rudolf steiner's goetheanum is an anthroposophical expressionist concrete architecture gesamtkunstwerk

rudolf steiner's goetheanum is an anthroposophical expressionist concrete architecture gesamtkunstwerk

spiritually expressive, liberal and primordially emotive, the goetheanum is the architectural embodiment of its creator’s ‘anthroposophical’ philosophy — a human oriented spiritual movement that reflects on the deep questions of humanity, and our basic artistic needs. the brainchild of austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect, economist and esotericist rudolf steiner, both the goetheanum and anthroposophy are firmly rooted in the foundation of german writer johann wolfgang von goethe’s theory of natural life cycles and studies in biology — a principle that inspired the goetheanum’s namesake.

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situated in the mountainous region of dornach, switzerland, steiner’s ‘first’ goetheanum was completed in 1919 and comprised primarily of sculpted wood — but only a few years later, remarkably it burned down. the ‘second’ goetheanum, publicly assessable to this day, was conceived by the architect as an illustration of ‘a new style of architecture’, at once organic and functional. it was realized in 1928, just after steiner’s death.



the first goetheanum was a dramatic exercise in expression, with unusual forms carved from wood by boat builders, colored-glass windows, and double-domed rooftop. pioneering new techniques and styles, steiner sought to express the union of spirit and matter through architecture. after the building was destroyed by arson, it was widely considered a huge architectural loss.



‘the goetheanum, as a finished structure in all its beauty, was able to speak its message to humanity only for a few short years,’ writes marie steiner, wife and colleague of rudolf in the foreword of ‘ways to a new style in architecture‘ (a published series of five lectures by rudolf given at dornach, switzerland during the building of the first goetheanum). ‘the full wonder of it was revealed to but a small group of people, although day in and day out crowds of eager sight-seers wound up the hill, there to open their hearts to the breath of the spirit, in curiosity, wonder, admiration, emotion, and — richer by yet another longing — once again to wend their way back to the world of banality.’



steiner designed the second goetheanum, a building to replace the original, wholly of cast concrete. it represents a pioneering use of visible concrete in architecture, particularly in its achievement of sculptural shapes on an architectural scale. a large glazed opening connects the interior with the rocky terrain that forms its backdrop.



once inside, the experience of navigating the interior spaces can be described as moving within a giant sculpture. organically expressive forms — an innovation for the time — embodied steiner’s expressionist movement, revolutionary ideas, and enthusiasm for anthroposophy. no less important is the color of the space, which mirrors the shades of the sun and the earth, functioning as a visual introduction to the metaphysical ideas of steiner’s anthroposophy. filtered through engraved colored-glass windows, light bounces off watercolor murals in the sequence of green, blue, violet and pink.


that dreadful calamity was just the occasion to bring to light what fantastic notions there are in the world linked with all that this goetheanum in dornach intended to do and all that was done in it,’ steiner said in a lecture soon after the fire.



giving birth to a generation of architectural ideas to come, the goetheanum drew the visit and praise of creative legends including henry van de velde, frank lloyd wright, hans scharoun, and frank gehry. today, the goetheanum is the headquarters for the school of spiritual science and the general anthroposophical society. the school of spiritual science remains active worldwide in the research, development, teaching, and practical implementation of its findings. public events and workshops are hosted inside its 1,000-seat auditorium, and range from lectures, to international conferences, and performances that give expression to anthroposophy.



  • I practiced architecture for 45 years.
    It continues to amaze me how much I still don’t now. Keep mining in the riches of the past. And the present. And the future.

    John Gillan says:

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