"Karl Friedrich Schinkel: The Last Great Architect"
Prof. Rand Carter, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY
Originally published as a prefatory essay in:
Collection of Architectural Designs including those designs which have been executed and objects whose execution was intended by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (Chicago: Exedra Books Incorporated, 1981).
(All rights reserved. All international copyrights apply. No part of the following text can be reproduced anywhere, in any form, without the authorization of Rand Carter, copyright owner).
Karl Friedrich Schinkel, "the last great architect" as Adolf Loos described him, enjoyed almost every honor his native Prussia and contemporary Europe could bestow upon an architect. An honorary member of the Academies of Prussia, Denmark, Rome, Bavaria, Russia, Austria and Sweden, as well as the Institute of France and the Royal Institute of British Architects, Schinkel rose steadily through the ranks of the Prussian civil service beginning with the position of Geheimer Oberbauassessor in 1810 and ending with that of Oberlandesbaudirektor in 1838. He was awarded the Order of the Red Eagle, Third Class, after the final completion of his Schauspielhaus in 1821 and was disappointed only that he never received the title he so much desired, "Architect to the King". A near contemporary of Beethoven and Goethe, Schinkel knew and associated with many of the great intellects of Germany's cultural "golden age", including Achim and Bettina von Arnim, Clemens Brentano, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt (for whom he remodeled Schloss Tegel in 1820), Hermann Fürst von Pückler-Muskau, and Friedrich Karl von Savigny; the sculptors Christian Daniel Rauch and Christian Friedrich Tieck; and the greatest historians of art of his generation, Carl Friedrich von Ruhmohr and Gustav Friedrich Waagen. (1)
What makes Schinkel such an important architect and why, after such long neglect in the English-speaking world, has he once again become so interesting? Although a generation younger than the English architects Sir John Soane (1753-1837) and John Nash (1752-1835), Schinkel's career, like theirs, coincided with a period of transition in architecture, a period in which long-accepted conventions were called into question and unprecedented demands were placed upon the architect, in other words, a period much like our own.
The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 was but one of the more dramatic symptoms of dislocation in the intellectual climate of Europe which occurred during the second half of the eighteenth century. As confidence in the old Baroque hierarchical scheme of things as an enduring and divinely ordained system declined, belief in any a priori principles or absolute standards became increasingly difficult. Even where rationalism held on, usually in Latin countries, a return to first principles did not mean a reference to God but rather a search for some primitive state of innocence. On the whole, it was the empirical position which prevailed in northern Europe, and for the architects this meant that each task was more likely to be considered on its own terms; architecture became more experimental and the solutions more tentative. (The empirical approach also meant that the aesthetic effect was less dependent on an appeal to reason than on the power to arouse emotions.)
At the same time a greatly increasing knowledge of other times and places, as well as a new conception of history, complicated the architect's relation to earlier periods. The numerous well-illustrated books on the architecture of other times and places which were appearing made it easier to measure the contemporary architect's work against the greatest masterpieces of world architecture, a thought that could prove unnerving and encourage reliance on time-honored solutions. On the other hand, the new archaeological approach raised some serious difficulties for this conservative position. Unlike the Renaissance humanists who believed it possible to take up where antiquity had left off before being deflected from the true course of progress, the eighteenth century archaeologist saw the past as composed of several self-consistent systems discontinuous with the present. If this often resulted in a romanticization of the past and a belief in one or more lost "Golden Ages," it could also lead to a romanticization of the present and future. Since the fragmentary nature of evidence demanded that archaeologists draw inferences based on an assumption that the fragments were inevitably related to an organic whole, the contemporary architect might well ask what future archaeologists would be led to believe by the ruins of his own buildings. If the ideals of Greece and Rome were expressed in the architecture of classical antiquity, what were the ideals of the present and what kind of architecture was required to express them? The ancient Greeks and the mediaeval Germans had each emerged out of a primitive matrix, but the modern European knew too much, was too sophisticated. At best, one could hope to abstract from the experience of the past first principles on which to base a new architecture. Ideally, a new architecture ought to arise; in the meantime there were pressing problems to be solved making the best of what one had.
In earlier periods the church and the palace had been the leading architectural tasks. But now such things as theatres, museums, and academies began to detach themselves from church or palace and lead a public life of their own; while dwellings, commercial buildings, and factories rose in status. The dramatic increase in population resulting from improved standards of hygiene and health care, and the move to the cities which accompanied commercial and industrial development, totally changed the scale of government buildings and market halls (as well, of course, as the cities themselves) and gave rise to various new tasks. The relation of architects to patron in any large-scale public undertaking was less likely to be the collaboration between two cultivated and strong-willed individuals than the junction of two bureaucracies. Greater population made more and larger buildings necessary, while industrial development and the mass production of such materials as iron and glass at a reasonable cost made them possible.
The generation between the French Revolution and the Allied victory at Waterloo was a difficult period throughout Europe for young architects, including Napoleon's own favorites, Charles Percier (1764-1838) and Pierre François Fontaine (1762-1853). Even after 1815 the absolutism of the Prussian monarchy subjected Schinkel to the financial austerity of Friedrich Wilhelm III and to the mental instability of Friedrich Wilhelm lV, later (1857-1858) to be declared officially insane and replaced by his brother, the future Kaiser Wilhelm I. (2) Perhaps most unfortunate, the fact that Schinkel died before Germany's phenomenal industrialization really got underway meant that his concern with new industrial materials and methods had limited scope for realization and remained largely theoretical. It is tempting to speculate as to how Schinkel's thoughtful and judicious attitude towards the developing technology, combined with his elegant restraint as a designer, would have affected the course of architecture had he lived on to mid-century rather than die at the relatively early age of sixty.
Even more seductive has been the urge felt by some modern critics to see Schinkel in the light of twentieth-century modernists, especially the great Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) whose classicizing minimalist aesthetic is thought to vindicate Schinkel's own earlier distillation of the essence of ancient, mediaeval and Renaissance architecture. Not only are such apologies unnecessary, they are also unfair, as a comparison of Mies' New National Gallery in Berlin (1962-1968) with Schinkel's Old Museum (1823-1830) should make clear. Even allowing for the difficulties of siting a major public building so close to the Wall in the divided city of the 1960s, by every objective standard of utility and urban function Schinkel's Museum, as it existed before World War II, would have to be considered superior.
The podium on which Schinkel's building rests not only lends monumental dignity to the Museum, it also helps relate the building in scale to the Cathedral and Royal Palace facing two of the other sides of the Lustgarten, and to the Arsenal across the west arm of the Spree River on the fourth side. At the same time it raises the exhibition rooms above the damp marshy ground of the island site and safeguards them against possible flooding (it also provided a useful security feature in the uprising of 1830). Designed as storage depots and workshops, it was a servant space to the galleries above with the colossal order emphasizing the more important upper levels. In Mies' National Gallery the podium serves to detach and isolate the building from the surrounding context, and the relation of servant to served space is reversed. The glass pavilion above becomes an over scaled entrance vestibule with the galleries in the podium below. In striking contrast to Schinkel, who avoided windows in the south elevation and hung the paintings on screens perpendicular to the north wall where they could be comfortably viewed in a diffused north light, Mies seems to have ignored the problem of controlling the light in his glass-walled "universal space". The admiration for Schinkel felt by so many twentieth-century architects, from the generation of Peter Behrens, Adolf Loos, and Hermann Muthesius, through Mies to Philip Johnson and James Stirling, to name but a few, may tell us a great deal about their concerns, since they had the example of the earlier master to inspire them, but it does not necessarily help to illuminate the mentality of Schinkel, as he could hardly have had foreknowledge of their performance. Schinkel is much more than a Mies without the steel I-beam. To appreciate Schinkel's achievement we must examine his own designs in the light of the circumstances which produced them.
The son, grandson, and great-grandson of Lutheran pastors, Karl Friedrich Schinkel was born on 13 March 1781 in the town of Neuruppin, about seventeen miles northwest of Berlin. As a boy of six he lost his father in a disastrous fire that destroyed much of his hometown, and in 1794 his widowed mother took the family to Berlin where Karl Friedrich entered the Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster. Though not an outstanding student at the Gymnasium, he was something of a prodigy in music and the arts. After hearing a piece of music once, he could sit down at the piano and paraphrase the melodies. As a child in Neuruppin he and his elder sister had delighted in a toy theatre for which the sister wrote the plays and Karl Friedrich provided the figures and settings.
At the age of sixteen, he was so fascinated by an exhibition of the beautifully rendered project drawings by the young Friedrich Gilly (1772-1800) that he decided on a career as architect. Gilly's scheme, which would have produced an overwhelming effect in the Leipziger Platz where it was intended to be built, placed a Greek Doric Temple above a massive substructure of abstract geometrical forms, with Egyptian obelisks and other symbolic paraphernalia contributing to the sublime effect.
In March 1798, while the young Gilly was traveling abroad, Schinkel began studies with his father David Gilly (1748-1808), an architect whose work was less sensational (and photogenic) than his son's but who possessed exceptional practical experience. When Friedrich Gilly returned from his Studienreise a close friendship developed between the two men, and by 1799 Schinkel was living in the Gilly household, using the library the young Gilly had assembled on his trip and copying his drawings and projects. The elder Gilly had long been concerned that the traditional architectural education at the Akademie der Künste (Academy of Fine Arts) did not provide adequate preparation in the technical side of building, and already in 1793 had organized an informal Bauschule where young architects and students engaged in exercises of a more practical kind. In 1799, a separate Bauakadamie was officially opened in rooms on the first floor of Heinrich Gentz's new Berlin Mint, with Schinkel among the ninety-five students. In addition to the Gillys and Gentz (1766-1811) the faculty also included the fourth leading master of Berlin Neoclassicism, Carl Gotthard Langhans (1732-1808), architect of the Brandenburg Gate (1789-1794). The curriculum placed considerable emphasis on mathematics and engineering, an emphasis that extended to the lecture on the history and theory of architecture delivered by the architect and archaeologist Alois Hirt (1759-1839). (3) Hirt's concern for the principles of construction was clearly expressed in his book, Die Baukunst nach den Grundsätzen der Alten, which appeared in 1809.
Following the untimely death of Friedrich Gilly in 1800, Schinkel completed some of his friend's projects and undertook a few of his own. The town house of the master carpenter and contractor Steinmeyer at Friedrichstrasse 103 (demolished 1892) is usually thought to be a design of Gilly which Schinkel executed, and the strong contrast between drafted masonry and large unarticulated areas of smooth stucco typical of Gilly seem to support this view.
Decoration was placed as an accent to relieve otherwise severe planes rather than integrated into a tectonic system as it was in the mature work of Schinkel. The Pomona Temple, an Ionic garden pavilion on the Pfingstberg near Potsdam, was Schinkel's own design, as were several buildings for country estates. This handful of building projects and his work designing furniture and porcelain earned him enough money to finance a study trip in 1803. During the next two years Schinkel visited Italy, including Naples and Sicily, passing through Dresden, Prague, and Vienna on the way, with a stop in Paris on the return journey.
Rome had remained the artistic center of Europe throughout the eighteenth century and from 1725 the French Academy had sent its most promising students to complete their studies there. In subsequent years several other countries followed suit, developing stipends of one form or another. With its unparalleled abundance of monuments dating from antiquity to the present, Italy held an especial fascination for Northern Europeans who felt themselves relative newcomers to "high civilization." Among the Germans and Austrians whom Schinkel encountered in Rome at this time were the anthropologist and philologist Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835), from 1802 until 1808 Prussian diplomatic emissary to the Holy See, and the painters Joseph Anton Koch (1768-1839) and Gottlieb Schick (1176-1812), from whom Schinkel, who seems to have been largely self-taught in the pictorial arts gained some insight into the technique of painting. It might seem remarkable that his voluminous drawings from this trip include so little of classical architecture; but one must remember that he was already so familiar with it from his studies with the leading Berlin Neoclassicists and the archaeologist Alois Hirt that he preferred to devote his time to recording such discoveries as the brick architecture of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance in Bologna and the Islamic monuments of Sicily. In a letter to David Gilly he wrote "When it comes to antiquity, it offers nothing new to an architect because one is from childhood familiar with it."
His studies completed and his Wanderjahre behind him, Schinkel was at last ready to begin practice in earnest. In order to appreciate the impact Schinkel was to have over the next thirty-five years on the appearance of Berlin, we might look briefly at the character of the city as he found it.
When Schinkel arrived in 1794 Berlin was still a small and relatively unimportant city with a population of 156,000 (compared with 332,000 at the time of his death and 1,900,000 by the end of the century). The marshy ground on which it was built was still crisscrossed with dikes, canals with ramshackle wooden bridges, sentry boxes and vendors' stalls producing a rustic atmosphere hardly appropriate to its status as the capital of a rising state. Originally the capital of Mark Brandenburg, a relatively unimportant electorate of the Holy Roman Empire, under Friedrich Wilhelm (the Great Elector (1620-1688), and his successors, especially Friedrich II ("Friedrich der Grosse," 1712-1786, known to the English-speaking world as Frederick the Great), Berlin and the Mark had become the kernel of a state including not only the provinces of East and West Prussia to the east but numerous other territories in north Germany and Poland. In 1701 Frederick the Great's grandfather, the Elector Friedrich III of Brandenburg (1657-1713), had acquired the title of King in Prussia (Prussia had not been historically part of the Holy Roman Empire) to become King Friedrich I of Prussia. When, following the defeat of Napolean, it acquired most of Rhineland, the kingdom of Prussia extended over roughly two-thirds of modern-day Germany and Poland.
Even the few monumental buildings Berlin had at the beginning of the nineteenth century were a motley assortment of styles. Dominating the city center on an island in the Spree River was the old Stadtschloss (City Castle or Royal Palace), largely transformed by Berlin's first great architect, Andreas Schlüter (1659-1714). North of the Schloss was the Lustgarten (pleasure garden, originally the castle's kitchen gardens) with Johann Boumann's Lutheran Cathedral (Dom am Lustgarten, 1747-1750) on the east side. Frederick the Great had in the years around 1740 intended a Forum Fredericianum near the eastern end of Unter den Linden, the tree-lined avenue which led from the Brandenburg Gate at the western edge of the city toward the heart of the city--the Schloss. The scheme was to include a new palace with forecourt on the north with an Opera House and Academy of Science flanking a square on the opposite side of the avenue. In the years following Georg Wencelaus von Knobelsdorff's splendid neo-Palladian Opera House (1740-1743) and palace (executed by Johann Boumann on Knobelsdorff's plans in 1748-1766 for Frederick the Great's brother Heinrich), the scheme fell into disarray with Jean Laurent Legeay's Pantheon-inspired St. Hedwig's (1747-1773) (4) diagonally sited behind the Opera House on the foundations of an old bastion of the city wall. The serpentine elevation of Friedrich Boumann's Royal Library (built on the site of the projected Academy of Science in 1774-1786 after plans by Georg Unger) completely destroyed any sense of stylistic or spatial unity. After ascending the throne in 1740, Frederick the Great had shifted his attentions to Charlottenburg Palace and the old garrison town of Potsdam twenty miles southwest of Berlin. In the years 1740 to 1750 Knobelsdorff was given the task of adding a wing to the old summer residence of Sophie Charlotte (wife of Friedrich I) for Frederick the Great's use when he came to Berlin on official visits, and of designing winter quarters in the old Stadtschloss at Potsdam. For use as a private retreat Knobelsdorff provided a delightful maison de plaisance (called Sanssouci because no women were permitted there). Sanssouci's hilltop site outside Potsdam commanded a view of the vineyards, orchards, and formal gardens which Frederick developed as part of a royal park which was to become the site of numerous later royal buildings, including several by Schinkel.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century about the only important modern, that is, Neo-classical buildings in Berlin were Langhans' Brandenburg Gate, inspired by the Athenian Propyleum, and the new Mint (1798) by Gentz, who, like Friedrich Gilly, was greatly influenced by the contemporary French manner of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux with its primitive stereometric forms in abrupt juxtaposition to one another.
But Schinkel had to wait another ten years before beginning the full-time practice of architecture. In 1805 and 1806 the battles of Austerlitz and Jena were lost and France occupied all Prussian lands west of the Elbe. The Royal family left Berlin for Königsberg in East Prussia and the following year Prussia sued for peace, ceding much of its territory to France. The tide did not turn against Napoleon until 1812, and in the meantime Schinkel had to supplement his limited opportunities to build with work as a stage designer and painter of romantic landscapes. Panoramas were a great craze at that period (DeLoutherbourg's "Eidophusikon" was first shown in London in 1781 followed by the first Berlin Panorama in 1800), and for the next several years Schinkel was involved in these painted shows, sometimes organized by himself, but usually commissioned by the manufacturer of theatre masks Wilhelm Gropius and his three sons. (5) He began in December 1808 with a 15' x 90' Panorama of Palermo based on drawings from his Italian sketchbooks, followed in the new year by a series including St. Mark's Square in Venice and the Cathedral of Milan by Moonlight. These vast panoramas covered the walls of a cylindrical interior and were viewed from a platform in the center, with dramatic lighting and a choral accompaniment contributing to the sensational effect.
These multi-media exhibitions were close in scope, if not in spirit, to the "total art works" (Gesamtkunstwerke) which the north German painter Philip Otto Rung (1777-1810) had envisioned with his "Phases of the Day" (Tageszeiten), first realized in the form of two drawings Morning and Evening dating from 1811, and later in the cycle of six oil paintings executed in 1813/14 for the Berlin town house of the silk manufacturer Jean Paul Humbert. Schinkel had seen the 1810 exhibition of Friedrich's painting at the Berlin Akademie der Künste and was clearly influenced by them. His own landscapes show a similar romantic view of nature as "God speaking to the human heart," although Schinkel's paintings remain closer to the classical landscape of Koch. (6)
Even after the allied victory of 1815 and until around 1828 Schinkel continued to work as a stage designer, achieving in these imaginary settings an ideal integration of architecture and nature. The most impressive of these were the 1815/16 designs for Mozart's Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) in which the Egyptian locale of the opera gave Schinkel the opportunity to reconstruct what was considered by his generation to have been the earliest form of monumental architecture (and by Mozart's generation the embodiment of occult wisdom). At the same time he was able to express with these Nilotic settings the multiple layers of meaning inherent in Mozart's masterpiece, from its fairy tale phantasy to its profound philosophical overtones. Perhaps the main reason for the great success of his Magic Flute designs is the innate sympathy Schinkel must have felt for this allegory of man's intellectual progress from brutish ignorance to spiritual enlightenment.
The 1809 panorama had attracted the attention of the royal family and Schinkel had been introduced to Queen Luise. Soon afterwards he was commissioned to redecorate the Queen's bedroom at Charlottenburg Palace and responded with elegant neo-classical furniture of pearwood and rose-colored muslin for the upholstery and walls. Even before the return of the royal family to Berlin Schinkel had redesigned part of the Kronprinzenpalais for King Friedrich Wilhelm III, and fifteen years later in 1824 Schinkel designed the remodeling of a suite of rooms in the Stadtschloss (the "Historischen Räume") for Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm on the occasion of his betrothal to Princess Elisabeth of Bavaria. For the rest of his career Schinkel continued to serve the royal family, rebuilding and furnishing old palaces in the city and, with the assistance of the landscape architect Peter Joseph Lenné, transforming their country estates.
At the time of his marriage in 1809 to Susanne Berger (1782-1861), a merchant's daughter from Stettin, Schinkel was living at Breitstrasse 22 above a cafe operated by Wilhelm Gropius. Schinkel shared three rooms with Ferdinand Gropius and another of Wilhelm's three sons. By November of 1811 Schinkel and his growing family (7) had moved from these cramped quarters to a house on the Alexanderplatz where they were frequently visited by his close friends Achim and Bettina von Arnim and Clemens Brentano.
By 1810 Schinkel was a member of the Academy and Geheimer Oberbauassessor in the Oberbaudeputation with responsibility not only for making financial estimates but for expressing an opinion on the plans for such court or state buildings as the difficult times permitted. Following the death of the popular Queen Luise that same year he submitted a design for a mausoleum in the form of a Gothic hall church.
The accompanying memorandum contains a rhapsodic description of the mausoleum in which Schinkel makes it clear that he believes architectural form can and should express an idea, in this case the Christian view of death as the translation from material constraints to spiritual bliss. Just as the Christian attitude towards death is opposed to that of pagan antiquity, so is Gothic opposed to classicism. Gothic architecture is the triumph of spirit over matter, whereas classical architecture is based on purely material considerations. In the review of the history of architecture which reinforces his argument Schinkel accounts for the origins of Gothic as the fusion of universal Christianity and native Germanic genius, its transparent dematerialized forms expressing Christian spiritual enlightenment and its organic forms the Germanic feelings for Nature. Hence, Gothic is not only specifically Christian, it is also specifically German.
Despite the eloquent apologia for mediaeval architecture which accompanied his drawings, the mausoleum was eventually executed in a severely Doric style by Gentz in the park at Charlottenburg. The following year at Gransee, however, Schinkel achieved a Gothic monument to the late Queen in the form of a cenotaph under a cast-iron canopy, the transparency of which seems even better suited to iron than to mediaeval masonry. In addition to the association of mediaeval style with Christian spiritualism and German nationalism, there is also the search for a satisfactory artistic use of cast iron which Schinkel was to pursue for the rest of his career, whether in architectural structure and decoration or in outdoor furniture, lamp standards, and other mass-produced items. Schinkel's aesthetic was not a crudely materialistic "truth to material" affair, however, but rather an attempt to inform iron and other industrial materials with an appropriate beauty through the direct collaboration of the artist in the manufacturing process.
Various plans which Schinkel prepared for a Gothic National Cathedral as a memorial to the War of Liberation fought against France from 1813 to 1815 were eventually supplanted by the great patriotic fervor attached to the scheme for completing Cologne Cathedral as a celebration of German national genius. By the time of the National Cathedral project, Schinkel seems to have retreated somewhat from his earlier position and mixes into the Gothic style such classical elements as, for example, the flat-roofed nave and the dome above the altar, arguing in the accompanying text that the"altdeutsche Bauart" remains to be perfected by the intermingling of classical elements. The association of the Gothic style with national genius should not be exaggerated, as the Gothic church was also considered a vehicle for specifically Catholic worship, not only by such writers as Sulpiz Boisserée and Friedrich Schlegel, but by the Protestant Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel as well in the chapter on a Gothic architecture in his Vorlesung über die Aesthetic (dating from around 1820). (8) The Lutheran Schinkel indeed avoided the Gothic style in his executed churches, a notable exception being the Friedrich-Werdersche Kirche (1824-1830) which the crown insisted should be in that style to conform with the nearby mediaeval churches of the old city. Neither the Nikolaikirche in Potsdam (begun 1826 and completed after Schinkel's death in 1849) nor the parish churches in new neighborhoods to the north and west of central Berlin were built in the Gothic mode. One might also note in this connection that Cologne Cathedral was Catholic, located in the predominantly Catholic Rhineland, and that the supreme monument to German national genius built during the Romantic era, Leo von Klenze's Valhalla overlooking the Danube bear Regensburg (1831-1842, but planned a decade or so earlier), was a Greek Doric Temple.
In any event, Berlin's most important war memorial was the Gothic cross Schinkel designed in 1817/18 for the Tempelhofer Berg (subsequently known as Kreuzberg) with figures by Christian Daniel Rauch, Friedrich Tieck, and Ludwig Wichmann. The use of cast iron for this war memorial is especially significant and can be considered as an example of "iron cross-ism." At the beginning of the War of Liberation in 1813 Schinkel had collaborated with Friedrich Wilhelm III on the design of the Iron Cross, one of Prussia's most honorific military medals. In this case the choice of iron was not so much a reflection of developing industry as it was a substitute for precious metals and symbolic of a sacrifice made for the fatherland. That same year the crown had appealed to the wealthy to contribute their jewels to help subsidize the national cause. The iron jewelry which they were issued as a form of receipt often bore a small cross with a head of the king and inscriptions such as "Gold gab ich für Eisen 1813." Between 1813 and 1815 it is estimated that over 11,000 pieces of iron jewelry were produced, including 5,000 iron crosses.
By the time the Kreuzberg monument was designed and executed (1821) not only were the Napoleonic Wars over and prosperity returning to Prussia, but Schinkel was fully engaged in a full range of improvements in and around Berlin and assuming ever greater responsibility for overseeing architectural projects from Aachen in the Rhineland to Königsberg in East Prussia.
In contrast to Gothic monuments, the three prominently sited public buildings which Schinkel was commissioned to build in central Berlin during his early maturity, the Royal Guardhouse, the National Theatre and the Museum, all returned to the neoclassical style.
The Royal Guardhouse ("Neue" Königliche Wache, 1816) was at the east end of Under den Linden, adjacent to the Baroque Arsenal and diagonally across from the eighteenth-century Kronprinzenpalais where Friedrich Wilhelm III actually resided. Here the obvious functional relationship between the Palace, Royal Guardhouse, and Arsenal was enriched by an expressive use of the classical vocabulary. The classical idiom of the Kronprinzenpalais was domestic, if palatial, while the imposing block of the Arsenal was dressed in a sober Tuscan Doric order above a rusticated ground story, with sculptural decoration in the form of trophies and captive warrior heads. The Royal Guardhouse has an even more military character: the projecting corners give it something of the appearance of a Roman castrum, while the pedimental sculpture of the Greek Doric portico represents a battle scene presided over by a goddess of Victory with smaller "victories" replacing the abstract triglyphs in the frieze below. The earlier project which Schinkel reproduced as Plate I in the Sammlung is closer to the neoclassicism of the previous generation with its planimetric portico and startlingly over-scaled trophies, although even there the stereometric mass is mitigated by the projecting corner towers. The final design as executed was further modulated and tied to its setting by Christian Rauch's statues of Prussian generals on high pedestals: Scharnhorst and Bülow to either side of the portico with Blücher facing them from the other side of the Linden Allée.
With the National Theatre (Schauspielhaus, 1819-1821; 1823) and the Museum ("Alte" Museum am Lustgarten, 1823-1830), the relationship with surrounding buildings was not only one of position and scale but highly symbolic. Flanked in the Gendarmenmarkt by the two eighteenth-century churches which Frederick the Great had commissioned Carl von Gontard to build--or enlarge--in 1780-1785 for the Calvinist and Huguenot communities, the Theatre is a temple of the muses where the classics of German drama were performed with a belief in their spiritually uplifting character. The two buildings which the Museum found as companions on the Island in the Spree at the heart of the city were the Royal Palace (Stadtschloss) and the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral. Hence, to the traditional temporal and spiritual centers was added the cultural center of the city and the state. Both Theatre and Museum are examples of the "spilt religion" typical of the Romantic era when men worshipped at the shrines of Culture; and if the entrance colonnade of the Museum is closer to a Greek stoa than it is to a temple, it nevertheless provides a reverential setting for the display of works of art somewhat in the manner of cult objects.
Schinkel's Theatre was built to replace an earlier (1800) building by Langhans which had been destroyed by fire in 1817. For reasons of economy the King requested that the new building make use of the surviving foundations, though Schinkel managed to rotate the axis of the Theatre 90 degrees so that its main entrance was from the center of the Gendamenmarkt on the east and recessed between the two churches. The "Deutscher Dom" and "Französicher Dom," as Gontard's monumental additions to the simple Calvinist and Huguenot churches of 1701-1708 are called, are attached to the earlier buildings on the west but have Corinthian temple-front porticos on the remaining three sides beneath their tall domed towers. Schinkel chose to design the entrance to his Theatre as a temple-front portico placed far enough back so as not to compete with the side porticos of the churches but rather to help unify the elongated square through the repetition of similarly-scaled hexastyle porticos. On the other hand Schinkel distinguished his "Temple of the Muses" from the two churches by the Apollonian theme of the sculptural decoration and the use of the Ionic order (the columns were taken over from the previous Theatre). As at the Guardhouse, his use of the classical idiom is free and imaginative rather than archaeological and the wall here has been replaced by a reticulated screen of small pilasters articulated at the corners by colossal ones.
The Museum am Lustgarten was one of the earliest buildings specifically designed for the public display of works of art, not as sumptuous decoration in an aristocratic palace, but arranged according to medium, period, and place of origin, with an eye towards art's civilizing effect (Bildung) on the nation. Long discussed, the project to make the royal collections readily available to artists, scholars, and the public had received added impetus when it became increasingly difficult during the Napoleonic era for young artists to make the heretofore virtually obligatory trip to Italy. The return of French loot after the allied victory confirmed the scheme, and the purchase of the extremely important Giustiniani and Solly collections made a proper new building a clear necessity. (9)
The original intention was to house several departments in the one Museum: heavy sculpture was to be on the first floor--large pieces in the top-lit central rotunda and smaller items in the surrounding wings; paintings were to be in the second floor north gallery with other minor departments to east and west of the rotunda and staircase. The rapidly expanding collections soon outgrew the building and even within Schinkel's lifetime (March 1841) a royal decree of Friedrich Wilhelm IV expressed the intention of turning the entire island behind the Museum into a "Freistätte für Kunst und Wissenschaft" (sanctuary for art and science), and Schinkel's student August Stüler (1800-1865) was placed in charge.
The site of the Museum facing the Royal Palace and adjacent to the Cathedral (which Schinkel had already "improved" in 1816/1817) was the most prominent in Berlin and Schinkel rose splendidly to the occasion. The main front of the Lustgarten consists of a colonnade of eighteen Ionic columns, placed in antis, 275' in length and 64' in height from the ground to the top of the cornice. The attic protecting the masonry dome of the rotunda is cubic in form, giving the Museum a simple dominating silhouette and avoiding competition with the dome of the Cathedral. The monumental columnar hall, open to the exterior, contains the main staircase behind a screen of dipteral columns. As the Stoa Poikile ("Painted Porch") at Athens seems to have been an important influence on the scheme, it is not surprising that paintings should play a prominent part and murals depicting an idealized history of civilization were placed on the portico's windowless inner walls (destroyed during WWII). This extraordinary loggia with its open staircase has many different functions and "meanings": it reveals the two main stories of the building behind the unifying colossal order, it gives access directly from the exterior to the separate collections on the upper floor, it protects the murals decorating the front elevation while enlarging with the deep upper landing the area to be decorated, it makes the windowless south wall of the Museum transparent in character while opening a space into the volume of the building from the Lustgarten, and it offers a shelter from the elements adjacent to a large public office.
With both the Guardhouse and the Museum the generally marshy ground of central Berlin was complicated by the existence of old canals which had to be filled in, and in the case of the Museum a subterranean peat bog lead Schinkel to "float" the building on a "pilotage" of 3,000 wooden pilings up to 50' in length. Furthermore, the tight budget meant that expensive stone, imported from Saxony, was reserved for the facades and some of the classical detail of the three buildings, with the remainder executed in the local vernacular material of brick. This more utilitarian material was "planted out" with chestnut trees to the sides and rear of the Guardhouse, and rendered in drafted stucco at the Museum and Theatre (in the latter case replaced by stone in a rebuilding of 1882).
This simulation of the more expensive stone with the less expensive brick may be justified here by the desire to have these prominently sited buildings blend with the existing surroundings, and by the association of stone with wealth, power, and civic dignity; but one must also bear in mind that the stucco rendering was a form of weatherproofing and protected the brick from severe frost. Be that as it may, stucco has a distressing tendency to stain, crack, and become generally tatty. In the following years, as higher quality and much harder brick became available, Schinkel applied himself to developing an appropriate and dignified architectural idiom for this local material. In this respect the house he designed in 1828 for Tobias Christoph Feilner, a prominent manufacturer of ceramic stoves and ornamental terra cotta, is especially interesting. There the elegant use of brick and terra cotta offered an impressive prototype for Berlin builders and served as effective advertising for Feilner's products. (10) The free variation on the Renaissance mode and the use of reddish materials reflected the growing importance during the 1820's of a Renaissance Revival style and a taste for tawny colors in architecture. It also expressed a certain identification of the bourgeois Feilner with the commercial princes of quattrocento Italy.
Schinkel's new masonry bridge to the Spreeinsel from the west (Schlössbrücke, 1822-1824) replaced the old wooden "Hundebrücke" with a more dignified link between Unter den Linden and the city center. In addition, it gave Schinkel a further opportunity to work with cast iron in the railings. Here and in much other "urban furniture," including park benches and lamp standards, Schinkel was determined to demonstrate that new materials and technology were not incompatible with high standards of design. Given his resolve to adapt classical design to mass production and make high quality goods available to a much wider segment of the population, it is not surprising that Schinkel was an admirer of Josiah Wedgwood, the great English potter who had translated classical prototypes into relatively low-cost mass-produced ceramicware.
Schinkel's interest in industrial design is clearly reflected in the Vorbilder für Fabrikanten und Handwerker which began to appear in 1821 (two years after the first fascicle of the Sammlung). The purpose of this important work, a collaborative effort of Schinkel and Peter Christian Beuth (1781-1853) of the Prussian Institute of Trade, was to provide, in an easily accessible and inexpensive publication, examples and prototypes for manufacturers and craftsmen in the various applied arts. By 1830 the first part with 94 plates was completed and an introduction appended. The second part was completed by 1837 with 56 plates and another introduction with the following statement: "Der Fabrikant und Handwerker aber soll, wir wiederholen es, sich nicht verlassen, selbst zu komponieren, sondern fleissig, treu and mit Geschmach nachahmen" (the manufacturer and craftsman should not, we repeat, should not depend upon himself to design, but rather should diligently, faithfully, and with taste imitate [the artist's design]. The authors' recommendation that the designer and maker of industrial products should not be the same person may seem to encourage the development of a situation later so deplored by William Morris, namely the decline of the craftsman into a wage earning laborer, mindlessly executing a product. It must be recognized, however, that Schinkel was already able to see the results of the profit motive combined with large-scale manufacture for a mass market. In any case, the example of an architect assuming the responsibility for designing a wide variety of industrial products is closer to Peter Behrens and the Deutscher Werkbund of the early twentieth century than to Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late nineteenth.
In 1824, Schinkel made a second trip to Italy, his excuse being the need to study the arrangement of the great art collections there in keeping with his continuing work on the Museum. On this visit Schinkel was more susceptible than he had been twenty years earlier to the fascination of Antiquity, and an aftermath of the trip was the painting Blick in Griechenlands Blüte ( Glimpse of Greece's Golden Age"). (11) Schinkel was to make a third and final trip south in 1830 when he took his family to the Rhine provinces and northern Italy.
If Italy provided a view of the past, England offered a view of the present and a glance into the future, and in 1826 Schinkel traveled there to study the new British Museum going up almost simultaneously with his own. (12) His companion in Italy two years earlier had been the historian of art, Gustav Friedrich Waagen. On this trip he accompanied Peter Christian Beuth on the latter's trade mission to England. In London, Schinkel was more impressed by the art collections themselves than by the building going up to house them. Indeed, he thought less of English architecture in general than he did of such engineering feats as Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Thames Tunnel (under construction at the time), Thomas Telford's bridges, and the gas lighting of London's streets (the first gas street lamps in Berlin appeared that same year in Unter den Linden). Whatever reservations Schinkel may have expressed concerning the impact of capitalist industrialization on society and the environment, it is clear that his imagination was stirred by English utilitarian architecture in brick and iron. Yet, impressed as he was by the sheer size and technological sophistication of these fire-resistant buildings, he felt that their grim utilitarian character showed a deplorable lack of concern for aesthetic values. The engineers had fulfilled their task admirably, but no architect had been called in to collaborate, to ennoble utility with beauty, and, as Schinkel put it, "indifference to the fine arts comes close to barbarism."
After his return from England Schinkel introduced iron staircases into his neoclassical modernization's of two Baroque palaces for members of the royal family: in that of Prince Karl (1828) and even more fully in that of Prince Albrecht (1829). In both cases the gracile character of the ironwork is in keeping with the "Pompeiian" style of the interior decoration. Thus, Schinkel succeeded in "adding perfection of form to technical perfection." The strength of the metal could be exploited to match the attenuated "arabesques" of the wall paintings here, just as it had been used to achieve Gothic transparency in the Queen Luise cenotaph. Schinkel wished to master materials and technology in order to make them serve his artistic purposes, rather than become enslaved by them in a merely utilitarian process. Probably the sole example of Schinkel's involvement in a building utilizing iron as an essential structural material throughout was the "Mauresque" Palmhouse on the Pfaueninsel ("Peacock Island"), erected around 1830 in collaboration with the landscape architect Peter Joseph Lenné (burnt in 1880 but known from Karl Blechen's paintings of 1834). (13) Even in a building almost entirely made iron and glass, these industrially produced materials are used to produce a delightfully exotic setting for the rare tropical plants displayed. This and Schinkel's other work on the Pfaueninsel reveal the artist at his most romantic-picturesque--happily so, considering the enchanting setting.
In contrast to the Mediterranean manner informing so many of his contemporaries, the Schweizerhaus ("Swiss Cottage", 1825) on the Pfaueninsel and the earlier Jagdshloss ("Hunting Lodge") Antonin (1822-1824) at Ostrow, near Posen, for Anton Heinrich Fürst von Radziwill, are original designs by Schinkel in a rustic country mode clearly in the tradition of North European building. Consequently both exploit wood as a building material and, especially in the case of the Hunting Lodge which is centered on a great chimney rising above the double hearth and through a steeply pitched roof, the actualities of the cold, damp, and precipitous northern climate are more fully acknowledged.
On the other hand, the delightful Summerhouse (1824) which Schinkel provided for the royal family in the Park of Schloss Charlottenburg, was based on the Neapolitan seaside Villa Reale Chiatamone where the king had so happily resided during a visit in 1822. The Charlottenburg Summerhouse as well as Schloss Glienicke (1826) with its charming Casino (1825) which Schinkel remodeled for Prince Karl were designed for use during the summer months when there would be little discrepancy between their Mediterranean character and the mild weather.
The vast majority of Schinkel's domestic designs in and around Berlin were remodeling of older buildings, and the situation was even more constraining when he had for clients members of the royal family. The high flying, and free wheeling, architectural phantasies of the crown prince, who fancied himself an amateur architect, had to be tactfully refined by Schinkel (when they were not actually suppressed by the thrifty king). Considering the circumstances, it is astonishing how often such remodelings and realizations turned out well. There is not a maison de plaisance in the world more delightful than Charlottenhof in the Park of Sanssouci at Potsdam (1826), nor an Italianate villa more ingratiating than the nearby Court Garderner's House ("Hofgärtnerei," 1829). The remarkable relationship of these houses to the surrounding landscape is something more genuinely architectural than with most picturesque villas, where the conception is literally pictorial--to provide something to look at rather than utilize.
At Charlottenhof (a remodeling for the crown prince and his consort Elisabeth of an old farmhouse bearing the name of a previous owner, Charlotte Reventzow) the main floor is placed above a low basement story which raises it above the damp marshy ground. The maison de plaisance was a type of informal villa in a park-like setting which had been defined by Jacques-François Blondel in his De la distribution des maisons de plaisance, 1737/1738. In order to preserve one of the essential features of the maison de plaisance, the ability to step out from any of the main rooms directly into the garden, Schinkel has provided on the east garden front a raised terrace sloping down to a basin with fountain on the north. This terrace is bounded on the south by a leafy pergola which connects the house with a semicircular garden seat facing it at the western edges, its alignment with the Doric portico emphasized by a water channel. Here, the picturesque elements are integral with Schinkel's skillful handling of particular difficulties in the program and site.
Charlottenhof is a free variation on the Antique villa (and, indeed, the crown prince hoped to supplement its limited accommodation with an archaeologically inspired Roman villa); but the even more picturesque Court Gardener's House combines a rustic Italianate villa with a teahouse in the form of a Classical Temple as well as a Roman Bath (the Römische Bäder"). Schinkel had met John Nash during his English trip, and his friend Hermann Fürst von Pücklel-Muskau's Hints on Landscape Gardening (Aneutungen über Landschaftgärtnerei, 1834) depends entirely on Nash and Humphrey Repton. Yet Nash, who had no firsthand knowledge of Italy, conceived the picturesque villa in terms of its asymmetrical silhouette and variety of texture. Schinkel, on the other hand, who had made many drawings, some quite detailed, of country villas in Italy and Sicily handles the volumes of the Court Gardener's House in a more spatial manner. In fascinating and subtle ways, enclosed and semi-enclosed volumes overlap and intersect, their severe rectilinearity softened by the luxuriantly landscaped natural setting. The whole ensemble offers an irresistible invitation to enter, explore and discover.
Since his student days with David and Friedrich Gilly, Schinkel had been familiar with the undressed brick architecture of the Middle Ages in Brandenburg and East Prussia. On his first Italian trip he had admired the medieval and early Renaissance brick architecture of Bologna and Ferrara, and on a trip of 1816 the Roman basilica in Trier and the continuing brick building tradition of Holland. By the 1830s his extensive travels and the experience of such buildings as the Feilner House, the Friedrich-Werdersche Kirche (1824-1831) and the lighthouse at Arkona (1825) had given him a certain mastery in the use of brick and terra cotta which culminated in the School of Architecture (Bauakademie, or Allgemeine Bauschule, 1831-1835) and the remarkable, though unexecuted, projects for a royal library (1835 and 1838).
The School of Architecture offered not only the opportunity to summarize his aesthetic and technical development, but also to provide a permanent course of instruction for the students in the three dimensions of their academic environment. The first of these lessons was on a somewhat abstract plane: the terra cotta panels around the entrance, reminiscent of the relief sculpture on the facade of San Petronio in Bologna which Schinkel had admired on his first trip to Italy, illustrated such crucial moments in the history of architecture as the inspiration for the Corinthian capital. In what is perhaps the most narrative of the reliefs we see the architect Callimachus' chance discovery of acanthus leaves curling around a basket left on a young girl's grave by her grieving nursemaid who had placed therein the deceased's dolls and other favorite things (a story related by Vitruvius). Schinkel did not attempt in these reliefs a scholarly narrative account of the development of architecture, an obvious impossibility, but chose rather to suggest symbolically certain leaps of the imagination on the part of the creative artist which contributed to the enrichment and ennobling of man's built environment. The reliefs are analogous in function, therefore, to the idealized history of civilization decorating the front of the Museum and help to make the building's purpose readable.
If the history course here on the building, as in many architectural schools, seems little more than decorative trim, such issues as planning, materials, and structure were the core of the curriculum and the plan and elevations of the Bauakademie were designed to illustrate and express various aspects of "building" to both the students and the man on the street. The building had to serve a variety of distinct functions, including the offices of the Baudeputation, an architecture library, and an apartment for Schinkel and his family. What we have here is essentially a "free plan" made possible by the use of point supports in the form of regularly spaced columns supporting rows of segmental arches on which segmental vaults rest. Similar aisled plans, in which non-loadbearing partitions may or may not articulate the bays, had been observed and drawn by Schinkel in the textile mills of England, although there the availability of iron colonettes and beams to support the segmental vaults, in place of Schinkel's columns and arches, had produced an even more open space. The skeletal (as opposed to wall) structure of the building is expressed in the handling of the exterior walls where projecting buttresses between the large windows form a strong sequence of bays corresponding to the interior grid. Projecting string courses define the floor levels and the segmentally arched windows conform to the shape of the vaulting within. The polychrome pattern of the brick further enhances the tectonic expression, as tall verticals and squares on the buttresses imply posts and beam ends, while the striated pattern of the wall suggests a non-loadbearing textile membrane. At the same time, the use of strongly contrasting tone in the brickwork helps compensate for the reduced contrasts of light and shadow in a building without rusticated masonry or the vigorously plastic handling of the classical orders of earlier designs such as Andreas Schlüter's nearby elevations to the Schloss. The location of these two great buildings almost directly across the west arm of the Spree river from one another offered a striking contrast between the Baroque sculptural conception of architecture in terms of apparently active mass and what we might consider Schinkel's increasingly "modern" conception of architecture as clarified space and volume. Schinkel, did not, of course, think of architecture in terms of abstract "pure" form any more than he thought of it as mere utilitarian building. Here, as in his other buildings, the functional solution had to be given the appropriate form with decoration which contributed to its "readability" as a public building. Later in the century when Louis Sullivan said "form follows function", he did not mean that form was of secondary importance, but rather that one must proceed from the elementary functional solution to the further challenge of form.
So free and eclectic is Schinkel in the Bauakademie that he almost succeeds in moving beyond historicism. The buttresses which articulate the elevation resemble the colossal pilasters of the Theatre is some respects and the medieval buttresses of the Friedrich-Werdersche Kirche in others. Similar in effect are the piers separating the vast areas of glass in his 1827 project for a Department Store (Kaufhaus) (14) for Unter den Linden. In this case, the need for large areas of rentable space and maximum natural light logically resulted in a skeletal structure. Yet, if the commercial function made the ceremonial robes of historicism inappropriate, its important site made a merely utilitarian elevation unthinkable. In Schinkel's design the architect has abstracted not only from the functional program and structural system but from the tradition of civic classicism as well. Schinkel was not arbitrary in his use of historical modes but rather eclectic in the best sense of the word. He could search the past for its conspicuous successes using them both freely and discursively as the basis for a contemporary architecture.
The Sammlung Architektonischer Entwürfe omits countless buildings in which Schinkel's participation was largely supervisory, or merely part of his civil responsibilities in the Baudeputation, On the other hand it includes a number of unexecuted projects for which he apparently had a special fondness, such as the classical scheme for the Friedrich-Werdersche Kirche which had to be put aside when the crown prince decided that a brick building in the Gothic style would be closer in character to the medieval churches of the old city. The final design in the Sammlung is for a sumptuous country house "in the antique style," a result of the crown prince's desire to supplement the more modest Charlottenhof. Though based on Prince Friedrich Wilhelm and Schinkel's attempts to reconstruct the two long-vanished villas of Pliny the Younger (Laurentinum on the Sea and Tuscum) based on descriptions in Pliny's letters, the extravagant scale and Roman grandeur may owe more to the architectural aspirations of the crown prince than to the restrained approach of the experienced civil servant.
None of Schinkel's three most spectacular projects was included in the Sammlung. The Ideal-Residenz am Gebirgshange ("Ideal capital city at the foot of the mountains") was a utopian scheme intended to illustrate the principles proposed in his uncompleted textbook on architecture. Of the two commissioned works, neither the scheme for a Royal Palace on the Athenian Acropolis (1834) for the young King Otto of Greece (son of Ludwig I of Bavaria and nephew of the Prussian Crown Prince's wife Elisabeth), nor that for Orianda (1838), an imperial pleasure palace overlooking the Black Sea in the Crimea for the Russian Czarina Alexandra (the Crown Prince of Prussia's sister Charlotte), were ever realized. Both, however, were published (largely posthumously) in Schinkel's Werke der höheren Baukunst (Potsdam, 1840-1842 and 1845-1848). The Acropolis scheme involved clearing away an assortment of post-antique buildings and reconstructing Phidias' Athena Promachos. It left the surviving Periclean monuments intact, modifying the site only with landscaping and a low neo-classical palace on the unoccupied east end of the plateau. Rather then turning the site into a bleak archaeological zone littered with fragments from an alien past, Schinkel's scheme would have expressed the continuing validity of the classical spirit for a newly independent modern Greece. Unfortunately, economic conditions in Greece prevented the project from being carried out. (15) At Orianda, Schinkel wished to achieve an effect commensurate with the site, a lofty rocky promontory on the shores of the Black Sea. His first project for a castle reminiscent of authentic Russian prototypes had to be put aside when the Czarina requested something "in der Art von Siam", that is in the spirit of the modest Charlottenhof which her brother often referred to as "Siam". The crown prince himself insisted on a somewhat grander Antique villa similar to the one projected for Charlottenhof. In the final scheme Schinkel produced for Orianda a unique style composed of classical and exotic forms, gold and mosaic decoration, and the extensive use of semiprecious stones quarried in the region, which he said would reflect "the Asiatic-Scythian, half barbaric character of this region in Antiquity." The project received only the slightest attention from the Russian court. The architect was thanked by the gift of a mother-of-pearl box. Shortly after this disappointment, Schinkel retired to his deathbed where he lay in pathetic condition for twelve months.
The description of these breathtaking examples of romantic idealism as "works of higher architecture" raises an interesting question: did Schinkel consider some of the designs included in the Sammlung works of lower architecture? I suspect that the answer is yes and the the tendency of some recent scholars to focus on the more utilitarian aspects of Schinkel's work may be misleading.
In the memorandum attached to the Queen Luise Mausoleum project Schinkel had asserted that architecture should be the expression of an idea, and, that insofar as it represented a transcendence of the intellectual over purely material considerations, the Gothic style was the best example of an architectural expression of ideas. Yet, as it happened over the next several generations Gothic was capable of expressing a variety of ideas, often contradictory. It could, for example, express the ultimate victory of spirit over matter, an architectural system "organically" related to nature, or the most logical and efficient use of masonry. It was both the visible expression of the Germanic soul and an ideal vehicle for Catholic worship. If similar forms could express such a variety of ideas, was it also possible that a variety of forms could express similar ideas? That meaning was not intrinsic in the forms but rather attached to them by tacit agreement and confirmed by the specific context? Although it is true that the Gothic Monument to the Wars of Liberation was in a "national" style while the Museum dedicated to universal cultural history was in a timeless "international" style, there is also the particular location of each building to consider: a suburban hilltop for the former and the center of the city with its monumental classical buildings for the latter. Schinkel approached each particular problem on its own terms, and this freedom from a self-consistent but doctrinaire method contributed to his success as a practicing architect even if it makes it difficult to reconstruct his "theory of architecture."
A full understanding of Schinkel's theory of architecture may remain impossible. Some of his more frequently quoted remarks should be understood as the musings of an inexperienced youth, as, for example, the statement contained in the memorandum on the Queen Luise Mausoleum that "the art of the Middle Ages is from the beginning higher in its principles than Antiquity." The fragments of his long-projected "Architektonisches Lehrbuch" have been the subject of much discussion; but even the recent brilliant attempt by Goerd Peschken to reconstruct this "architectural textbook" is, in my view, highly speculative. 16 Fortunately, however, we do have at our disposal a large body of written material giving considerable insight into the architect's evolving thought. When Schinkel died on 9 October 1841 after a long and debilitating illness, he left behind voluminous letters, diaries, and memoranda. These were painstakingly compiled and edited--and, in some cases, altered--by his son-in-law Alfred Freiherr von Wolzogen (husband of Elisabeth, the youngest of his four children) and published in four volumes under the title Aus Schinkel's Nachlass: Reisetagebücher, Briefe und Aphorismen (Berlin, 1862-1864). One argument is very clear. "Utility is the fundamental principle of all building," but utility and construction remain "dry and rigid" without two equally important elements: "the historic and the poetic." To blend these four elements successfully requires feeling in addition to reason.
One can observe four, possibly five, distinct periods in Schinkel's development:
(1) the student days under the influence of Friedrich Gilly and early international neoclassicism when Nature and Reason were still thought to be synonymous and best expressed by elementary geometrical forms (as in the Steinmeyer House and the Pomona Temple);
(2) the High Romantic phase (1806-1815) with its concern for the victory of spirit over matter and "what ties us to the superhuman--to God" (most clearly seen in the imaginary architecture of his paintings and stage designs, but also in the "Gothic" projects);
(3) the mature neoclassical phase (1815-1826) during which his mastery of Greek, Roman, and Italianate forms was such that he could use them with freedom and originality to express contemporary content (as in the Museum am Lustgarten and Charlottenhof);
(4) the late phase (1827-1841) when his eclecticism was at its most syncretic and comes closest to a "modern" mode capable of raising ordinary, even utilitarian, buildings to the level of architecture (the Bauakademie and the Kaufhaus);
(5) the "Higher Architecture" (1834-1841) in which the experienced practitioner, his health failing, entered a world beyond the exigencies of everyday practice (the Royal Palace on the Acropolis and Orianda).
As was suggested at the beginning of this essay, Schinkel lived during a period of transition, a period when the conventions of the Baroque could no longer be accepted and a variety of new tasks arising from the social and industrial revolutions demanded new solutions. The self-conscious attitude vis-à-vis the past promoted by archaeological investigation and historical speculation encouraged the notion of a new style appropriate to a new age, but the complexity of the new situation and the need for immediate action made a complete return to first principles impractical. While one waited for the new style to emerge, an eclectic approach could offer a temporary resolution. Ironically, the belief that the new age was essentially different from the past led to the emotional need to find "roots" in the past, to find some continuity with man's great achievements of the past. The unprecedented nature of so many of the architectural tasks and the altered conditions for their realization inevitably produced originality at the level of planning and construction; but as the Romantic architect and, indeed, sensible men realized, man is an emotional creature who needs to be reassured by the familiar and the intelligible. It is a measure of Schinkel's genius that he could provide such functional solutions to particular problems, clothe them in intelligible and expressive forms, incorporate them so felicitously into their environment, and make it all seem so natural and inevitable.
Once before in this century was Schinkel "rediscovered". The generation of Loos, Behrens, and the young Mies was living in a period of transition, a period when the conventions of late nineteenth-century historicism were no longer acceptable and new demands were being placed on architects. To them it was Schinkel's reticence and understatement, his refinement of detail, and his clarity and coherence of plan and elevation that seemed most congenial. In our own period of transition when the conventions of "The Modern Movement" no longer seem relevant and such pseudo-theories as Brutalism, Supermannerism, Adhocism, Metamorphism, and Deconstructionism have proven to be fashionable the whims of journalists and "conceptually rich" intellectuals, it is Schinkel's judicious balance of technological progress and historical continuity, of the will of the architect and the expectations of client and public, of the imposing presence of individual buildings and the deference to urban and natural context, and--most of all--his balance of function and poetry that seem most noteworthy.
Every truly great artist is capable of being reinterpreted by subsequent generations, and if we on Karl Friedrich Schinkel's two hundredth birthday can find inspiration in his example, then others will doubtless discover even further aspects of his genius on his three hundredth anniversary.
Dr. Rand Carter
Clinton, New York, 1981
(slightly revised, 1996)
Reproduced here for Friends of Schinkel with Dr. Rand Carter's permission.