From 1904 to 1908, Herman Sörgel (1885–1952) studied architecture at the Technical University in Munich. One of his teachers was the important architect Theodor Fischer, who in 1912 appeared as supervisor of Sörgel’s dissertation that in the end was not accepted; a second dissertation, reached in only three years later, was also refused. Despite these rejections, Sörgel had with both works laid the foundations for a comprehensive theoretical approach to architecture. His book «Architektur-Ästhetik» (architectural aesthetics), first published in 1918, has to be seen as his major work in the field of architectural theory. He therein distinguished architecture from painting and sculpture as spatial art («Raumkunst»), while he characterized painting as surface art («Flächenkunst»), sculpture as bodily art («Körperkunst»). Therefore, Sörgel identified space as object of architectural design – his «Architektur-Ästhetik», being widely recognized as fundamental work, was highly influential on the German debate about architectural space. Still, it represents only a fragment of a bigger edifice of ideas: At the latest in connection with his preparations for the revised third edition, which was published three years after the book’s first edition, Sörgel planned to elaborate a three-volume «Theorie der Baukunst» (theory of architecture), consisting of architectural aesthetics, history, and style.
Documents being handed down in Sörgel’s estate at the Deutsches Museum in Munich as well as his extensive literary work offer access to his theory. In numerous articles Sörgel wrote for newspapers and architectural journals, he commented contemporary planning issues, international developments of architecture, and theoretical debates. In 1925, he even became chief editor of the newly founded magazine «Baukunst», so that he most probably was able to choose and launch most of the topics discussed therein. Therefore it is hardly surprising that, for example, an excerpt of his refused dissertation of 1915 appeared on the pages of «Baukunst». All in all, he surely used the magazine as a mouthpiece to promote ideas that are to be traced back to his architectural theory. Sörgel also participated in the debates about reforming professional education in universities and in schools for craftsmen. During the years 1911 to 1914, which he had spent in Bamberg, he had been teaching courses in one of the latter – not least, craftsmanship for Sörgel was a fundamental condition that made the development of no less than modern architectural style possible. Further books written by Sörgel, such as a volume of the renowned «Handbuch der Architektur» (handbook of architecture) published in 1927, will give additional indication of the overall concept of his architectural theory.
Sörgel’s theoretical work represents one of the last attempts in early 20th century German art theory to draw up a comprehensive architectural theory. The thesis project will undertake a research into sources, taking into account archive material that has by now not been included in scientific research, and it will provide a critical examination of the genesis and content of Sörgel’s fragmentary work. His contribution will be embedded into the contemporary background critically, with a special focus on Sörgel’s theory of architectural style. This part of his theory, that was developed on the eve and in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, has to be examined as contribution to a national stylistic distinction demanded from conservative as well as from progressive German artists at that time. This debate, which is connected to the formation of modern architecture and to reformative, traditionalistic ideas, including the organic evolution of architecture out of local intermeshing, marks a critical turning point in architectural history. With regard to that issue, the thesis project will strive for the widening of the definition of the term “modern” which was canonized in architectural history long throughout the 20th century and has been put into question not least by a traditionalistic approach.
Duration: in progress (since 2011)