Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Art History and Archeology, Columbia University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2004
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
The Kinesthetic Impulse: Space, Performance, and the Body in German Architecture, 1880-1914

This dissertation examines aesthetics and architecture between 1880 and 1914 from the perspective of one of its recurring themes: kinesthesia, defined as the sense of bodily movement. The growing significance of the concept of kinesthesia throughout Europe in the course of the nineteenth century was due to the rise of the so-called "motor theory," according to which the motor activity of the body was no longer understood as the result but rather as the initiator of human perception. In the field of aesthetics, kinesthesia manifested itself as a fascination with performance, motility, and rhythm and as a newfound interest in Raum (space). This implied a change in the nature of aesthetic experience: if a purely visual aesthetic reception corresponded to a passive subject, kinesthesia offered an active aesthetic experience that was pieced together over time through the body's musculature. Hence, when the concept of space was first introduced into architectural culture in the 1880s, it did not simply correspond to three-dimensional extension but was a term that mediated the relationship between architecture and its subject. After discussing the rise of the motor theory in the scientific discourse through the figures of Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894) and Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) in the first part of my thesis, I will focus on three distinct episodes in German architecture. The first episode is the reinvention of the Baroque at the tum of the century, particularly in the work of August Schmarsow (1853-1936), who claimed in the 1890s that Raum was the essence of architecture. Secondly, I will examine how the architect August Endell (1871-1925) used the empathy theory of Theodor Lipps (1851-1914) to master the effects of architectural forms and to create atmospheric surroundings. Finally, I will examine the convergence of Emil Jaques-Dalcroze's (1865-1950) eurhythmics and Adolphe Appia's (1862-1928) spatial theater with the anti-urban, utopian reform program of the model city of Hellerau between 1898-1914.