Luxury and Modernism: Architecture and the Object in Germany 1900-1933

Please join us for a discussion between Professor Adrian Forty, The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL and Robin Schuldenfrei, the author of Luxury and Modernism: Architecture and the Object in Germany 1900-1933 (Princeton University Press), on the occasion of the book’s launch.

Luxury and Modernism examines the modes by which luxury was embedded in the design, production, and promotion of modern objects and architecture. It looks at how luxury was present in bold, literal form in modernism’s designs—represented by luxurious materials, costly technology, objects, and buildings—and in more nuanced and subtle ways, present in discourses, economic structures, ways of living, and cultural and social milieus. Many modern designs addressed the desires of an elite, as did architects’ own intellectual and physical formulations of spaces for the autonomous, privileged individual.

In order to explore the central place of luxury in both the objects and discourses of modernism, Luxury and Modernism re-investigates some of the most influential buildings, movements, groups, architects and designers of early twentieth century Germany. By recontextualizing the work of the Bauhaus, the Werkbund, Peter Behrens and the AEG, Walter Gropius, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, it offers new insight into modernism overall. It reveals an important disconnect between the Modern Movement’s democratic and utopian discourse and existing design and production structures that resulted in the emergence of modern luxury objects and elite architectural commissions. Despite laudatory, egalitarian rhetoric, real access to modernism among a wider public was often stymied. By looking closely at how modern buildings and objects were designed, manufactured, and sold, this book illustrates the complexities and realities surrounding modernism’s promotion and consumption, revealing the powerful role played by luxury.

Adrian Forty is Professor Emeritus of Architectural History at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, where he founded the Masters programme in Architectural History. He is the author of Objects of Desire (1986), of Words and Buildings, a Vocabulary of Modern Architecture (2000), and his latest book Concrete and Culture, a Material History, was published in 2012. He was the President of the European Architectural History Network 2010-14.

Robin Schuldenfrei is Katja and Nicolai Tangen Lecturer in 20th Century Modernism at The Courtauld Institute of Art. She has written widely on modernism as it intersects with theories of the object, architecture and interiors. Her previous publications include numerous articles and essays and two edited volumes: Atomic Dwelling: Anxiety, Domesticity, and Postwar Architecture (2012) and the co-edited volume Bauhaus Construct: Fashioning Identity, Discourse, and Modernism (2009).

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4 Jun 2018

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London