Robin Schuldenfrei - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Robin Schuldenfrei

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Dr Robin Schuldenfrei

Katja and Nicolai Tangen Lecturer in 20th-century Modernism
Robin Schuldenfrei

(On sabbatical, autumn 2016)

Robin Schuldenfrei’s research and teaching focuses on the history and theory of European and American modern architecture and design. She received her doctorate from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and previously held positions at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Dr Schuldenfrei is interested in discursive questions—theoretical and practical—of how discourses and practices of design are shaped by a given period’s own cultural and theoretical critique of its media and objects. Her work asks broader questions about how architecture and its objects relate to other products of society’s design: to works of art, to the production of images, to media and technology. She focusses on objects’ subjectivity, materiality, political agency, and social impact and meaning, seeing them as deeply embedded in their period, culture, and intellectual/theoretical climate. To that end, she utilizes both objects and architecture as cultural indices of society at large in order to illustrate the conscious and unconscious perspectives and values of the society that generated them.

She has lectured widely, including: Columbia University, ETH Zürich, Harvard University, MIT, Royal College of Art, Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien, University of Edinburgh, University of Hong Kong, and Yale.


  • BA History of Art Year 1: 19th – and 20th-century Architecture and Design
  • BA History of Art Year 2: The Modern Interior
  • BA History of Art Year 2: Frameworks for Interpretation
  • MA History of Art: Experiencing Modernism: Utopia, Functionalism, and Times of Turmoil

Research interests

  • European 20th-century Architecture
  • Interior Architecture and Design
  • German Modernism
  • Architectural Theory
  • History and Theory of the Object

Forthcoming publications

Books and edited books

  • Luxury and Modern Architecture in Germany, 1900-1933.
    This book project examines the status of the object within the context of Wilhelmine and Weimar architectural culture and theory. It argues that modernism responded to and reflected the norms and desires of a bourgeois elite—and that new and old forms of luxury are embedded accordingly in its materials, its showcasing of technology, and its discourses. This monograph looks specifically at such aspects as: the design and marketing of AEG electrical appliances by Peter Behrens and the notion of electricity as luxury in this period; the relationship between the design and materials of Bauhaus objects and failed efforts at affordable mass production of them; and notions of materiality and interiority in the domestic commissions of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Methodologically, this study reinterrogates key components of the canonical history of modernism using economic history, cultural studies, social history, sociology, and German history, to reveal new meanings in familiar objects of modernism.
  • Objects in Exile: World War II and the Displacement of Design.
    Objects in Exile examines the outcomes of radically different contingencies war placed on design. It demonstrates various modalities by which the 20th-century phenomenon of exile impacted the design world—examining manifestations through such lenses as pedagogy, patronage, and assimilation. Topics include the formulation and codification of modern architecture’s exilic image via photography, new forms of seeing, the instrumentalisation of graphic design for the war effort, ‘total design’ put into praxis in exile, and the exigencies of designing for a society and future beyond war. A portion of this book project examines British modernism—architecture, design, and photography—as a turning point in the work and discourse of key figures in exile. Overall, it looks at the ways in which designers, and their objects, forced into exile by circumstances beyond their control, necessarily changed unexpectedly to meet the new needs and contexts of a rapidly changing world.

Recent publications

Edited books


Essays, articles and reviews


  • death_and_LifeExistenzminimum as Gesamtkunstwerk’ in The death and life of the total work of art: Henry Van De Velde and the legacy of a modern concept, edited by Carsten Ruhl, Rixt Hoekstra and Chris Dähne (Berlin: Jovis Verlag, 2014).

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