Full-scale displays and the reform of architecture in Germany, Seminar by Wallis Miller, University of Kentucky
Date: 05 Mar 2018, 18:00 to 20:00
Series: Collecting & Display
Venue: IHR John S Cohen Room, N203, Second Floor, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU.
Wallis Miller is currently working on a book titled Architecture on Display: Exhibitions and the Emergence of Modernism in Germany, 1786-1932. The book uses German case studies to reveal the particular character of an architecture exhibition and demonstrate the ways in which exhibitions contributed to modernism in architecture. He will focus on a specific form of display, the full scale interior, and the ways in which a means of presentation originally developed to portray the past, in the form of the period room, became a catalyst for the early twentieth-century reforms that led to the emergence of Modern Architecture.
In contrast to its use in portraying history, the period room display was appropriated around the turn of the century by applied arts exhibitions in Germany to show the newest work in design. The period room emerged in the 1870s as an ethnographic display tool in Stockholm’s Nordic Museum and, by the 1920s, was firmly associated with exhibiting the past in a range of museums, including ones dedicated to art and applied art. But already around 1900 the period room was used as a model for the displays that realized the theoretical ambition of progressive designers of applied art to “engage art in life” and, in some cases, create a Gesamtkunstwerk [the total work of art]. In the largest exhibition of these rooms, the “Spatial Art” or “Raumkunst” section at “The Third German Applied Arts Exhibition 1906,” held in Dresden, the modernity on display in 150 realistic interiors did not reside in their style, which varied widely. Instead it could be seen in the ambition to create full-scale environments that, like the period rooms, engaged a broad public rather than a limited audience of patrons, and in their identification with “space”. These were two aspects of Modern Architecture that became central when it matured in the Weimar Period. Indeed the exhibition included several designers who soon would become significant modern architects (Henri van de Velde, Peter Behrens and Bruno Paul) and suggested that the applied arts exhibition was the vehicle for introducing the new ideas about the public and space to architecture. The claim that applied art was an agent of change in this crucial period for the development of architecture was advanced in theoretical writings at the time but is seldom recognized in the history of architecture or design, particularly the history that engages the establishment of the German Werkbund, one of the best-known institutional promoters of modern design and architecture from 1907-1933. He will call attention to the role of applied art in the history of Modern Architecture by arguing that the full-scale displays at exhibitions go beyond the claims of theoretical writings to initiate significant reforms in architecture.
Wallis Miller is the Charles P. Graves Associate Professor of Architecture, July 2001-present at the University of Kentucky, College of Design. He has also been at The Oslo Centre for Critical Architecture Studies, The Oslo School of Architecture and Design Visiting Scholar, research project “The Printed and the Built” (research, Ph.D. advising, organization), 2014-2018; in residence May-June 2016