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Form Follows Fetish: Adolf Behne and the Problem of "Sachlichkeit"

Frederic J. Schwartz
Oxford Art Journal
Vol. 21, No. 2 (1998), pp. 47-77
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1360614
Page Count: 31
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Form Follows Fetish: Adolf Behne and the Problem of "Sachlichkeit"
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Abstract

One of the most ambitious architectural critics in Weimer Germany, Adolf Behne was a pivotal figure in the shift from Expressionism to the Neues Bauen, yet the influential notion of "Sachlichkeit" (objectivity or practicality) on which his theoretical work centres remains largely unexplored. Three programmatic texts of 1927-28 show the historical, critical and political subtlety of Behne's notion of 'objectivity', but also reveal a set of extended tropes that destabilize and ultimately undermine the arguments in which they are deployed. This figural language in discussions of architecture and design is not unique to Behne, and works by Siegfried Kracauer, Joseph Roth and Bertolt Brecht offer points of reference for considering its appearance in Behne's texts. What emerges is a clear sense not only of the sources of and tensions within Behne's concept of 'objectivity' but also of the nature of the philosophical and critical problems he faced. Behne's difficulties, it is argued here, should not be seen as failure but instead as a faithful reflection of a destabilized discourse of the built environment and a conceptual apparatus that was rapidly being reconfigured.

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