ARC 331: The Great War

week of

March 22-28


Introductory comment or great big question

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learning objectives

At the conclusion of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Identify main modern monuments in the period by name, date, designer/client and location (KNOWLEDGE)
  • Define terminology specific to technique, style and structure (KNOWLEDGE)
  • Describe integration of technology (material and non-material) in individual monuments (KNOWLEDGE)
  • Explain stylistic/technical changes in design as they relate to cultural context (COMPREHENSION)
  • Summarize the main concepts in important works of theory by key writers (COMPREHENSION)
  • Explain the development of the vocation/profession of building designers from (comprehension)
  • Visually analyze buildings from this period to suggest date, place, and designer (ANALYSIS)
  • Recognize change in architectural styles by comparing their formal and technical characteristic (ANALYSIS)
  • Critique the agency of people and technology w/in the process of design (EVALUATE)
  • Evaluate different theoretical and design approaches and defend personal preference for one or more (EVALUATE)

part 1

The War

The history of architecture is always best understood within social/cultural contexts, which help us understand why somethings were built at certain times and to look in particular ways. This section of ARC 331 (and, really, all architecture history courses I can think of) is unique in having a very different proportion of culture-to-buildings. In short, war is always the enemy of architecture, which is an investment of peace time. For that reason, we don't spend a lot of time with wars because very little is built during them (resources of labor and money are going somewhere else).

World War 1 is important to the history of architecture not for what was built during it (typically: very little), but for the aesthetic theories that were formed during it, and that had a profound impact on architectural thinking in the following decades. Before getting to this theory-rich period, let's review what this war was all about, and how historians see its aftermath (and note: even "regular" historians take note of its affects on art and literature).

  • Read: Colquhoun, chapters 3, 5 & 6
  • Review: Gelernter, chap. 7 (pp. 225-29)

part 2

Theory and Art


An art movement formed during the First World War in Zurich in negative reaction to the horrors and folly of the war. The art, poetry and performance produced by dada artists is often satirical and nonsensical in nature. Read more.

  • Hear its manifesto (Hugo Ball, 1916) read aloud: (and, if you like, read along text here):

For reasons that may be clear already, dada has very little application in architecture, or even art. Its great flourishing is in poetry. Hear from one of its main protagonists how to write a dada poem:


An Italian art movement of the early twentieth century that aimed to capture in art the dynamism and energy of the modern world. Read more.

Hear a brief invitation from the central writer of Futurism, F.T. Marinetti:

Futurism had great appeal across Italy, where it was founded, and throughout other avant-garde centers in Europe. You can find manifestos on Futurist music, Futurist clothing, Futurist drama ... there is really no corner of cultural production that the Futurists did not want to affect.

Music and costumes might be open to radical change during a war, but in the 1910s Futurism had little chance to see its ideals impact actual buildings. Still, it had a main theorist, the architect Antonio Sant'Elia, who volunteered to join the Italian army in 1915. Scan this website for a good collection of the drawings from his major project, La Città Nuovo (also 1914; one typical drawing shown to the left).


Art in which the image of reality is distorted in order to make it expressive of the artist’s inner feelings or ideas. Read more.

While proper Expressionism takes off during the 1910s, its roots can be seen in painting from the late nineteenth century: in particular, the famous The Scream (Edvard Munch, 1893). Several Expressionist architects and theorists emerged in the 1910s; their written work would be very powerful in the coming decades.


Especially in northern Europe (primarily in Germany and, to a lesser extent Scandinavia and France), the growth of cinema in the decades under discussion is worth its own subheading here. Film was an undeniably modern vehicle for new art theories. In particular, Futurism and Expressionism influenced the aesthetic and narrative of such films as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919, Robert Wiene, dir.), Nosferatu (1922, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, dir.), Der Golem (1920, C. Boese & P. Wegener, dir., also with notable sets by architect Hans Poelzig), The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer, dir.), and the mother of all German Expressionist-Futurist silent films, Metropolis (1927, Fritz Lang, dir.).

Russian Constructivism

A particularly austere branch of abstract art founded in Russia around 1915 in which style-free objects were products of industrial ordering. Read more.

Constructivism emphasized the "constructed" character of human-made art: compositions that were clearly the result of assembling other things--usually mass-produced and industrial things. This approach underscores the work of its central "fine" artist, Naum Gabo (see a collection of his work held by the Tate), and is probably best known in graphic arts that were used to further the political aims of the Bolsheviks, and among them, the often-reproduced poster, "Books (Please)! In All Branches of Knowledge," (prominently featuring Lilya Brik; Aleksandr Rodchenko, 1925).

Source for definitions: Tate Art Terms

part 3


As stated above, most of these theories were left to simmer while the war waged. With few exceptions, no major building was going on during the war, and architects were left to be satisfied (or not) with drawing their ideas or maybe achieving them in an ephemeral form as backdrops for movies (although it's arguable that this is one of the best ways to preserve architectural ideas that could not be actualized in real construction). Notable unbuilt/lost/incomplete projects include:

Once the war concluded, the next challenge of avant-garde architects was to find clients amenable to their ideas. Among those who managed to do so are:

Peter Behrens (Administration Building, Farben Factory, Frankfurt: 1920)

Erich Mendelsohn (Einstein Tower, Potsdam Germany: 1917) (go inside)

additional resources

Additional Resources

Tristan Tzara, himself:

A quick introduction to Marcel Duchamp:

Nice overview of Russian Constructivism:

Zaha Hadid and Russian Constructivism