individual transcendence. But in
his writings of the early zoth century (Scheerbart died in 1915) this symbolism is less solipsistic. As his proposals for glass structures grow more architectonic, there is a concurrent increase in these buildings’ flexibility. Scheerbart describes a mobile glass architecture of rotating houses, buildings that can be raised and lowered from cranes, floating and airborne structures, and even a city on wheels. This interest in the literal flexibility of architecture
is further augmented by the suggestion of apparent motion through the use of constantly changing lights, reflecting pools of water, mirrors placed near buildings, or glass floors which reveal the movement of waves and fish of a lake below (the last is very much like the effect of the Grail temple in the Younger Titurel). Such actual and apparent transformations of glass and crystal architecture-terms used interchangeably by Scheerbart-in his later works come to stand for the metamorphosis of the whole  society, an anarchist society, which through its exposure to this
new architecture, has been lifted from dull awareness to a higher mode of sensory experience and from political dependence to a liberation from all institutions.

pg 33 – The Expressionist architectural style is difficult to define precisely because its forms are not perceived as fixed and measurable. There is not an ideal conjunction of forms. On the contrary, if there is an ideal, it is incompletion and tension: shifting, kaleidoscopic forms are forever moving out of chaos toward a potential perfection, a perfection which is, however, never fully attained.

pg 33 – While most of Scheerbart’s architectural proposals appear to spring full-fledged from his unfettered imagination, he was in reality quite aware of historical precedents. For instance, he saw his suggestions for glass architecture as improvements on 19th century botanical gardens and on Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in particular. But he considered the mystic effect of Gothic stained glass with its suffused, colored light more suitable as a model for the synaesthetic experience he himself wished to achieve than the clear glass of 19th-century industrial architecture.

pg 32 –

Around 1912, in the circles of Herwarth Walden’s periodical Der Sturm, Scheerbart met the young architect Bruno Taut who was to become one of the central figures of Expressionist architecture.
During Scheerbart’s few remaining years their friendship became truly symbiotic. Scheerbart dedicated his book Glass Architecture of 1914 to Taut, and Taut that same year dedicated
to Scheerbart his Glass House, a pavilion at the German Werkbund Exhibition in Cologne (Figs. 7 and 8).57 In the Glass House, the literary fantasies about glass architecture are, for the first
time since Gothic architecture, again reinstated as built form.

pg 33 –

This gem-like Glass House, with its colored glass dome set in a
concrete frame, is a replica of Scheerbart’s architectural ideas. Its
small scale is reminiscent of late Gothic chapels and its pearshaped
dome recalls Moslem architecture. The exterior aspect of
the Glass House is curious and insignificant, except for the glass
spheres resembling crystal balls placed mysteriously around its

pg 34 –

The contemporary architectural critic, Adolf
Behne,a friend of Taut, clearly understood the mystical intention
behind the Glass House when he wrote:

“The longing for purity and clarity,for glowing lightness, crystalline exactness, for immaterial lightness, and infinite liveliness
found in glass a means of its fulfillment-in this most bodiless,
most elementary, most flexible, material richest in meaning and
inspiration, which like no other fuses with the world. It is the
least fixed of materials transformed with every change of the
atmosphere infinitely rich in relations mirroring the “below”in
the “above,”animated full of spirit and a live”


pg 36 – Taut’s own evolution in giving the crystal-glass metaphor architectural
form leads him from the egocentric image of the crystal
brain as used in the Glass House to the utopian socialism of
Alpine Architektur. Glass, transparency, and flexibility all signify
here a purified, changed society. This new attitude was no
doubt a reaction to the devastation of the war.



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