The Berlage

Session Room K

Glass Visions in German Architecture

Iain Boyd Whyte

Glass was a central theme in German architectural discourse in the early twentieth century, variously used as a metaphor for renewal, purity, community, primeval authenticity, and high-technology.  It stood for both the Gothic past and the machine-made future.  This lecture will follow and explicate these arguments within the broader context of the social and political history of late Wilhelmine and early Weimar Germany.  It will focus on the work of the architect Bruno Taut and his associates over the traumatic decade 1910-1920, and conclude by discussing the lasting impact of the glass fantasists on the emerging modernist design of the 1920s, typified by the pioneering glass towers of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Iain Boyd Whyte is Professor of Architectural History at the University of Edinburgh.  He has written extensively on architectural modernism in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, and on post-1945 urbanism.  His books include Bruno Taut and the Architecture of Activism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982; paperback 2010); The Crystal Chain Letters: Architectural Fantasies by Bruno Taut and his Circle (Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1985); Hendrik Petrus Berlage on Style 1886-1909 (Santa Monica: Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1996); and Modernity and the Spirit of the City (London: Routledge, 2003). Among his more recent publications are The Man-Made Future: Planning, Education, and Design in Mid-20th Century Britain (London: Routledge, 2006); Beyond the Finite: The Sublime in Art and Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, co-edited with Roald Hoffmann, Professor Emeritus of Humane Letters at Cornell University and Nobel Prize laureate for Chemistry in 1981); and Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012). 

Beyond architecture, he has written on aesthetics, twentieth-century German art, and Anglo-German literary relations.  Active over many years as a translator, he launched the e-journal Art in Translation (London: Routledge) in 2009.  A former fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung and a Getty Scholar, he was co-curator of the Council of Europe exhibition Art and Power, shown in London, Barcelona and Berlin in 1996/97. He has served as a Trustee of the National Galleries of Scotland, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and a former chair of RIHA, the International Association of Research Institutes in the History of Art.  In 2015-2016 he was Samuel H. Kress Professor at the Centre for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

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