Review for Hermann Muthesius’s The English House (originally published in 1904-5), translated by Stewart Spencer (2007).
This 3-volume book is the first full translation of Muthesius survey of English country house in the 1890s. The early version of this book published in 1987 intentionally omitted the first volume, which is mainly a historical review of English architectural tradition. According to Dennis Sharp, the first volume was not essential simply because “Muthesius’s record of English architectural history can be found in the writings of his British contemporaries, such as Fergusson, Statham, Rickman and the various authors of specialized studies on the English house mentioned in the text” (Sharp 1989,3). In Julius Posener’s view as well as mine, this particular section of Muthesius’s book is, however, extremely indispensable because it sets up the ground for Muthesius’s thesis of his work: the inner en Organismus (inner organicism) is the central feature of the English “free architecture” tradition, which rooted in the critique of both the naturalistic aspect of the picturesque garden tradition as well as the historical style of the “villa” architecture that was still prevailing in late 19th century Germany. What is more, Muthesius’s study of English country house reflected his attitude toward the relationship between the house and the garden as an inseparable unity (Muthesius 2007, vol. 2, 82-3). Indeed, the English country house had developed the “organic” characteristic as “inside to outside,” resulting from increasing demands for spatial differentiation imposed by the corresponding demands from the inhabitants.
In Das englische Haus, Muthesius claimed: “All that can be done here is to record the basic features of its development by concentrating on what might be termed its inner organism, as expressed above all in the design of its floor plan. Only those aspects will be singled out that are of relevance to the house’s present form.” (Muthesius 2007, vol. 1, 12) Beyond that, Muthesius’s promotion of the English country house was based upon another conviction of his that artistic culture can be the vehicle for cultural and social reform. It is such an agenda that allied him with the English Arts and Crafts Movement. In particular, Muthesius promoted the Landhausideologie(country house ideology), that is, the most valuable characteristic to gain while living in the country house is the close connection with nature, because it offered a condition for both spiritual and physical well-being of modern people, especially middle class, who lived in the emerging industrial world.
Muthesius’s documentation is a little bit dry,but its form disguises a gentle manifesto for a culturally appropriate modern architecture of function – one that freed from the fetters of historicism and the tyranny of style – aimed at his intended audience of the growing middle class in a newly industrialized Germany. For this particular reason, the historical significance of the book is beyond argument.
In terms of its relation to modern spatial conception, Muthesius indirectly promoted, even although perhaps unconsciously, the architektonischer garten idea which later influenced a range of modern architects, including Mies van der Rohe and Hans Scharoun. Initially appeared as a garden design approach, this particular idea was further developed into one of the most prominent models of spatial construction that not only aimed fuse the interior and exterior spaces but also to some extent heralded a self-world fusion that characterized the most “authentic” post-perspective spatial model.