Date of Original Version
Abstract or Description
This dissertation investigates the early career of the German architectural critic Adolf Behne (1885-1948) and the crucial role he played in defining and promoting an early vision of modern architecture. During the particularly vibrant cultural moment in Germany before World War I, Behne became intent on finding artistic and architectural alternatives to what he perceived as the elitism, materialism, and decadence of Wilhelmine society. Influenced by the cultural program of the Socialist party, Behne believed that modern art had to be made accessible to all, and that modern architecture must be grounded in a "social conscience." The theories of Expressionist artists he encountered in Berlin’s Sturm Gallery led Behne to the very different conviction that art must primarily express the inner experience and creative urges of modern man. Combining ideas from Expressionism and Socialism, Behne embraced one of the fundamental paradoxes of modern culture: that art could be simultaneously an ideal, autonomous object of the avant-garde, and also politically and socially engaged to benefit the masses.
Behne found a resolution to this paradox in architecture. His interpretations of Bruno Taut’s early apartment houses and experimental exhibition pavilions as syntheses of fantasy and functional form-making--an "artistic Sachlichkeit"--inspired the critic to invent the concept of an Expressionist architecture. At the same time, the heated debates promoted by the German Werkbund about the relative merits of art and industry in leading architectural reform, provoked Behne to write trenchant criticism about the nature of contemporary architecture and its place in the social fabric of modern society. Far more than an objective reporter or passive filter of the moment, Behne worked in conjunction with artists, architects, publishers, and a nascent media culture to help bridge the gap between the producers of the new architecture and the ever-expanding consuming public. In this early criticism Behne established the themes that would propel him to become one of the most perspicacious critics of the twentieth century architecture and culture.