Contribution to Book
Ending the Hegemony of ‘Space’: Steen Eiler Rasmussen and the Relativization of Baroque AestheticsProceedings of the 2nd International Conference of the European Architectural History Network (2012)
While Steen Eiler Rasmussen’s 1959 book Experiencing Architecture has become an international classic in architectural pedagogy, few have considered its role in reorienting the architectural historiography of baroque ‘space.’ Experiencing Architecture, in fact, drew on much of the same baroque pedigree as Sigfried Giedion’s Space, Time and Architecture, including Heinrich Wölfflin’s historical hermeneutics and Albert Erich Brinckmann’s empathetic accounts of ‘plasticity’ and ‘space’ (Plastik und Raum). However, it invoked these categories, not to construct a teleology from an imagined baroque synthesis to a modernist ‘space-time,’ but rather to relativize and de-mystify these categories, both within seventeenth-century European architecture and within an open-ended set of modernist ‘experiences.’ For example, seventeenth-century Delft, as also seventeenth-century London and Amsterdam, became for Rasmussen an inversion of baroque Rome, not a place of dramatic spatial sequences but a city of bourgeois functionalism, in which theatricality was replaced by the subtle tones of light falling through windows and doorways, illuminating the objects of everyday life. It was not only that the seventeenth-century Dutch built differently from the Romans, but that they also experienced their buildings differently. In a period when Giedion and others were urging a ‘new monumentality’ that would recapitulate in modernist terms the spatial theatricality (and supposed cultural synthesis) of the Roman baroque, Rasmussen reformulated an earlier Scandinavian functionalism, but now in terms of pluralistic phenomenology of everyday life. Using manuscripts and correspondence from the MIT Archive and the Royal Danish Library, this paper argues that Rasmussen’s relativization of baroque spatial aesthetics coincided with a wider schism between empiricist and idealist constructions of architectural modernism in this period. Built on theoretical framework of German idealism, Rasmussen’s work, nevertheless, provided historical justification for the empiricist (and often eclectic and relativistic) positions ranging from picturesque townscape to Alvar Aalto’s humanistic organicism.
Publication DateJune, 2012
Citation InformationAnthony Raynsford. "Ending the Hegemony of ‘Space’: Steen Eiler Rasmussen and the Relativization of Baroque Aesthetics" BrusselsProceedings of the 2nd International Conference of the European Architectural History Network (2012) p. 419 - 423
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/anthony_raynsford/11/