Session B Object

Young Bauhaus Research Colloquium



Workshop Session B


Pep Aviles
The Cooper Union and Penn State University

Faktur, Photography and the Image of Labour: On Moholy-Nagy’s Ideological Use of Textures.

In László Moholy-Nagy’s Vision in Motion, published posthumously in 1947, the Hungarian artist and educator granted texture a very delicate and compromised role in the development of mid-century architecture and design. To him, texture was “the legitimate successor of ornament.” Concealed behind the term’s phenomenological patina lie specific meanings acquired and transmitted by direct osmosis among various members of the European artistic avant-garde in the 1920s. The use of the word texture by Moholy-Nagy had evolved from the superficial identification of signs and marks in organisms during the late 1920s to the synthesis of craftsmanship and industrial work in the treatment of materials once in the United States. This paper argues that Moholy-Nagy’s understanding of textures is deeply indebted to his praxis on photography. Departing from the notion of faktura – a concept that Soviet Constructivists placed at the center of the seamless relation between aesthetics, politics and material production – the presentation will unfold the complex alliance between texture and the photographic medium in the literature and work produced by Moholy-Nagy. The paper also underscores the ideological consequences that the transition towards visual modes of material expression at the dawn of consumerism during the 1930s had.

Pep Avilés is an historian, architect and educator. He holds a diploma in Architecture, a Masters degree in the history and theory of art and architecture from the School of Architecture in Barcelona (Escola Tècnica Superior d’Arquitectura de Barcelona – U.P.C.), and a Masters in Arts degree from Princeton University. Avilés taught previously at Princeton University, Columbia University, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and the Barcelona Institute of Architecture, where he was appointed Head of Graduate Studies to design, coordinate and supervise the Masters curriculum. He is the 2012 recipient of the Collection Research Grant at the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal and the 2012–2013 Harold W. Dodds Fellow at Princeton University. His dissertation, “Rhetoric Matters: Image, Textures, and the Discourse around Modern Ornamentation (1932-1961)”, explores the transformation of building materials following the impact of medias of production and reproduction. His academic work has been published in journals such as Footprint, San Rocco, Volume, Project Journal, Abitare and Quaderns d’Architectura i Urbanisme, among others. He is the editor of the Spanish translation of Sigfried Ebeling’s Der Raum als Membran (1926).

James D.Graham
Columbia University

The Tabulated Architect: Psychotechnics and Occupational Therapy in the Laboratory of Design(ers).

The engine of industrial modernity was often fueled by a caloric notion of Arbeitskraft, through which labour power was rendered measurable, abstract and in some sense exchangeable. But if Taylorist empiricism implied an architecture of the worker – of managerial efficiencies – where did that leave the figure of the architect? Could design itself be rethought as a kind of work, one that was rendered similarly knowable? Such was the promise of Hugo Münsterberg’s invention of “psychotechnics” in 1914, a parascientific discipline that blended industrial management with perceptual psychology and dovetailed with advances in occupational therapy in the context and aftermath of the First World War.
The psychotechnical impulse was to create data from phenomena and human capacities that had previously resisted quantification, and this data largely took the form of single-sheet tables, easily filed as research notes, guides for the creation of space or even architectural report cards of a sort. This paper will offer a brief history of the tabulated designer, touching on moments like Nikolai Ladovsky’s Psychotechnical Laboratory of Architecture, Erwin Gackstatter’s racialized charts and tables concerning landscape, Fritz Giese’s study of the Arbeitshand, and finally – most centrally for this paper – László Moholy-Nagy’s work with returning veterans at the School of Design in Chicago, where he reinterpreted the Bauhaus pedagogy as a kind of occupational therapy. Taken together, these various projects in laboratizing architecture demonstrate one possible trajectory for understanding the influence of data and metrics on architectural modernity, and cast the Bauhaus as a participant in a more complex milieu of vocational science.

James Graham is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where he is also the school’s Director of Publications. He is the editor of several books on the Columbia Books on Architecture and the City imprint (including the recent Climates: Architecture and the Planetary Imaginary and 2000+: The Urgencies of Architectural Theory), as well as the founding editor of the Avery Review. James’s in-progress dissertation is titled “The Psychotechnical Architect: Perception, Vocation, and the Laboratory Cultures of Modernity, 1914–1945”.

Christopher Green
The Graduate Center, City University New York

Towards a Digital Bauhaus: The Analog and the Discrete in the Glass Grids of Josef Albers.

Josef Albers’s earliest experiments with glass have been primarily discussed in terms of the handcrafted and expressionistic origins. By 1925, as the Bauhaus shifted to a program defined by the relationship of art, technology and industry, Albers began producing engraved flashed glass works using industrial methods, seemingly supporting the literature’s overwhelming emphasis on this general Bauhaus shift. However, such a binary approach fails to account for the inherent tension between the process and material of the flashed glass, which are at once handcrafted and industrial, and the intense shift in Albers’s visual vocabulary.
This paper proposes to read the shift to the Bauhaus’s canonical modernism as a move not exclusively towards the technological but rather in terms of an adoption of the digital from the analog. As media theorist Alexander Galloway has defined, digitality does not simply refer to electronic technology, but rather to a philosophical and aesthetic position which entails a basic distinction of discrete units, such as horizontal and vertical. This position, I claim, underlies Albers’s approach to using techno-industrial methods as a means of heightening the precision of a discrete ordering of the world in support of his artistic beliefs in rational structure. Albers was intent on meeting what he saw as the demands of the economy of the “stenogram and telegram and code”, and thus his flashed glass works were not falling in line with the abandonment of expressionism and the early craft ethos of the Bauhaus so much as pursuing a digital aesthetic order.

Christopher Green is a PhD candidate in Art History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Baruch College. His writing has appeared in ARTMargins, Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallergic, Art F City and in exhibition catalogues by the New Museum and the Fondation Fernet Branca. He has presented his work internationally, including at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the University of Oklahoma, Norman; the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota; Concordia University, Montreal; and at the Art Institute of Chicago. He most recently coordinated several contributions and responses by Native American artists to House of Dust, an exhibition of the work of Fluxus artist Alison Knowles at the James Gallery, New York. His research focuses on modern and contemporary Native American art and the pressures of the digital mode on culture and art making.

Sarah Borree
University of Edinburgh

Contests of Perspective: Disputing the Status of Architectural Photographs.

Recent controversies surrounding the EU’s consideration to unify the “freedom of panorama”, a principle which grants individuals the right to take photographs of publicly accessible architecture for free use, highlight how closely related the convention of photographic copyrights and our understanding of architecture is, and how it is subject to vested interests. To better understand the emergence of the controversial status of architectural photographs, this paper turns to the 1920s and early 1930s, when the increasing significance of photographs within the architectural discourse destabilised inner-disciplinary hierarchical structures. Drawing on two specific historical situations, the paper argues that the status and purpose of architectural photographs became and still is a matter of contestation, contingent on the roles and interests of various agents. The first, an argument between author Walter Müller-Wulckow and architect Hugo Häring about who should shoulder the costs for photographic prints to be represented in an architectural publication, revolves around the question of who would profit most from the investment. The second casts the spotlight on a dispute between Lucia Moholy and Walter Gropius in the 1930s, which developed around the return of Moholy’s misappropriated negatives by Gropius and the compensation for any unconsented use of the images. Here, the arguments draw on conflicting notions of copyright to determine both the status of the pictures but also of the architecture they show. The comparison of the two cases makes visible the changing meaning and status of architectural photographs for the process of defining the image of architecture and its contingency on the roles and interests of those involved in the production of architecture.

Sarah Borree is a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies at the Edinburgh College of Arts at the University of Edinburgh. She studied architecture in Hamburg and Weimar, Germany and Alexandria, VA, USA. Sarah worked at the German Center for Architecture, as editorial staff for the architectural magazine ARCH+ and as a university research assistant in Christchurch, New Zealand, where she helped to establish a database comprising of historical architectural photographs. Her PhD research is concerned with the role of photography in architectural production processes and is motivated by her interest in the communication of architectural issues within academia as well as for the wider public.

Jordan Elizabeth Troeller
Harvard University

Rehearsals for Exile: Anni Albers and the Nomadic Textile.

Decades after she had immigrated to the US, Anni Albers described a set of textile samples that she had made at the Dessau Bauhaus as her “passport to America”. It was due to the innovative samples, Albers suggested, that the architect Philip Johnson arranged for her and her husband’s emigration in 1933. While we may never know whether the Jewish artist’s escape in fact depended on these cloth fragments, her statement remains provocative. It points to a horizon of her work that has yet to be explored: weaving as a rehearsal for dislocation.
This paper considers the intersection between textiles, provisional architecture and what it means to build – and leave – a home in the work of Anni Albers. It recovers the importance of Strukturstoff, or “structural fabric”, in the Bauhaus weaving workshop. Following the arrival of architect Hannes Meyer in 1927, the weavers increasingly pursued textiles as space-defining elements rather than two-dimensional surfaces, a development that culminated in Albers’s wall covering for Meyer’s ADGB Bundesschule. This experience, I argue, formed a tension, evident in her later writings, between weaving as a modernist medium, defined by its materials and techniques, and weaving as a metaphor for rootlessness. Albers once described cloth’s “nomadic nature” as its essential characteristic, providing portable shelter for “a life of wandering”. To what degree did the Bauhaus weaving project constitute an integral part of modernism’s challenge to traditional modes of belonging and habitation?

Jordan Troeller received her BA in History of Art and Archaeology from the University of California, Berkeley. She earned her Masters in History of Art and Architecture from Harvard, where she is currently a PhD candidate. Her dissertation, “The Bauhaus in situ: The Place of Abstraction in the Weimar Republic”, recovers the role of site and locational identity in the development of industrial design at the Bauhaus in the late 1920s. Her research has been supported by the DAAD, the Fulbright Foundation, the Weimar Klassik Stiftung, the Studienstiftung des Abgeordnetenhauses von Berlin, the Freie Universität Berlin and the Jacob K. Javits Foundation. She has taught at Harvard University and at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Independent Study Program, New York. In addition to a focus on the German and Soviet avant-gardes, her research addresses postwar European and American art and the history of photography, and has appeared in Art News, Prefix Photo and Art Journal. She is currently an affiliated doctoral student at BTU Cottbus.



Robin Schuldenfrei (PhD) is a tenured Lecturer in Twentieth-Century Modernism at The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. Her research focuses on the subjectivity, materiality, political agency and social impact of architecture and its objects. She received her PhD from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and previously held tenure-track positions at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has written widely on modernism as it intersects with theories of the object, architecture and interiors. Her publications include numerous articles and essays and two edited volumes: Atomic Dwelling: Anxiety, Domesticity, and Postwar Architecture (2012) and the co-edited volume Bauhaus Construct: Fashioning Identity, Discourse, and Modernism (2009). Her book, Luxury and Modern Architecture in Germany, 1900-1933, is forthcoming from Princeton University Press. She is concurrently writing a book on objects in exile and the displacement of design.

Johannes Warda (PhD) is an architectural scholar and teacher at Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. After studying History, American Studies, Political Science, and Architecture in Jena, Weimar, and Berkeley, he received his Doctoral degree in architecture and preservation in 2014 (»Veto des Materials. Denkmaldiskurs, Wiederaneignung von Architektur und modernes Umweltbewusstsein«) from Bauhaus-Universität. He is a Fulbright alumnus and has received a dissertation grant from the German National Academic Foundation, and in 2015/16 the Bauhaus Postdoc Scholarship. Johannes‘ research focuses on sustainability, preservation, architectural history of ideas, and architectural and design theory. He is a founding member of the design collective das entwurfskollektiv. His essays and articles about architecture, design, and the environment appeared in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Merkur, and HORIZONTE. Zeitschrift für Architekturdiskurs. Forthcoming: »Keeping West Berlin ›As Found‹. Alison Smithson, Hardt-Waltherr Hämer and 1970s Proto-Preservation Urban Renewal«, East West Central, Vol. 03: Re-framing Identities. Architecture’s Turn to History 1970–1990, eds. Ákos Moravánszky/Torsten Lange (Basel: Birkhäuser, fall 2016). In fall 2016/17, Johannes is lecturer at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.