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’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.


  • BA1 Foundations: 19th- & 20th-Century Architecture & Design
  • BA2 Constellations: The Modern Interior
  • BA2 Frameworks: Space, Power, and Experience; Objects and Things: A Material Turn
  • MA History of Art: Experiencing Modernism: Utopia, Politics, and Times of Turmoil

Research interests

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

Forthcoming publications


Luxury and Modernism: Architecture and the Object in Germany 1900-1933 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, forthcoming June 2018).                                                                             
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.

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

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 volume by Jeffrey Saletnik and Robin Schuldenfrei (London: Routledge / Taylor & Francis, 2009). ‘Introduction’ and essay ‘The Irreproducibility of the Bauhaus Object’ therein.

Essays, articles and reviews



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).


‘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): 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.


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).


‘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).


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), p. 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), p. 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), p. 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), p. 387-389.


Design~Recline: Modern Architecture and the Mid-Century Chaise Longue. Exhibition Catalogue, Harvard University Art Museums Gallery Series, Number 40, 2004.

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