Dr Robin SchuldenfreiKatja and Nicolai Tangen Senior Lecturer in 20th-century Modernism & Head of Admissions
Robin Schuldenfrei’s research and teaching focuses on the history and theory of European and American modern architecture and design. She is interested in 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 to technology. She focuses 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.
Dr Schuldenfrei 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.
Schuldenfrei 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.
Her on-going speaker series, run through The Courtauld’s Research Forum, is: Modernities: Architecture, Design, Theory
- MA History of Art (year-long MA program): Experiencing Modernism: Utopia, Politics, and Times of Turmoil
- BA3 Lessons in Critical Interpretation
- BA2 Frameworks for Interpretation: Space, Power, and Experience; Objects and Things: A Material Turn
- BA2 Constellations: The Modern Interior
- BA1 Topic Course: The Global Political City: Urban Issues in Contemporary Art
- BA1 Foundations: 19th- & 20th-Century Architecture & Design
Laura C. Jenkins, ‘Civilising Decoration: French Interiors in the American Gilded Age, 1882-1914’. Advisor, Supervisor: Prof. Katie Scott (Courtauld)
Elina Axioti, ‘Hotel Rooms: Politics of Isolation – Rules of Hospitality’ (Humboldt University Berlin)
Friederike Schäfer, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, ‘Claiming Spaces. On the Artistic Production of Spaces in Flux’ (Humboldt University Berlin)
Lena Hennewig, ‘Mensch und Raum. Oskar Schlemmers Malerei und Graphik am Bauhaus’ (Humboldt University Berlin)
Kathrin Engler, ‘Patterns of Life – Andrea Zittel’s A-Z Enterprise’, with Prof. Gregor Stemmrich (Free University of Berlin)
Nico Janke, ‘Die Möbelkunst an der sudlichen Ostseekuste Deutschlands ca. 1780-1850’ (Humboldt University Berlin, 2016)
Sandra König, ‘Albinmüller (1871-1941) – Kunstgewerbe zwischen Jugendstil und Werkbund’, supervised with Dr Annette Dorgerloh (Humboldt University Berlin, 2015)
Monica Obniski, ‘Accumulating Things: Folk Art and Modern Design in the Postwar American Projects of Alexander H. Girard’, supervised with Prof. Robert Bruegmann, Prof. Pat Kirkham, Prof. Jonathan Mekinda (University of Illinois at Chicago, 2015)
Sarah M. Dreller, ‘The Time, Life, and Fortune of Time Inc.’s Architectural Forum magazine, 1932-64’, supervised with Prof. Robert Bruegmann, Prof. Esra Akcan (University of Illinois at Chicago, 2015)
Erica Morawski, ‘Designing Destinations: Architecture, Urbanism, and American Tourism in Puerto Rico and Cuba’, supervised with Prof. Robert Bruegmann, Prof. Esra Akcan, Prof. Kathryn O’Rourke (University of Illinois at Chicago, 2014)
- European & American Modernism: architecture, design, art, media, and the history of technology
- 19th & 20th c. Architectural History
- History and Theory of the Object
- Interior Architecture and Design
- German Modernism
- Architectural Theory
Luxury and Modernism: Architecture and the Object in Germany 1900-1933 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018). Introduction available here.
Luxury and Modernism 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 architecture and 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.
L: Gropius, Chicago Tribune project, 1922 R: Albers, sandblasted glass (work lost)
Objects in Exile: Materiality between Europe and America, 1930-1960 (work in progress)
This book examines various modalities by which the 20th-century phenomenon of exile impacted the design world. Topics include the formulation and codification of modern architecture’s exilic image via photography, new forms of seeing, the instrumentalization 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. 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.
Iteration: Episodes in the Mediation of Art and Architecture. Edited by Robin Schuldenfrei (London: Routledge / Taylor and Francis, forthcoming 2020). ‘Introduction’ and essay ‘Iteration of the Non-iterative: The Case of László Moholy-Nagy’s Photograms’ therein.
This edited volume considers the ways in which multiple stages, phases, or periods in an artistic or design process have served to arrive at the final artifact, with a focus on the meaning and use of the iteration. To contextualize iteration within artistic and architectural production, this collection of essays presents a range of close studies in art, architectural and design history, using archival and historiographical research, media theory, photography, material studies, and critical theory. It examines objects as unique yet mutable works by examining their antecedents, successive exemplars, and their afterlives—and thus their role as organizers or repositories of meaning. Key are the roles of writing, the use of media, and relationships between object, image, and reproduction. This volume asks how a closer look at iteration reveals new perspectives into the production of objects and the production of thought alike.
Atomic Dwelling: Anxiety, Domesticity, and Postwar Architecture. Edited by Robin Schuldenfrei (London: Routledge / Taylor and Francis, 2012). ‘Introduction’ and essay ‘Assimilating Unease: Moholy-Nagy and the Wartime/Postwar Bauhaus in Chicago’ therein.
Bauhaus Construct: Fashioning Identity, Discourse, and Modernism. Edited by Jeffrey Saletnik and Robin Schuldenfrei (London: Routledge / Taylor & Francis, 2009). ‘Introduction’ and essay ‘The Irreproducibility of the Bauhaus Object’ therein.
Essays and articles
‘Preliminary Objects: Bauhaus Theory and Photographic Representation in Moholy-Nagy’s Vorkurs’ in Bauhaus 100: Object Lessons from a Historic Collection, edited by Laura Muir (New Haven: Yale University Press, forthcoming spring 2020).
The Resonant Object, special issue in tribute to Charles W. Haxthausen, Journal of Art Historiography, edited by Amy Hamlin and Robin Schuldenfrei, no. 21 (December 2019). “Introduction” therein.
‘Re-inscribing Mies’s Materiality’ in Dust & Data: Traces of the Bauhaus across 100 Years, edited by Ines Weizman (Leipzig: Spector Books, 2019), pp. 142-166.
‘Sober Ornament: Materiality and Luxury in German Modern Architecture and Design’ in Histories of Ornament: From Global to Local, edited by Alina Payne and Gülru Necipoğlu (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), pp. 334-347.
‘Subjective Objects: Historicity and the Design of Konstantin Grcic / Subjektive Objekte: Geschichtlichkeit und das Design von Konstantin Grcic’ in Konstantin Grcic: Abbildungen / Figures, ed. Friedrich Meschede (Zurich: Lars Müller, 2016), pp. 294-344, in English and German.
‘Der Luxus der Objektivität: Schaufenster um 1914’ (The Luxury of Objectivity: Display Windows around 1914) in Kunst und Architektur an der Epochenschwelle: Das Hauptgebäude der Universität Zürich von 1914, edited by Martino Stierli (Basel: Schwabe Verlag, 2016), pp. 153-96, in German.
Republished in: Made in Germany: Politik mit Dingen Der Deutsche Werkbund um 1914, edited by Renate Flagmeier (Berlin: Brandenburgische Universitätsdruckerei und Verlagsgesellschaft, 2017), pp. 70-107.
‘Existenzminimum 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), pp. 63-78.
‘Contra the Großstadt: Mies van der Rohe’s Autonomy and Interiority’ in Interiors and Interiority, edited by Ewa Lajer-Burcharth and Beate Soentgen (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014), pp. 279-94.
‘Introduction’ to Lilly Reich, ‘Questions of Fashion’ (1922) in West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History and Material Culture, volume 21, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 2014): 102-120.
‘The Auratic Productive Object / ‘Das Auratische Produktive Objekt’ in Alicja Kwade: Grad der Gewissheit (Degree of Certainty), ed. Sylvia Martin (Berlin: Distanz, 2014), English: 138-147; Deutsch, 126-137.
‘Capital Dwelling: Industrial Capitalism, Financial Crisis and the Bauhaus’s Haus am Horn’ in Architecture and Capitalism: 1845 to the Present, edited by Peggy Deamer (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 71-95.
‘Images in Exile: Lucia Moholy’s Bauhaus Negatives and the Construction of the Bauhaus Legacy’ in History of Photography, Volume 37, No. 2 (May 2013), pp. 182-203.
‘Bilder im Exil: Lucia Moholys Bauhausfotografien und die Konstruktion des Bauhaus-Erbes’ (Images in Exile: Lucia Moholy’s Bauhaus Photographs and the Making of the Bauhaus Legacy) in Entfernt: Frauen des Bauhauses während der NS-Zeit – Verfolgung und Exil, edited by Inge Hansen-Schaberg, Wolfgang Thöner, and Adriane Feustel (München: Richard Boorberg Verlag, Edition Text + Kritik, 2012), pp. 251-273.
‘Luxus, Produktion, Reproduktion’
(Luxury, Production, Reproduction) in Mythos Bauhaus: Zwischen Selbsterfindung und Enthistorisierung. Edited by Anja Baumhoff and Magdalena Droste (Berlin: Reimer Verlag, 2009), pp. 70-89.
Review of Jill Pearlman, American Modernism: Joseph Hudnut, Walter Gropius, and the Bauhaus Legacy at Harvard (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007) for Design & Culture, Volume 1, Issue 3 (November 2009), pp. 387-389.
Design~Recline: Modern Architecture and the Mid-Century Chaise Longue. Exhibition Catalogue, Harvard University Art Museums Gallery Series, Number 40, 2004.