German architectural historian Julius Posener (1904-1996) maintained that Hugo Häring (1882-1958) was the only early modernist architect who had formulated an entire body of architectural theory of his time.[1] Häring’s thinking and its central argument, however, has received very little attention, especially in the English-speaking world.[2] The author substantially contributed to interpreting Häring’s original ideas and Hans Scharoun (1893-1972)’s later application was Peter Blundell Jones, who wrote the only monograph on Häring in English as well as a number of articles that aimed to promote the “organicist” architectural tradition. Nevertheless, Häring’s design theory still deserves further studies, as Blundell Jones failed to discuss Häring’s fragmented notes on the subject of the “philosophy of Gestalt,” a theme that had occupied his mind since the early 1900s. Thus, this paper will provide a long overdue discussion of Häring’s “philosophy of Gestalt” and its historical, theoretical, and methodological implications. I shall argue that his Gestalt theory—alongside the notion of the “New Building” (Neues Bauen)—can be understood as an “alternative” approach to architectural design for its underlying holistic way of perceiving (Vorstellungsarten) in contrast to the mechanical parallel. I shall also argue that Häring’s view towards building as “living organism” and his focus on the immediate experience of what is “happening” (geschehen) presented an adoption of German romanticist tradition and, more specifically, Goethe’s scientific methods and its reliance on “primal phenomenon” (Urphänomen).

Furthermore, I will acknowledge Häring’s role as an “outlier” of the modern movement, while contending that it was the result of, rather than the “discursive limitations” of his theory,[3] the “authority-usurping” of the modern movement right at the moment of its emergence[4] and the dominance of the historiographic narratives that center on heroic figures such as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe. Indeed, Häring stood in opposition to these influential architects. But this stance became one of the reasons for the current resurfacing of Häring’s theory as well as Scharoun’s development, which poses renewed issues for thinking through contemporary architectural pedagogy.

[1] Peter Blundell Jones, Hugo Häring: The Organic versus Geometric (Stuttgart: Ed. Axel Menges, 1999), 33. Julius Posener stated, “Häring was the one whose written oeuvre has been the most important by far. Not only had he written considerably more than any other leading architect of the time, his theory was more consistent than the occasional manifestoes or essays written by his contemporaries.” See Julius Posener, From Schinkel to the Bauhaus (London: Lund Humphries, 1972), 33.

[2] For books on Häring in languages other than English see Jürgen Joedicke and Heinrich Lauterbach‘s Hugo Häring: Schriften Entwürfe Bauten (1965) (German), Adrian V. Sudhalter’s Hugo Häring: Architect des Neuen Bauens, 1882-1958 (2001) (German), Das Andere Bauen: Gedanken und Zeichnungen(1982) (German), and Sergio Polano’s Hugo Härin, il segreto della forma (1983) (Italian).

[3] David J. Lewis, “Channeling Häring, Mediating Scharoun,” The Cornell Journal of Architecture, Vol. 6 (1999): 54-67.

[4] Colin St. John Wilson, The Other Tradition of Modern Architecture: The Uncompleted Project (London: Academy, 1995), 6.

Posted by:Liyang DING

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