Ruskin & Us: Lektüre, Rezeption, Aktualität

Seminar Spezialfrage der Architekturtheorie (052-0840-22)
Organizer: Chair of Prof. Avermaete
Lecturers: PD Dr. Ruth Hanisch
Time: Spring 2022, Mondays, 12:00-14:00
Location: ETH Zürich Hönggerberg, HIL C10.2

Few thinkers of the 19th Century influenced our world view as profoundly as the English dilettanti writer, painter, teacher, art critic, social reformer, conservationist and architectural theoretician John Ruskin. The incredible variety of his topics – from aesthetics, social questions to environmental questions - influenced William Morris, Octavia Hill, Mahatma Gandhi, Beatrice Potter, Karl Marx, Marcel Proust and many others more. The architectural theories of Frank Lloyd Wright, Adolf Loos, Hermann Muthesius and Walter Gropius (to just name a few) are inconceivable without takeovers from Ruskin’s thoughts. Social scientists like Patrick Geddes and Otto Neurath fell back on his ideas of economic reform, workers education and controlling urbanisation. Especially visionary were his early observations of the negative effects of industrialization on the environment which led to first protection measures like buying up farmland in the Lake District. The preservation movement owes Ruskin the idea of the „Altersspuren“, the documentation of minor monuments and the foundation of the National Trust of England. In our seminar will analyse texts, paintings and drawings by Ruskin and his followers and we will discuss the potential relevance of his reforms for today’s building.

Course structure

The course is taking place in weekly meetings. After two initial sessions with lectures by Ruth Hanisch on Ruskin’s life and some of his most important contributions each student will present an analysis of one text or discourse (i.e. a combination of texts) from a rather wide selection of texts, the occasional work of art and act of political activism by Ruskin and some of his most prolific followers. The aim is to close-read these relatively short passages and really work them through, so that students can present a structured summery and analysis to their peers. We will then use the remaining the time to discuss the relation of those texts and compare them to our contemporary positions on certain matters. Texts will be provided as pdfs for each topic.
Ruskin tried to reform not only architecture but the writing about architecture as well, he himself often used graphs and typography to underline his thinking. So visual presentation of the students’ analysis will be important as well: Can you illustrate a citation to make it more understandable?


The assessment is based on students’ presentations (20 min) in the seminar. (In case of absence the presentation + a written essay can be substituted.)

Time table

  • 21.02. „The Old Man of Coniston“: Einführung & Themenvergabe, Ruth Hanisch
  • 28.02. “The Seven Lamps of Architecture”&“The Stones of Venice”, Ruth Hanisch
  • 07.03. JR & Reisen
  • 14.03. JR & Architektur
  • 28.03. JR & das Handwerk
  • 04.04. JR & die Malerei
  • 11.04. JR & soziale Fragen
  • 02.05. JR & Denkmalpflege
  • 09.05. JR & Natur
  • 16.05. JR & Erziehung

Course Language: mainly German (flexible)