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Rudolf Steiner's First Goetheanum as an Illustration of Organic Functionalism

David Adams
Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians
Vol. 51, No. 2 (Jun., 1992), pp. 182-204
DOI: 10.2307/990714
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/990714
Page Count: 23
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Rudolf Steiner's First Goetheanum as an Illustration of Organic Functionalism
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Abstract

Austrian designer Rudolf Steiner intended his first Goetheanum building in Dornach, Switzerland (1913-1922), among other purposes, to be a dramatic illustration of the principles of a new style of architecture, simultaneously organic and functional. Its unusual forms in carved wood and reinforced concrete, its watercolor murals, and its engraved colored-glass windows were also to be a visual introduction to the metaphysical ideas of Steiner's anthroposophy. The central dynamic of the building was the intersection of its two domes of different sizes, intended by Steiner to express the union of spirit and matter through his treatment of the functions of stage and auditorium. The contrast between the two domed spaces was supported in great detail throughout the interior. Steiner applied formative principles of the natural world to building designs, attempting to achieve an organism-like relation between part and whole, a harmonious adaptation of building to site, and an organic formal quality sympathetic to the human observer. In particular, he employed the principle of metamorphosis in the abstract forms of the building's ornamentation and ground plan, relating this principle to Goethe's studies of biological morphology. He created forms and spaces that not only fulfilled but also directly imaged their functions, including their relationship to their human users. He set forth his new architectural approach within the context of an extensively enunciated architectural theory, whose primary thrust was the encouragement of a clear adaptation of the designs of buildings to a holistically conceived human nature. He pioneered new techniques and styles, which, along with his lectures and writings, have influenced a number of significant artists and architects of the twentieth century.

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