Tessenow in Hellerau : the materialisation of space
Germany’s first Garden City was founded at Hellerau in 1908; it represented different aspects of the Reform movement, and was a remarkable coincidence of progressive manufacturing (Karl Schmidt’s Deutsche Werkstätten furniture factory), housing and urban design (masterplanned by Richard Riemerschmid with significant contributions from Hermann Muthesius and Heinrich Tessenow) and cultural innovation (the Festspielhaus, promoted by the patron Wolf Dohrn who commissioned Tessenow) where the Swiss musical pedagogue Emile Jaques-Dalcroze established his school of eurhythmy. Tessenow’s work, in the form of executed buildings, drawings, and writings, forms an architectural corpus which concludes many nineteenth-century concerns and lays the foundations for much of the technical and aesthetic agenda of the Neues Bauen of the 1920s and beyond. His nineteenth-century inheritance is emphasised by considering his work as a series of dialectical pairings representing the fundamental ‘spirit’ and ‘matter’ discourse of that era. The focus on ‘space’ and ‘matter’ of the late 1800s becomes the theoretical engine of the analysis of Tessenow’s work: in terms of ‘light’ (the ‘light box’ of the Festspielhaus) and ‘fabric’ (the aesthetics of flatness aided by Tessenow’s patented wall construction); ‘the grid’, where his work is related to contemporaneous concerns of Behrens and Lauweriks, and ‘the everyday’, which concludes with the parallel of his ‘ordinary’ designs with Muthesius’s encouragement of ‘the type’. Tessenow’s architecture is interpreted as a critical development of Gottfried Semper’s ‘Four Elements’, and it is here that the overly simplistic dialectic of ‘spirit’ and ‘matter’ is found wanting, particulary as concerns the Semperian ‘hearth’ element. The thesis concludes by charting Tessenow’s changing critical reception throughout the twentieth century against its key architectural staging posts, and suggests that the lesson we might learn from him is to adopt a Humanist outlook incorporating an ethos both materialist and ‘spiritual’ in outlook.