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The “Corporeality” of the Image in Walter Gropius’ Monumentale Kunst und Industriebau Lecture

  • Catalina Mejía Moreno

…more information

  • Catalina Mejía Moreno
    University of Brighton

Cover of projeter, Number 24-25, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Intermédialités

Article body

The lecture

The poster announced “Monumentale Kunst und Industriebau, Vortrag mit Lichtbildern [lecture with light-images] by Walter Gropius, 8 pm, 1 Mark, Folkwang Museum, Hagen, 1911.” In this publicly advertised lecture, the museum director, art collector, and entrepreneur Karl Ernst Osthaus promoted Walter Gropius’ first-ever public lecture. Although no one was aware at the time, the lecture would also turn out to be the first-ever public dissemination of a series of photographs of North and South American grain silos within architectural discourse (amongst other known and unknown structures and buildings). Gropius presented the now-iconic photographs of these formerly anonymous structures of industrial engineering into architectural discourse through projection; specifically, a series of slides (sixty-nine examples or “illustrations” in Gropius’ terms) accompanied by his own running commentary. This presentation focused on what Gropius dubbed the “new monumental style”.

Two years later, a selection of these images was printed as a photographic insert in the German Werkbund’s 1913 yearbook, detached from the “illustrations” for his article “Development of Modern Industrial Architecture.”[1] This publication, together with the exhibitions Moderne Baukunst and Industriebautenausstellung (1911–13), is usually discussed as the genesis of Gropius’ first reflections on industrial architecture, as well as the first public dissemination of photographs of the aforementioned structures. This printed and public context determined the iconic and paradigmatic status of these photographs, which were repeatedly published and interpreted thereafter by architects such as Le Corbusier in 1923, and Bruno Taut in 1929, as well as the Canadian architect Melvin Charney in 1967, and the British architectural historian Peter Reyner Banham in 1986, amongst many others.

With the conviction that distinct modes of photographic reproduction operate as criticisms of the buildings themselves, this article aims to demonstrate how Walter Gropius’ use of Lichtbilder – light-images or glass slides – not only supported, but also mirrored and justified the argument that he was publicizing, for the first time, on that evening in 1911. Based on a close reading of the original lecture manuscript, which indicates that images and text were merged in the performance (as opposed to their presentation in the yearbook), I argue that it is the agency of the projector together with the nature of the Lichtbild that, entwined with the ephemeral character of the lecture, enabled a distinct and unique criticism. As such, Gropius’ criticism actually took place in the ephemeral space of the projection rather than the various printed media where it is usually located.

The lecture hall and the lecture’s structure

The lecture hall where Gropius spoke was a special room within Hagen’s Folkwang Museum (see Fig. 1). The Berlin-based architect Peter Behrens was commissioned in 1905 to design this sober lecture hall, which was distinct from both the museum’s art nouveau interior (designed by the Belgian architect Henry van der Velde), and the neo-gothic exterior (by the architect Carl Gerard who was also based in Berlin). Behrens’ lecture hall was significant for the museum: in it a series of lectures on art history and social reform were offered to the public as part of the museum’s open program of exhibitions, installations, theatre and music performances, and avant-garde dance. It was director Osthaus’ conviction that the Folkwang should act as a form of aesthetic education for all.

Fig. 1

Peter Behrens Lecture Hall in the Folkwang Museum, Hagen.

Image credit: Aufnahme-Nr. 618.890 Hagen, Osthaus Museum, Vortragssaal

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Before the lecture, approximately twenty-four attendees took their seat in the semi-circular wooden stall designed by the German sculptor Rudolf Bosselt. The lecturer’s podium stood on the right. On a table in the centre were a Leica sciopticon and a wooden box with sixty-nine glass slides waiting to be projected onto the rectangular canvas-like fabric that stood in a dismountable wooden frame on the left, facing the audience.[2]

Under the dim light of the chandelier and in the warmth of the fireplace, Karl Ernst Osthaus introduced his invited lecturer: Walter Gropius, a promising young architect who, together with his office partner Adolf Meyer, was then working for Karl Benscheidt on his Fagus Factory complex project. Interested in the rigorous study and design of industrial buildings, Gropius had recently visited various complexes in the Ruhr area. The lecture, Gropius clarified, would therefore enlighten the audience with a series of exemplary building structures that would represent the unity between industrial architecture and monumental art, as well as the contemporary discussions around the question of “style” as a quest for unity between form and the spiritual imperative of the time.[3]

Before finishing, Osthaus mentioned Gropius’ recent decision to join the Werkbund, and to therefore work towards further projects and collaborations, the first of which would be the traveling exhibitions of photographs Moderne Baukunst and Industriebautenausstellung organized with the Museum für Kunst in Handel und Gewerbe (German Museum for Art in Trade and Production). Like the lecture, these exhibitions address the significance of the production of industrial buildings. The exhibitions and the lecture consisted mostly of Gropius’ photographic accounts, which originated from his collection of photographic reproductions, clippings, and glass slides that he had been assembling since his time in Peter Behrens’ office. Thanks to the collaboration of art historian and commercial photographer, Dr. Franz Stoedtner, all of these documents had also recently been consolidated as part of the Folkwang’s Diapositivzentrale (Slide Central). Gropius would present some of these images on that very same night.

It is worth emphasizing that only the original manuscript and a few Lichtbilder from the lecture remain in Gropius’ archive (see Fig. 2 and Fig.3). Importantly, the complete manuscript of the lecture has never been published, which limits our interpretations of its content and form. Moreover, when the lecture was finally published for the first time in 1983, the whole second part was omitted.[4] Furthermore, the hierarchy of words and images was altered when it was entirely transcribed for print in 1985.[5] In contrast to scholars in the field who have focused only on the initial rhetorical part of Gropius’ presentation, the purpose of this paper is to stress the importance of the lecture as an ephemeral event composed of both read and projected excerpts, as well as verbal and visual representations.

Fig. 2

First and thirty-fifth pages of the manuscript of the Monumentale Kunst und Industriebau lecture by Walter Gropius.

Image Credit: Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin. VG Bild-Kunst Bonn. © DACS 2015

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Fig. 3

Grain Elevators, Buffalo, glass slide (Lichtbilder) by Walter Gropius.

Photography of the glass slide by Catalina Mejía Moreno. The original is to be found in the Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin. © DACS 2015

-> See the list of figures

The manuscript suggests that Gropius’ lecture was divided into two parts. While the first part consisted of seventeen imageless typewritten pages to be read, the second comprised a series of sixty-nine images and their corresponding “captions” that were also meant to be read – only this time along with the succession of images that were projected onto the screen one after another. At the same time, as the title of the lecture suggests, the overall content was divided into two subsections: one “On Monumental Art” and another “On Industrial Buildings.” While “On Industrial Buildings” established a relationship between industrial architecture and production by touching upon the changes that were required in reforming and enhancing the social performance of factory design and architecture, this article will concentrate on “On Monumental Art.” Indeed, it was this section that framed the discussion of industrial buildings as precursors of a coming “new monumental style,” a “new building art” that according to Gropius had been “lacking necessary ethical or religious foundation.”[6]


On that evening in 1911, Gropius argued for monumentality as a necessary precondition of what he defined then as the “new industrial building’s monumental art.” In the lecture manuscript, one can trace Gropius’ first definition of monumentality: “a building art” that required of “specific tasks”; those that will determine the “development of the new monumental style of the time.”[7] This notion of monumentality was inextricably linked to Gropius’ reading of Kunstwollen[8] (“artistic volition”) as a replacement for “style.” Austrian art historian Alois Riegl’s theory of the Kunstwollen asserts that the art or visual production of a given culture is the perfect and unmediated expression of a historical artistic volition, which he dubbed Kunstwollen.[9] As Gropius announced in his lecture, this “new blossom of a new monumental building art will begin from the huge tasks that technology and industry of today demand.” [10] Accordingly “utility, purposiveness and social performance” were preconditions for what Gropius designated as the “new monumental style.” However, such qualities were likewise necessary for his proposed “monumental art,” Gropius continued, that itself partially followed concepts initially formulated by art historians Riegl and Wilhelm Worringer.[11] Their quest for monumentality, influenced by empathy theory, involved psychologizing historical styles and analyzing forms capable of evoking powerful emotions.

Within this context there is one particular notion that appears as a mandatory prerequisite for industrial building as the “new monumental art:” this is not only where Gropius’ central argument lies, but more importantly where the inclusion of the silos finds its justification, and where the projection of images finds its validation. This is Gropius’ use of the notion of “corporeality.” In German, Körperlichkeit[12] – a word that, according to late nineteenth-century German aesthetic and art history discourses, is rooted in discussions of form and content, structure and ornament, art and technology, style and eclecticism. Moreover Körperlichkeit implied a distinction between materiality and immateriality, mass and lightness, but also between iron and ferro-concrete – as Siegfried Giedion later argued famously, using his own now-iconic photograph of the transporter bridge in Marseille to justify his preference for iron.[13]

The reason for my emphasis on this particular notion is that even though Gropius’ rhetoric places “corporeality” in direct relation with the built form, on the night of his lecture, there was also a second “corporeality” – the “corporeality” of the image –inextricably linked with, and only achievable through, the use of the Lichtbilder projection. While the former “corporeality” was a condition of Gropius’ “new monumental art,” the latter made it possible to materialize Gropius’ idea of “corporeality” in front of the audience’s very eyes.

Gropius’ notion of “corporeality”

In order to contextualize Gropius’ concept of “corporeality” and its imperative relation to monumentality, it is necessary to briefly refer to the nineteenth-century theoretical debate that introduced the significance of the “corporeal” into architecture, as well as to the discussion of the perceptual characteristics of mass and the hesitancy of iron as a medium of architectural expression.

In this discussion, the book Die Tektonik der Hellenen, published by the German archaeologist Karl Bötticher in 1844, played a significant role.[14] Here, two analogous categories of “corporeality” – Körperform (volumetric form) and Körperkern (volumetric kernel) – were applied to the built form. It is also here that the idea of Körper- entered architectural discourse as “corporeal,” different from the idea of (human) body and equivalent to a geometrically graspable volume.

In his seminal text on modern architecture,[15] the Swiss art historian Werner Oechslin argues that the above-mentioned concepts derive from Bötticher’s discussion around Kernform (or kernel form); in his words, “what is mechanically necessary, the statically functional schema,”[16] and Kunstform (or artistic form), that which is “only the functional descriptive characteristic,” the mere “ornamental hull.”[17] For Bötticher, Oechslin explains, “the essential quality that characterizes the Hellenic architectonics in general and that lends in the status of ‘principle’ is the ‘ideal quality’ of the organic bond” between both.[18] However Bötticher’s attempt to make the abstract “kernel form” concrete, volumetric, and corporeal led him to describe this coherence also in terms of Körperform[19] – a concept that reflects its inherent structural function but that also finds its definition in the outer “spatial borders drawn.”[20]

Originally complementary, the contrasting juxtaposition of Kunstform and Kernform would in time become an opposition. Such was the context at the time of the lecture, and evident in Gropius’ preference for the notion of “corporeality.” According to Oechslin, this antagonism was partially reinforced by elaborations of these concepts into new emergent pictorial representations. For instance, Kunstform was replaced by Stilhülse (stylistic hull) and Kernform was replaced by the mere concrete “corporeal kernel,” corporeal core or Körperkern. Bötticher defined it as follows: “The kernel of each structural component, denuded of all decorative attributes, is, in its naked corporeality, already entirely capable of fulfilling all functions related to a building.”[21] So while Körperform referred only to the volume, Körperkern referred to the “kernel” as a volumetric structural component free of any ornament and which in itself could perform as a building[22] just as Gropius’ silos. The silos, one could argue, were the visual representation and the physical manifestation of this theoretical desire.

Within art history and empathy theory August Schmarsow took over Bötticher’s theory, juxtaposing it with his own new understanding of Kunstform and Kernform. For Schmarsow, architecture was the entity that gives form to space. As a consequence, decoration was removed and the image of “kernel and hull” started to dissolve. Interestingly, this dissolution also implied that the eye remained on the surface of the corporeal volume and thus in its image – an image that Gropius asserted and exemplified through his “illustrations” of silos on that very night.

Consequently, in the evening of 1911 and thereafter, the silos performed as images and examples of architectural modernism. They were expressed corporeally through reduction, dis-ornamentation, and abstract geometries, and they furthermore responded to Gropius’ interest in theoretical models: the silos as “naked kernels” triggered an empathic response that, in Gropius words, “mak[e] us shiver, which through [their] sheer size overwhelm us mentally”[23] and justified his quest for monumentality. However, the discussions around the “hull” and the “kernel” as well as the use of empathy theory were not the only ones that informed Gropius’ notion of “corporeality.” A related debate – the hesitancy of iron and the preference of stone as a means of architectural expression – also determined Gropius’ discourse.

This discussion took place not only amongst architects and engineers but also in the sphere of art historians; moreover, it had already been broached in the mid-nineteenth century when the use of iron rather than stone was challenged as the material fit for art and the normative concept of architecture. Gottfried Semper, for example, had argued against the use of iron for monumental architecture.[24] While architects firmly believed that the use of stone or modern ferro-concrete would embody a corporeal and therefore “mass style” of monumental architecture, engineers proposed iron as “line” or “scaffold style.” In 1867 architect Ludwig Bohnstedt stated that although iron was an ideal material for engineer’s constructions, it was completely inappropriate for architecture as it couldn’t appear to be “undisguised,” and due to its lack of “corporeality” it would not be able to carry the “art-form.” Iron’s volume could only expand and approach that of stone when it was shaped as a hollow body – that is, in contradiction with its material characteristics.[25]

A good source that summarizes this debate is provided by Georg Hauser, the editor of the journal Deutsche Bauzeitung, who in 1890 and as part of a journalistic effort to question iron constructions, and thus architecture’s loss of “corporeality,” proposed a three-step plan by which the dematerialized lattice-and-rod construction would be visually transformed into a mass form, which only then made possible a “corporeal,” monumental architecture. In his words:

depending on the shape of the web, the expression of the compartmented style changes as follows:

  1. If the web consists of the lattice-and-rod system that characterizes the “iron style”, then we have an invisible architecture

  2. If the web is a thin but generally enclosing wall, then we have a bodiless, materially weak, yet very visible architecture, even in iron …

  3. If the web is massive in whatever material, then we have a corporeal, monumental architecture, in which the principle of “flange and web” can be appreciated as an artistic idea, both for its stability and for its basic decorative richness.[26]

Or, in the words of the art critic and writer Karl Scheffler: “The line means nothing in architecture, mass everything.”[27]

But although Heuser’s ambiguous theoretical claim points to iron as a possible substitute for stone, what is also important to highlight here is that when formed as a hollow body, iron assumed a “corporeality” similar to that of stone or the then-modern ferro-concrete. Hence, for Gropius – as evidenced in the lecture manuscript when he emphasizes the material’s possibilities of concealment to the advantage of the structure’s “corporeality” – it was, similarly to Huser, the “corporeal” massiveness that was important and not necessarily the coherence between image and material. Importantly, this “corporeality,” so fundamental for Gropius’ argument, was materialized through the Lichtbilder’s own nature as photographic reproductions: by the second “corporeality” – or the “corporeality” of the image.

The “corporeality” of the image

All of Gropius’ sixty-nine photographic images of built examples were transferred from paper to glass in order to be projected. Although most common in art history lectures at the time, the extensive use of glass slides was also beginning to migrate into architectural discourse as an effective instructive means, as Gropius’ lecture demonstrates. Like all Lichtbilder, the ones used in 1911 were photographic reproductions that consisted of images supported on glass bases, protected by glass covers, and usually held together with cloth tape. Although initially made from paper prints, Gropius’ slides are photographic images and produced as duplicates from original or composite negatives, which were generally printed onto the slide either by contact or optical printing processes.

The difference between these processes is subtle but significant. While the contact printing process replicates the process of photographic development but onto glass, the optical printing process replicates that of photographic projection onto a surface. In other words, and as explained by the Magic Lantern and Photographic Enlarger Journal (1896),[28] for the process of contact printing, a frame is initially used to hold the emulsions of the negative and the slide together in close contact. When set, a light is shone through the negative, exposing the emulsion of the slide. The slide is then processed using photographic developer, stop bath, and fixer and then washed and dried. Once dry, the slide is mounted with the optional aperture mask and cover glass and then bound together with gummed tape. In contrast, the optical printing method exposes the image by projecting the negative, or negatives, onto a slide coated with emulsion. The processing procedure is the same as that used in contact printing.

In both cases the result is the materialization of the projected image, as a black and grainy surface, onto the transparent glass. This surface holds the representation of the portrayed building, which differs from any photographic negative that is meant to be printed, and is comprised of a series of black patterns enriched and heightened by the use of substances such as phosphate of soda. This chemical embodied each solid element as a different density of black, that when projected would block any trespassing light. All the solid elements would thus appear as shadows and rendered as black (which, in Gropius’ lecture, corresponds to masses and surfaces, but also trusses and webs) in contrast to the absence of solid material that an unaltered transparent glass would allow light to pass through. In a significant way for Gropius’ purpose, the “corporeality” of the image defined by the density of the patterns enhanced any volumetric characteristic, any corporeal mass – and thus, importantly, any buildings’ corporeality.

Herman Grimm, professor of art history at the Humboldt University in Berlin, was one of the first art historians to introduce the use of glass slides in the German context. He was also the first to point out that in contrast to a printed photograph, the Lichtbild defined the object when projected as an illuminated reproduction. The projection device of the sciopticon, the earliest form of mineral oil lantern, allowed him to reach this conclusion. Even the word “sciopticon” is itself revealing in the context of Gropius’ choice of projected Lichtbilder and his notion of “corporeality.” Derived from words that signify “shadow” and “to see,”[29] it was in itself a device for “seeing shadows” produced by the black patterns – or equivalently, for Gropius’ purposes, of “seeing corporeality.”

The projection and the use of Lichtbilder implied for Grimm, as it did for André Malraux many years later, that the artwork would be subjected to a series of alterations of scale and colour, texture, frame, and context– thereby losing the plastic qualities of any artwork. The Lichtbilder would also give rise to an alternative, more insidious effect of photographic reproduction: an understanding of photography as a tool towards the intellectualization of the artwork, and the creation of what Malraux denominated as “fictitious” arts due to the alterations any artwork suffered when projected.[30]

Nevertheless, for Grimm the pictorial mechanics of the sciopticon were not about illusion, deception, or simulation, but rather effective, functional, good-enough transparency that productively enabled new aspects of the work of art to appear, as is for instance the case in Gropius’ notion of “corporeality.”[31] Consequently, the Lichtbilder made it possible to reduce most contextual information about the projected artwork and to address directly what was meant to be shown, effectuating a “new mode of looking”[32] due to the immediacy of the photograph. It was certainly also a “new mode of looking” that Gropius enabled with his lecture in the evening of 1911 through his use of Lichtbilder and in his notion of corporeality.

Two “corporealities” in one

After more than one hour of imageless argumentation the lights went out. The room was entirely darkened. The sound of the projector invaded the lecture hall while a white circle of light appeared projected on the temporary white canvas that faced the audience and that had been placed between the two entrance doors. The Lichtbilder were put into the slide-holder upside down and inserted into the sciopticon waiting to be projected. At that moment, the lecture mode shifted from an embodied to a disembodied form of speech while the two modes of creating an image – material and ephemeral – started to be made manifest.[33] Audience members stopped concentrating on Gropius as a lecturer and shifted instead to the projected images, which when projected sequentially one after the other became narrated illustrations constructed by the Lichtbilder and by Gropius, who gave voice to the mute images.

The first image appeared (see the image 1 in Fig. 4). Eyes concentrated on the canvas where a contrasted and blurry image of a medieval castle was projected.[34] Gropius started to read his notes aloud, from page eighteen of his typewritten manuscript where the first small photographic thumbnail had been glued.

Fortress Coca in north of Spain, a medieval profane functional building. All forms are proven derived from needs of war technology. Out of these requirements the observer has drawn his artistic consequences and has achieved a powerful effect under the renunciation of all ornamental form and motifs through modest means of rhythmic nature.[35]

Fig. 4

Page eighteen of the manuscript of the Monumentale Kunst und Industriebau lecture by Walter Gropius.

Image Credit: Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin. VG Bild-Kunst Bonn. © DACS 2015

-> See the list of figures

While the image remained on the screen, and to explain what was going to come, Gropius continued: “The reason for all the following examples of modern industrial and engineering buildings is to determine to what extent “corporeality,” and respectively the space’s enclosure in interior views, has been brought to its obvious expression.”[36]

Right after that, Gropius projected the image of a bridge (see image 3 in Fig. 4) which he described as “Iron beam-bridge of conventional construction near Griethausen am Rhein.”[37] Clearly informed by the contemporary discussions about ferro-concrete and iron, he had referred to this example previously by saying:

A purely constructive iron bridge, the naked result of reasoned engineers’ calculation is in many cases a fleshless bodyless line-structure without light and shadow … If the construction of such a bridge was to be concealed with wood or sheet metal nothing of the statistically mathematical calculations would be changed, but, the optical image would, because now the illusion of a powerful corporeality would be offered to the eye which it had missed before. One observes, what role the illusion of corporeality plays in the sensual feeling, when for instance the open railing of a high-level balcony is covered with an opaque paper or canvas.[38]

Gropius intentionally altered this particular image. On the right side, the iron structure appears “concealed” by a hand-drawn colour surface meant to visibly illustrate “how much stronger the architectonic expression would be if the builder would have used a simple cladding over the girder truss.”[39] He read: “instead of the network of numberless steel beams through which the eye can see through, there would be, aesthetically speaking, the impression of a simple corporeal beam and at the same time the eye of the passenger would be allowed a spatial halt.”[40]

Meanwhile, the light of the projector was traversing the Lichtbild. The light filtered through the glass slide at the same time as Gropius’ voice, penetrating the immaterial spaces of the bridge as the “beams through which the eye can see through” while not being able to do so in the case of the black surfaces that as shadows allowed for the “passenger’s spatial halt,” hence emphasizing Gropius’ hand-drawn alteration. The light and shadow of the slide projection materialized Gropius’s words on the screen, mirroring – in visual terms – his verbal argument.

As in any cinematic form concerned with communicating a narrative, where the perception of images is inextricably linked with their temporal duration on the screen,[41] five more photographs of reinforced concrete bridges appeared one by one. One in Italy, one in Peru, one in Ulm by Professor Bonnatz, one in Bamberg by Dyckerhoff & Widmann and lastly, one in South England (Wales) – all examples from different countries that without any geographical or constructional context, and purely based on their visual appearance, started to frame Gropius’ discussion of the importance of “corporeality” for monumentality. Simultaneously highlighted was the meaning of the light that transverses and the shadow that renders.

This notion was to be further exemplified by other images such as “A French torpedo experimental Ponton in Ferro-concrete,” a work which, as Gropius pointed out, was in clear opposition to structures such as Zeppelins and train halls: “through the tent ceiling the daylight enters the space diffusely. The roof is therefore aesthetically ignored.” He read:

A French torpedo experimental Ponton in Ferro-concrete.
The desire for flush, unsevered wall surfaces in the interior is a result and consequence of the requirement of enclosed corporeality for the external impression of a building. In fact one can, in the newest construction, thanks to the conscious collaboration of an artist or the unconscious correct feeling of an engineer, see the attempt to collect the iron in enclosed beams instead of the confusing dissolved iron beams of the previous spider web-like roof beams. Of course naked iron offers a greater resistance to the artistic demands of enclosure than ferro-concrete, so often used in recent time.[42]

With example after example, Gropius staged a discussion that in the end would lead to the climax of his presentation: the projection of the images of the concrete grain elevators as the definitive example of the “new monumental style.” Yet before coming to that, he elaborated on a few examples of factory complexes to illustrate how exemplary monumental buildings also provided a “common work spirit” that enhanced production and that prevented the social catastrophe of the capitalist system of production.

“To conclude, a few silo buildings from Germany and America,” he read. It is in this moment that the paradigmatic images of the silos were introduced, and one after the other, projected.

Fig. 5

Page thirty-four of the manuscript of the Monumentale Kunst und Industriebau lecture by Walter Gropius.

Image Credit: Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin. VG Bild-Kunst Bonn. © DACS 2015

-> See the list of figures

[See image 61 in Fig. 5] Corn silo of the Rolands Mill in Bremen by Hilderbrandt & Günthel. The ratio of height to width seems a little unfortunate. The drums are here out of sheet metal, while the latter out of concrete or brick. This should be mentioned precisely because also here the material is indifferent has little to say for the great monumental main form and the artistic rhythm.

[See image 62 in Fig. 5] Corn silo in Worms in ferro-concrete by the Firm Wayss & Freytag.[43]

(turning to manuscript page 35)

Fig. 6

Page thirty-five of the manuscript of the Monumentale Kunst und Industriebau lecture by Walter Gropius.

Image Credit: Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin. VG Bild-Kunst Bonn. © DACS 2015

-> See the list of figures

[See image 63 in Fig. 6] Hard stone silo on Oberramstadt in ferro-concrete by the same company.

[See image 64 in Fig. 6] Gigantic silo and elevator of the Baltimore and Ohio railway association in Baltimore Architect Long. Completely constructed in ferro-concrete

[See image 65 in Fig. 6] Dakota elevator in Buffalo. The middle building is emphasized by the vaulted sheet metal plates between iron girders. The thickness of the wall is therefore minimal, nevertheless a powerful corporeal effect is reached.

[See image 66 in Fig. 5] Corn silo of the Washburn Crosby association in the middle district of Minneapolis, North America, out of ferro-concrete.[44]

(turning to manuscript page 36)

Fig. 7

Page thirty-six of the manuscript of the Monumentale Kunst und Industriebau lecture by Walter Gropius.

Image Credit: Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin. VG Bild-Kunst Bonn. © DACS 2015

-> See the list of figures

[See image 67 in Fig. 7] Corn silo of the same association in Buffalo.

[See image 68 in Fig. 7] Corn silo in South America.

[See image 69 in 7] Corn silo in Buenos Aires. Completely in unfinished brick construction. Here apparently an artist contributed to this building.[45]

As is clear, Gropius only provided two explanatory indications: one to make a reference to the unfortunate proportion of the corn silo in Bremen and a brief reference to the Dakota Elevator’s powerful corporeal effect. Only one adjective – gigantic – described the size of one of the silos, while the material nature of the building was described as unfinished.

By now the images were no longer accompanied by many words. At this stage there was no need. The argument was almost entirely being made by the projector and its Lichtbilder, whose shadows embodied the “corporeal” (or volumes in black) and light rays the “invisible” (or air in white). In other words, Gropius’ quest for the “new monumentality” was self-evident due to the dematerialization of the projected photograph in light and shadow. Paradoxically, this dematerialization materialized the corporeality of the silos on the screen: the buildings’ solid elements, and thus their corporeal mass, appeared as shadows and were seen by the audience as black in contrast to the non-existence of that which appeared as light.

“Performed” photographs

As a closing remark to his lecture, Gropius read: “The projected series of images makes no claim for completeness, but maybe with it evidence is nevertheless provided.”[46] It is this particular understanding of the “performed” image that allows us to think through not only the inextricable and mirroring relationship between the “corporeality of the image” and Gropius’ notion of “corporeality” as a precondition for the new monumental building art, between the projected image and the verbal argument, between the argument and the media, but also the relationship between the projection of the images and the projection of Gropius’s voice within the lecture hall as a one-off ephemeral event in itself.

Echoing the performances of contemporary art historians such as Grimm and Heinrich Wölfflin, or figures such as the “film lecturer” who since the late nineteenth century was the voice behind “animated photographs,” Gropius’ lecture was not only about showing, but also about telling. In this context it is important to point out that the projection of the Lichtbilder cannot be detached from the voice of the lecturer. The voice is not just part of the narration, it is part of the Lichtbilder’s materialization. During Gropius’ 1911 lecture, works of architecture were not only projected photographic representations but also public acoustic visions – verbal images that, thanks to the projection of the lecturer’s voice within the lecture hall, would tend to be better preserved in memory than “mute” real works of art, as Grimm argued.

On the other hand, one could argue that Gropius’ voice performed not only as the narrative device but also as the mediator between modernity and its projection technology, which as cinema historian and theorist Germain Lacasse has discussed, “served the consolidation of scientific and materialist knowledge of the world, offering the spectator a narrative build-up by the reproduction of ‘what he believed was the “real.”’”[47] A real that Gropius paradoxically had not yet been able to experience directly, and that like his audience, he was introduced to through photographic accounts.

On that evening in 1911, Peter Behrens’ lecture hall became an “experimental theatre.”[48] It was a stage where projected images mirrored the oral argument only due to the specificity of the industrial buildings chosen, which as Lichtbilder allowed light to penetrate in such a way that Gropius’ notion of “corporeality” and the corporeality of the image became one and the same. It was a stage where Gropius’ performance was tied to not only the luminous “transport of images,”[49] in Dominique Païni’s words, but also the representation of volumes on the flat surface of the screen that made evident the projected image’s dialectical nature of representing and exhibiting – while at the same time conferring a critical dimension to the image.[50] A stage where the illusions of the lanternslide lecture were only complete with the audience’s attendance. A stage where the verbal and the visual – in content but also in form – merged into one, as demonstrated in another German word that merges lanternslide and lecture, Lichtbildervortrag, and different from the one used on the lecture’s poster, where words and images were still separated into Vortrag mit Lichtbildern.