6.12. KARL FRIEDRICH SCHINKEL AND THE BAUAKADEMIE

Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Bauakademie, Berlin, 1831. (Online)

I am most interested in the possible influence that Schinkel’s Bauakademie may have had on McLaughlin’s design.  One of McLaughlin’s sources could have been historian James Fergusson’s History of the Modern Styles of Architecture published in 1862, that historian Barry Bergdoll has shown to have singled out Schinkel’s design for: “The ornamentation depends wholly on the construction… nothing can be more truthful or appropriate.”  Another possible source would have been Chicago architect Frederick Baumann’s translation of Prussian architect Friedrich Adler’s Schinkelfest speech that was published in the November 1869 issue of the American Building and Journal of Art.  Lastly, as an active member in the A.I.A. during the 1870s, McLaughlin surely would have had a relationship with Adolf Cluss from Washington, D.C., who could have easily mentioned Schinkel’s work to McLaughlin.

Adolf Cluss, Franklin School, Washington, D.C., 1867. (Online)

Cluss had been born in Germany and was raised by his master builder father to be a carpenter. Following the failure of the 1848 revolutions, had emigrated to the US in 1848, where he eventually took up residence in Washington, D.C., where he had found employment as a draftsman in the Naval Yard, and then under Supervising Architect Ammi B. Young in the Department of Treasury.  By 1862, he was the leading, professional architect in the Capital, and began a very successful practice, responsible for many of the city’s public buildings, including four on the National Mall.  He is best known as the “Red architect,” both for his initial socialist views, which quickly moderated with economic success, and also for his propensity to clothe his buildings in red brick, chiefly as an economic decision.  Cluss could easily have known of the Bauakademie, if for no other reason than one of his gymnasium classmates, Wilhelm Doderer, had gone on to study architecture there.

Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Project for a Department Store along the Unter den Linden, Berlin, 1827. (Online)

Although Schinkel had begun his career as an advocate of the Greek Revival to protest the Roman designs of his country’s French occupiers during the Napoléonic wars, he was moving to a less historic-based, more “modern” design idiom towards the end of his career. (Fig. store)  In 1828, German architect Heinrich Hübsch published a book, In what style should we build?, that stated a new style could be developed solely from a building’s function: “a strictly objective skeleton for the new style.”  Schinkel seemed to have echoed this sentiment in stating that a requirement of art was that it needed to be new or innovative: “Each work of art, of whatever kind, must always contain a new element, and be a living addition to the world of art.”  This was best represented in his non-historic design of the Bauakademie, that actually predates all examples of early British “progressive” theory and design, (even that of Jones’ 1835 talk on his work on the Alhambra at the AA) with the sole exception of John Claudius Loudon’s 1817 vision of a new iron and glass style of architecture.  

Eduard Gärtner, View of the Bauakademie, 1868. (Online)

Schinkel still followed the European Classical tradition of employing the metaphor of the design of a column (being three-part or tripartite, comprised of a base, a shaft, and a capital) in the design of a building’s elevation, articulating the Bauakademie’s red brick elevations into a tripartite composition of a one-story base, a three-story shaft or midsection that was expressed as one layer by the use of three-story, unbroken colossal pilasters (that still evoked a Greek colonnade), and a relatively thin (but in my opinion completely appropriate) top comprised of machicolated cornice and an iron balustrade set within masonry extensions of the pilasters.  The building’s spartan exterior eschewed any historical ornament, however, as Schinkel preferred to let the building’s straightforward construction of four repetitive floors comprised of a grid of eight by eight repetitive structural/spatial bays encased in red brick generate the building’s overall “matter-of-fact” appearance.  Nonetheless, the artist within produced a sequence in the floor heights that decreased in each story until the cornice.  Schinkel consciously reinforced this attempt at forced perspective (this also, in pre-elevator days, conveniently reduced the number of stairs needed to the upper floors) by detailing rectangular panels in the face of the pilasters that deceased in height as did the floor heights.  It would be the building’s honest, matter-of-fact, or “functional” aesthetic that would appeal later to a number of architects in Chicago who faced a similar problem in the design of the larger commercial buildings of the post-Civil War period.


(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s