Review for László Moholy-Nagy’s The New Vision: Fundamentals of Bauhaus Design, Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture (originally published in 1928)

Moholy-Nagy in The New Vision, to illustrate the problem, listed forty-four adjectives describing different kinds of space. He managed a remarkably sophisticated synthesis of them, and above all, he turned what had previously been a matter of speculative aesthetics concerned with the perception of architecture into a scheme that could be applied practically to the creation of new work. In doing this, Moholy was obliged to ignore Schmarsow’s warning and to allow “space,” as a thing, to become confused with ‘spatiality’, its mental perception. “The root of architecture,” wrote Moholy, “lies in the problem of the mastery of space”(60): which, given that aesthetics had declared architecture to be an art of space, but left it to architects to make it happen, was indeed true. Following Schmarsow and the psychologists, Moholy accepted that space was a biological faculty, but, following Riegl and Frankl, recognized that ‘spatiality’ was historically conditioned, and specific to each period of history. The task of architecture was, therefore, to bring to mankind awareness of the present consciousness of space. It is hardly possible to summarize Moholy’s rich and diverse account of how this was to be made to happen, but some of the main points can be drawn out. In describing how space was to be understood, he explicitly rejected the notion of it as enclosure: “It will not be long before… architecture will be understood, not as a complex of inner spaces, not merely as a shelter from the cold and from danger, not as a fixed enclosure, as an unalterable arrangement of rooms, but as an organic component in living, as a creation in the mastery of space experience.” (60)

In this and other remarks, he makes plain his rejection of the Semper tradition of space, and equally of Adolf Loos’s Raumplan compositions. He was also explicit in rejecting the equation of ‘space’ with ‘volume’. A single sentence and accompanying diagram explain as well as anything what he meant: “If the side walls of a volume (i.e., a clearly circumscribed body) are scattered in different directions, spatial patterns or spatial relations originate’(60-61). We might note in this example both the already established idea that space is not concerned with materials (which he also discusses elsewhere), but also that space is achieved by detaching the structural members, so that in the voids between them is created a continuum of space that runs through the building and connects inside with outside. Part of what he means by this is conveyed in a caption to an illustration of Le Corbusier’s Maison La Roche,where he writes that “section of space” is cut out of”cosmic” space by means of a network of strips, wires, and glass, just as if space were a divisible, compact object’ (58). But he also means more than this, for in the continuum of space, “Boundaries become fluid, space is conceived as flowing. Openings and boundaries, perforations and moving surfaces, carry the periphery to the center, and push the center outward. A constant fluctuation, sideways and upward, radiating, all-sided, announces that man has taken possession … of … omnipresent space” (63-64). So in addition to the notion that space is a simple cosmic continuum, made visible by the buildings, he also has the idea that space is a product of motion, and that it changes as man himself moves in space — this idea, reminiscent of his colleague Ebeling’s Raumals Membran, is certainly an important one to Moholy, so the building becomes “a plan of creative expression in space.” But even this does not exhaust his concepts of space, for he also suggests that space has its own “dynamic fields of force” (62), independent of man’s occupation of it — an idea which Banham suggests he derived from Boccioni and the Italian Futurists. Both in his text and in his highly original choice of illustrations, Moholy suggested how architecture as the art of space creation might be approached.

Posted by:Liyang DING

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