The basis for how architecture is pursued in the late
20th century is directly related to how theosophy attempts to pursue truths
in the existence of mankind. The focus on abstraction of ideas and feelings
into spacial forms along with the knowledge that architecture is a pursuit
and has no real means to an end parallels the way theosophy viewed truth in
Theosophy emerged in the late 1900’s due to the
questioning of why consistent relationships between science and religion were
impossible to establish. In large part this was due to the findings of Galileo
and the publication of his theories relating to the structure of the solar
system. In this publication Galileo proposed that the earth revolved around
the sun. This idea was absolutely profound for the time and gained widespread
interest even though it was in direct conflict with the mantra of the catholic
church. A split between science and religion was established. For his scientific
breakthrough Galileo was rewarded with a lifetime house arrest.
The significance was profound and led to a new perspective
towards modern science and physics. Galileo instilled in science the belief
that through the observation of the natural world humanity could unravel the
mysteries of life and understand our existence. Science, astronomy, and physics
progressed into new realms of search within the material world. This pursuit
continues on into the present century. The early 20th century provided humanity
with new possibilities of creation with the advent of the big bang and steady
state theories. Throughout this time of rapid scientific pursuit traditional
religions retained their ideals, rejecting these scientific proposals.
In the midst of this split, the growing division spawned
new philosophical ways of thought that focused more towards the inner human
spirit. A new alternative to sciences outwardly focused pursuits and the traditional
religion mantras was necessary. These new spiritual theories attempted to
synthesize science and religion. They were attempting to create some sort
of cohesion between them. It was during this time of inner focus that theosophy
emerged as a widely popular and inspirational view towards human existence.
It’s influence permeated society. Theosophy is
based on the pursuit of truth as a goal. This differs from other religious
attitudes were truth is imposed through authority. In theosophy truth is sought
by the study of comparative religions in an attempt to find certain doctrines
common to all faiths, offering a combination of eastern philosophical attitudes
with a western Christian morality. The emphasis of theosophy is an existence
of a deeper spiritual reality beyond the material world of nature. In further
understanding this true nature found within ourselves we can better evaluate,
and interpret our lives and experiences. This idea contradicts science’s
concern with the physical world. Science pursues laws of the relationships
of physical objects, while theosophy pursues truths found within the intangible
spirit. Both science and theosophy are attempting to unlock and discover answers
of human existence, but through the study of different aspects of the human
experience. In both cases the conclusion is unknown and probably never will
be found. The importance is that with every step or discovery we get a better
understanding of who we are and how we relate to our surroundings on a physical
and emotional level.
It’s inner orientation, optimistic world view, and lack of necessity for one to disavow previous religious views aided in it’s popularity throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. More important than it’s popularity was its extreme influence on the arts in general. In the early 20th century it was a catalyst for new theories towards abstraction in painting and architecture.
The idealistic and antimaterialistic attitude found
within theosophy is what attracted many artists of the time to it. Artists
embraced the freedom to interpret and integrate their own experiences. The
goal of theosophy wasn’t to establish an independent religious body,
therefore there was no specific dogma as with other religions.
Theories were diverse and individualistic throughout
abstract art, but maintained a similar esoteric thread. The avant-garde artists
in France and throughout Europe used theosophy as an inspiration. These artists
were interested in art seeking a higher purpose other than the mere accurate
representation of nature. Artists such as Kupka, Malevich, and Marc, have
been cited as having theosophical influences. The lack of an avant-garde tradition
and enthusiasm for religious informed art influenced American artists such
as Dove, Hartley, and O’ Keefe to probe inner spirituality and emotion.
Theosophy inspired art to reach for a deeper meaning and new ways of creation
and perception that were highly innovative.
Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and Piet Mondrian are the artists most closely associated with theosophy. All three artists had relationships to architecture even though they themselves were not architects. Klee and Kandinsky were professors at the Bauhaus school in Germany. Mondrian was instrumental in the De Stijl movement located in Holland. The impact of the Bauhaus and the De Stijl was world wide and many theories along with methods of teaching continue throughout the world today.
Even though the Bauhaus’s lasting impact was
in the fields of architecture, interior and industrial design, the creative
theories behind painting were the initial catalyst for creation in its early
years. Klee and Kandinsky provided this emphasis on creative theory. Klee’s
focus was the on creative thought. He believed that there was a mystical center
of which it was the artist ‘s goal to pursue. To find this center would
lead to the true understanding of creativity and creation. Klee looked towards
nature for inspiration. He believed art was based on the same formative laws
as nature. Klee pursued an understanding of more than just the appearance
but also the inner order not necessarily visible. In creation he attempted
to discover an order to the human experience. Klee’s views towards art
were individualistic. His interest in the act of creation focused on the artist
and human emotion rather than a greater societal harmony and order.
Kandinsky had a more universal vision. His focus was to elevate society to a more spiritually enlightened realm. He believed society was at the dawn of a new anti materialist era. In this new era, artists, scientists, and theosophists will guide the rest of humankind. The artist assumes a priest like role as the seer of this previously unforeseen realm. Unlike Klee, who looked towards nature for order, Kandinsky viewed nature as an obstacle to overcome. He believed art was completely autonomous from nature. Only through his emancipation from the representation of visual objects could Kandinsky create a truly abstract art. An art which moved away from the material world into a new spiritual world of which everything is related and based on similar laws. This new spiritual world was constituted of auras which surrounded all persons and things. It was thus the artists pursuit to see and represent these auras through a language of form and color to the greater society which otherwise is blind to this alternative realm.
For different reasons and with different approaches
Klee and Kandinsky had a similar objective. Both searched for an existing
spiritual order not yet discovered. Avante garde art could be described as
a means towards displaying theosophical discoveries. Artists were at the forefront
in search for answers about human existence. The continuously changing Bauhaus
curriculum, eventually evolved into a more material and industrial focus,
but the theoretical influences of Klee and Kandinsky were intact and are evident
in the new aesthetic of the products which wouldn’t have existed without
Piet Mondrian and Theo Van Doesburg were the major proponents of the De Stijl movement. Emerging out of Holland after the first world war, Mondrian and Van Doesburg produced a new theory of creation named Neo-Plasticism. Neo- Plasticism’s aim was to create a cohesive unity through the reduction of natural form, and the limitation of color to the use of the primaries of red blue, and yellow. It was believed that these forms and colors could portray and express all without words. Clarity could thus be achieved through simplification. There aim was to demonstrate a utopian ideal of what humanity could become individually and as a society. The means to achieve this was in the integration of architecture, painting and sculpture into one environment. Other arts such as music, dance, drama and literature would also merge. Life in this new environment would be harmonious and there would be no need for an autonomous existence of the arts. Art would become an integral part of the human experience. Neo-plasticism rejects nature for the sake of human progress. Things such as trees and flowers would not be used for beautification. Beautiful cities would be produced through the opposition of buildings and empty spaces and the new integration of the arts in an equilibrated way. The De Stijl would create a new urban environment in which the in between spaces would become as important as the enclosed.
Traditional concepts of enclosure of space within
a larger mass were disregarded. The creation of a system of elements would
determine and divide space. Architecture for the De Stijl was based on this
composition of elements in a similar way that Mondrian constructed his paintings.
Color and structure were reduced to primaries and horizontal and vertical
elements. The relationship, placement, and orientation of objects were all
carefully orchestrated for maximum impact. In these architectural compositions
the core was the grounding element. Spaces were projected from this central
point towards the outside world. Flow and integration were the goal. The traditional
feelings of enclosure were purposefully lost. The new open flow of space allowed
for a new relationship to the exterior in which there became an ambiguity
between interior and exterior. The implication created with the exterior is
that similar to the way the component parts of the construction relate to
create a whole, the structure and open spacial flow could be in relationship
to the natural surroundings in a similar way, implying that the structure
is part of a larger universal entity, a larger cosmic composition.
The De Stijls best example of these new spatial concepts
is the Schroeder Schrader house. The architect Gerrit Rietveld used these
ideas of color. form and space to exemplify the ideals of the de stijl. In
the house a central area of stability is created at its core. This core contains
the bathroom, stove, chimney, and staircase, and is the only fixed area in
the house. All the spaces radiate from this core. One of the most intriguing
aspects of the house is its movable partition system. The walls can disappear.
The entire upper floor space can become livable at once, aiding the feeling
of a spacial flow. The total environment concept is displayed through the
furnishings, They are either built into the structure or have a strict arrangement.
Everything has its own place and relationship to others. Color is used throughout
the house to create a logic. The floor is the best example of this. The differentiation
of color demarcates the rooms of the living area. The individual spaces are
articulated even when the partitions are pulled back and there exists one
continuous open space. The spacial radiation from the main core and lack of
complete containment within cubic volumes help to create a new symbiosis with
place. Large windows open outward visually extending interior space to the
exterior and vice versa. Transitional elements, such as eaves, balconies,
pillars, railings, door and window frames structure the transition between
interior and exterior. A sensation of suspension is created. On the upper
level, balconies open from the bedroom spaces, making it physically possible
to move from interior to exterior. The implication with this relationship
to the exterior is that just as the component parts of the house are in relationship
to create a whole, the house it self is in relationship with its surroundings.
It is a piece of a greater entity than itself.
Outside of the de stijl these architectural characteristics can be found within other examples of architecture. Mies van der Rohe, a former leader of the Bauhaus, used the concept of open flow of space , integration of other forms of art along with an ambiguity between interior and exterior in his Barcelona pavilion. The Seagram building is a good example of an urban strategy paralleling that of the De Stijls. The building is not an object within space but also a creator of it. The plaza created by the setback portrays the exterior space as having as much importance as the interior. The seagram building is also designed around the idea of a central service core. Another characteristic is that all parts to the finest detail of the building were designed by the architect.
Just as painting deviated from representation into new perspectives so did architecture. The change in attitude towards form, and ornamentation and outwardly focused building type has been replaced with a more inwardly focused human relationship. Architecture offers more possibilities towards the pursuit of human truth. It is interactive. It can be expressive and experiential through both the architect and the occupants. It has the ability to provide universal relation to its physical surroundings. There is no one language of architecture. Architects have freedom of interpretation and expression. There are no manifestos today. From Vitruvius to the futurists architecture is a synthesis of these languages. just as theosophy is a synthesis of religion. Truth is a goal to be pursued but never achieved. Just like in architecture perfection can never be achieved It’s the human spirit which is always willing to attempt to achieve the impossible.
Frank Lloyd Wright was also known for totally designing
his environments. An example of this can be seen in falling water. Furnishings
are either built into the structure or have a specific place. Falling water
is also based on the concept of radiating spaces from a central core. Balconies
are used in a similar to the Scroeder Scrader house to create a relationship
to the exterior. The main difference is that Wright was attempting to relate
to nature while Rietveld and the de stijl had no intention to do so.
By the creation of these new theosophical influenced theories artists were able to elevate art beyond mere representation. A new purpose was created which portrayed the importance of the human spirit. The search was not just for the sake of art, but for the good of humanity. Art had become as important of a way of understanding humanity as science. In the human spirit the true essence of life can be found.
Theosophy and the avante garde’s effect on architecture can be seen in two ways, physically through architectural characteristics and through theory and practice. Architectural characteristics such as spaces radiating from a central core, the design of the total environment, and the importance of the exterior spaces in relation to interior spaces, are examples of this influence on contemporary architecture. Architecture of today can also probe the human spirit in a similar way as the avante garde. While paintings influence on society has subsided into a seemingly trivial pursuit, Architecture has taken on a new importance. Space is the new medium of the age. New materials of construction allow for farther possibilities and interpretations. Architects not only have the ability to express emotion and experience but also have the ability to invoke and create it.
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