Art of the 20th Century

A Revolution in the Arts



Art Styles in 20th century Art Map



The Great Avant-garde Movements



Surrealist Art









Conquest of the marvellous


Surrealism and painting


Towards a revolutionary art


Across the world


The object


Festivals of the imagination


In the United States


Surrealist architecture


The post-war period







see also:

Surrealism - 1924

Max Ernst
"A Week of Kindness" (A surrealistic novel in collage)

Rene Magritte "Thought rendered visible"

Salvador Dali

Surrealism  "The Dream of Revolution"


Last issue  of La Revolution  Surrealiste







Surrealist architecture

Antoni Gaudi

Ferdinand Cheval

Simon Rodia
Bruno Taut
Hermann Finsterlin
Frank Lloyd Wright

Bruce Alonzo Goff
Frederick Kiesler


Surrealist architecture includes : designs for towns or for houses which the painters and poets of the movement set out in their works : the work of both classical and contemporary architects whom they admired; and finally various constructions from the designs of decorators and builders who were connected with the surrealist movement. It is an irrational architecture which does not fall in with any ideas of comfort; it is figurative, even metaphorical. Its aim is to make habitable monumental pieces of sculpture, preferably representing creatures or objects.

The surrealists were always interested in architecture; but, before making any practical proposals for this form of art, they used it mainly to achieve an effect of exile, of disorientation, in their painting and poetry. Many of their paintings are based on fantastic architectural landscapes, as detailed as the engravings of Piranesi. In La Peinfure аи defi (1930), Aragon remarked that 'a juxtaposition of the early paintings of Chirico would result in the creation of a town whose plan could be drawn'. Andre Masson and Max Ernst both made drawings of imaginary cities, and in the canvases of Dali, Delvaux and Kay Sage there are all manner of unexpected buildings. In his series of Dwellings (1966), Georges Malkine evokes imaginary houses conceived as particularly suitable for various famous people.

The poetic nature of this kind of speculation is established by the survey 'Sur certaines possibilites d'embellissement irrationel d'une ville', published in 1933 in the last issue of Le Surrealisme аи service de la Revolution. This set out to discover how the best-known monuments in Paris would have to be altered in order to turn it into a surrealist city. For example, Andre Breton said that the Place Vendome column should 'be replaced by a factory chimney with a naked woman climbing up it', and that the Egyptian Obelisk should 'be moved to the entrance of the Abattoirs and held by an enormous gloved female hand'. Tristan Tzara suggested that the Pantheon 'should be cut in half vertically, and the two halves set fifty centimetres apart'.


Paul Eluard, commenting on the replies to this survey, predicted that 'one day houses will be turned inside out like gloves', and he envisaged the arbitrary decoration of different sites. 'The most conventional statues would be a marvellous embellishment of the countryside. A few marble female nudes would create a fine effect in a ploughed field. Animals in streams and groups of solemn characters in black ties in rivers would make charming reefs to contrast with the monotony of the water. Dancing figures in stone would be a delightful adornment to the mountainsides. And, since mutilation is indispensable, the ground would be strewn with heads, the trees with hands, and the stubble with feet.'

Thinking along the same lines, Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues wrote a collection of poems, Incongruite's monument ales (1948), describing the various constructions which he dreamt of creating : a fountain for a school playground in the shape of a gigantic bronze revolver, a lighthouse shaped like a woman's leg with a pink shoe for the base. In one chapter of Belvedere (1958), Mandiargues also describes the monsters of Bomarzo, the product of a whim of an Italian Renaissance nobleman, the Duke Orsini, who ordered the transformation of the landscape he could see from the windows of his house at Orto in the province of Viterbo. The basalt rocks all down a hillside were carved into giant figures forming a sacred grove; the confusion thus created between art and nature was the result of an eminently surrealist intention.


The classical architect whom the surrealists saw as one of their most important precursors was Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, a magnificent visionary. His Utopian theories were tempered by many positive and progressive ideas, which were far ahead of his time, particularly on the sanitation of towns. Ledoux started his career in the reign of Louis XV; he designed a pavilion at Louvcnciennes for Madame Du Barry in 1771, and was then appointed inspector of salt-works for the province of Franche-Comte, and architect to the king. In 1775 he began the construction of the salt-works at Chaux, despite the criticisms which were levelled at his ambitious plans. Ledoux considered that luxury was by no means the prerogative of the nobility, but should be applied as much to a craftsman's workshop or to a barn as to a chateau. The sumptuous buildings for the salt-works were laid out in a circle; the houses for the clerical workers were palatial, and even the forges had Doric columns. lie was obliged to give up the project in 1779, but he kept on producing audacious plans : his 'aqueduct-house' and his bridge over the river Loue, with piers in the forms of triremes rowed by oarsmen, were both outshone by his plans for a 'social city'. In this city all the public buildings, such as the Pacifere (or Temple of Conciliation), the Oikema (or Temple dedicated to Love), the Panareteon (or School of Morals), houses and workshops, stock exchange, public baths and market, were reflections of a theory of architecture based on pure form - pyramid, cube, cylinder, sphere - with displays of fountains and flames, urns and statues erected for the sake of the shadows they would cast, or for their effect on spatial perspective.

Other contemporary architects who were dismissed as 'megalomaniacs' - Etienne-Louis Boullee, with his cenotaphs, his city gates, and his library, and Jean-Jacques Lequeu, with his spherical Temple of the Earth - proposed a similar masterful use of symbolism and of the sphere in town planning.


The two most daring and imaginative architects of the Neoclassical era were Etienne-Louis Boullee (1728-99) and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736— 1806). Both believed in the simplicity of geometric forms — spheres, cubes, cylinders, and pyramids — which, according to Platonic ideals, "live in nature". Although Boullees great treatise on architecture was not published until 1953. his prolific teaching meant that he was possibly more influential than Ledoux. He regarded his work as "the architecture of shadows", but his projects became increasingly fantastic and eccentric - and were often unrealized. His design for a library (1783-85) was a Utopian monument to learning, romantic and dreamlike, while that for a monument to Newton (1784) was a 150-metre (500-feet) high sphere - a cosmic globe that was to "sparkle with light and banish all shadows."
Ledoux took up Boullee's ideas and designed other very imaginative works. Again, many of his projects did not progress beyond the drawing board, such as his plan for the "ideal" cemetery including a giant sphere that would act as a central chapel. From his designs for the "ideal" city, Ledoux planned and partly constructed the industrial centre of Chaux at Arc-et-Senans (1774-79); its saltworks remain one of the most celebrated monuments of industrial architecture.

Claude-Nicolas Ledoux


Perspective engraving of the farm guards' bouse at Maupertuis

Symbolic representation of the auditorium of the
theatre at Besancon as seen through the pupil of one eye

Project for the ideal city of Chaux: House of supervisors of the source of the Loue, 1804

Cimetière de la ville sociale" de Chaux, 1785

Etienne-Louis Boullee


Elevation for Newton's Cenotaph, 1785

Unbuilt design for a Cenotaphe de Newton, 1784

Jean-Jacques Lequeu

Plan geometral d'un temple consace а l'Egalite, 1794



Surrealism brought about a revaluation of the work of the Art Nouveau architects, who had been either forgotten or discredited by the time Dali wrote his celebrated article on the 'terrifying and edible beauty of Art Nouveau architecture', 'De la beaute terrifiante et comestible de l'architecture modern' style'. Dali was seized with enthusiasm for Hector Guimard's decorations on the Paris Metro station entrances, and had them photographed by Brassai to support his views. Above all, he revealed to his friends the originality of Antoni Gaudi , the greatest of the proto-surrealist architects after Ledoux. Gaudi worked in Barcelona; he wished to free himself of the conventions of previous styles and to draw directly on nature - animals and plants - for his decorative forms.


Hector Guimard

Metro station Chardon-Lagache, 1913;
Designed in 1899, the Porte Dauphine station exhibits Hector Guimard's only surviving enclosed edicule of the Paris Metro.




 It was not enough for him to reproduce the appearance of natural forms ; he studied their internal structure and the laws governing their organic development in order to improve his representation of them. In 1883 he started the church of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona; abandoning the flying buttresses of the Gothic Revival style, he substituted a new method of supporting the diagonal thrust: an inclined pillar. The Parque Guell (1900-14), on a hillside near Barcelona, is an amazing garden laid out in terraces winding along for several miles, with spiral-shaped seats decorated with ceramics, walls following the undulations of the hillside, and viaducts supported by trees carved from stone. Not only did Gaudi make masterly use of polychromy, but he also used architectural collage by incorporating real objects, such as bottles, cups or dolls, in some of his surfaces. The Casa Mila (1905-10), also in Barcelona, is a piece or genuine sculpture, both in its facade and in the details of the roof, chimneys and staircase exits, which are not visible from the street.


Antoni Gaudi
Casa Mila
Barcelona, 1906

Antoni Gaudi
La Sagrada Familia


Antoni Gaudi

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born June 25, 1852, Reus, Spain
died June 10, 1926, Barcelona

Spanish Antonio Gaudí Y Cornet Catalan architect whose distinctive style is characterized by freedom of form, voluptuous colour and texture, and organic unity. Gaudí worked almost entirely in or near Barcelona. Much of his career was occupied with the construction of the Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family (Sagrada Familia), which was unfinished at his death in 1926.


Gaudí was born in provincial Catalonia on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Of humble origins, he was the son of a coppersmith who was to live with him in later life, together with a niece; Gaudí never married.

Showing an early interest in architecture, he went in 1869/70to study in Barcelona, then the political and intellectual centre of Catalonia as well as Spain's most modern city. He did not graduate until eight years later, his studies having been interrupted by military service and other intermittent activities.

Gaudí's style of architecture went through several phases. On emergence from the Provincial School of Architecture in Barcelona in 1878, he practiced a rather florid Victorianism that had been evident in his school projects, but he quickly developed a manner of composing by means of unprecedented juxtapositions of geometric masses, the surfaces of which were highly animated with patterned brick or stone, gay ceramic tiles, and floral or reptilian metalwork. The general effect, although not the details, is Moorish—or Mudéjar, as Spain's special mixture of Muslim and Christian design is called. Examples of his Mudéjar style are the Casa Vicens (1878–80) and “El Capricho” (1883–85) and the Güell Estate and Güell Palace of the later 1880s, all but “El Capricho” located in Barcelona. Next, Gaudí experimented with the dynamic possibilities of historic styles: the Gothic inthe Episcopal Palace, Astorga (1887–93) and Casa de los Botines, León (1892–94) and the Baroque in the Casa Calvet at Barcelona (1898–1904). But after 1902 his designs elude conventional stylistic nomenclature.

Except for certain overt symbols of nature or religion, Gaudí's buildings became essentially representations of their structure and materials. In his Villa Bell Esguard (1900–02) and the Güell Park (1900–14), in Barcelona, and in the Colonia Güell Church (1898–c. 1915), south of that city, he arrived at a type of structure that has come to be called equilibrated—that is, a structure designed to stand on its own without internal bracing, external buttressing, and the like—or, as Gaudí observed, as a tree stands. Among the primary elements of his system were piers and columns that tilt to transmit diagonal thrusts, and thin-shell, laminated tilevaults that exert very little thrust. Gaudí applied his equilibrated system to two multistoried Barcelona apartment buildings: the Casa Batlló (1904–06), a renovationthat incorporated new equilibrated elements, notably the facade; and the Casa Milá (1905–10), the several floors of which are structured like clusters of tile lily pads with steel-beam veins. As was so often his practice, he designed the two buildings, in their shapes and surfaces, as metaphorsof the mountainous and maritime character of Catalonia.

As an admired, if eccentric, architect, Gaudí was an important participant in the Catalan Renaixensa, an artistic revival of the arts and crafts combined with a political revival in the form of fervent anti-Castilian “Catalanism.” Both movements sought to reinvigorate the way of life in Catalonia that had long been suppressed by the Castilian-dominated and Madrid-centred government in Spain. The religious symbol of the Renaixensa in Barcelona was the church of the Holy Family, a project that was to occupy Gaudí throughout his entire career. He was commissioned to build this church as early as 1883, but he did not live to see it finished. Working on it, he became increasingly pious; after 1910 he abandoned virtually all other work and even secluded himself on its site and resided in its workshop. In his 75th year, while on his way to vespers, he was struck down by a trolley car, and he died from the injuries.

In his drawings and models for the uncompleted church of the Holy Family (only one transept with one of its four towerswas finished at his death), he equilibrated the cathedral-Gothic style beyond recognition into a complexly symbolic forest of helicoidal piers, hyperboloid vaults and sidewalls, and a hyperbolic paraboloid roof that boggle the mind and outdo the bizarre concrete shells built throughout the world in the 1960s by engineers and architects inspired by Gaudí. Apart from this and a similar, often uncritical, admiration for Gaudí by Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist painters and sculptors, Gaudí's influence was quite local, represented mainly by a few devotees of his equilibrated structure. He was ignored during the 1920s and '30s, when the International Style was the dominant architectural mode. By the 1960s, however, he came to be revered by professionals and laymen alike for the boundlessand tenacious imagination that he used to attack each design challenge with which he was presented.


The architectural work of Gaudí is remarkable for its range of forms, textures, and polychromy and for the free, expressive way in which these elements of his art seem to be composed.The complex geometries of a Gaudí building so coincide withits architectural structure that the whole, including its surface, gives the appearance of being a natural object in complete conformity with nature's laws. Such a sense of total unity also informed the life of Gaudí; his personal and professional lives were one, and his collected comments about the art of building are essentially aphorisms about theart of living. He was totally dedicated to architecture, which for him was a totality of many arts.

George R. Collins


Finally, it is in the realm of 'naive' architecture that the spirit of surrealism is most truly found. The marvellous emerges in the raw state in buildings made by men with no knowledge of construction, but who relied on the force of inspiration to make concrete the dwellings of their dreams. The greatest of these naive architects was Ferdinand Cheval, a postman from Hauterives, in the department of Drome, who had always dreamt of an imaginary castle which he thought could never be built. But one day in 1879, when he was forty-three, he was making his round in the country when he stumbled upon a stone whose shape entranced him; he then found others, just as beautiful, in the same place, and decided to make a start on his ideal palace. Each day after delivering the mail he would collect the stones in a wheelbarrow and work tirelessly into the night, undeterred by the mockery of the neighbours. In 1912, after thirty-three years of daily labour, this extraordinary construction, the Palais Ideal, was finished. In its construction Cheval had used a mixture of many styles : a mosque topped with minarets, a Hindu temple, a Swiss chalet, the Maison Carree in Algiers, and a medieval castle. The highest part is thirty feet high and the main facades, twenty-eight yards long, have niches containing sculptures. In this profusion of shapes - there is even a 'Tower of Barbary' supported by three giants - Cheval had made use of the most unusual types of stone, each one in its natural form and selected with loving care. The Palais Ideal is the supreme example of what the unsophisticated imagination can achieve when it is stimulated by a desire for greatness.

 Ferdinand Cheval
Le Palais Ideal


Ferdinand Cheval
Le Palais Ideal


Ferdinand Cheval
Le Palais Ideal


Ferdinand Cheval
Le Palais Ideal

Ferdinand Cheval
Le Palais Ideal



Ferdinand Cheval
Le Palais Ideal

Ferdinand Cheval
Le Palais Ideal


Ferdinand Cheval

(From Wikipedia)

Ferdinand Cheval who was born in 1836 and died on 19th August, 1924, was a French postman who spent 33 years of his life building an "Ideal Palace" (French Palais ideal) which is regarded as an extraordinary example of naïve art architecture.
Ferdinand Cheval lived in Chateauneuf-de-Galaure, in the Drome departement of France. He had left school at the age of 13 to become a baker's apprentice but eventually became a postman.
Cheval began the building in April 1879. He claimed that he had tripped on a stone and was inspired by its shape. He returned to the same spot the next day and started collecting stones.
For the next 33 years, during his daily mail route, Cheval carried stones from his delivery rounds and at home used them to build his Palais ideal, the Ideal Palace. First he carried the stones in his pockets, then a basket and eventually a wheelbarrow. He often worked at night in the light of an oil lamp. Locals regarded him as a village idiot.
Cheval spent the first two decades building the outer walls. The Palace is a mix of different styles with inspirations from the Bible to Hindu mythology. Cheval bricked the stones together with wire, lime and cement.
Cheval also wanted to be buried in his palace. When French authorities forbade that, he proceeded to spend eight years building a mausoleum for himself in the cemetery of Hauterives. Cheval died on August 19, 1924, around a year after he had finished building it.

Just prior to his death, Cheval began to receive some recognition from luminaries like André Breton and Pablo Picasso.


Simon Rodia
Watts Towers

Another naive architect was Simon Rodilla, a Neapolitan tiler who emigrated to the United States and built the Watts Towers (1921-51) near Los Angeles. These are huge metal scaffold constructions covered with concrete and encrusted with pieces of broken glass and china. Gilles Ehrmann's book Les Inspires et leurs demeures (1962), with a preface by Andre Breton, contains some other examples of 'naive' architecture : the shell-covered Maison de la Sirene, built by a ferryman in the Vendee, another house built and clad with mosaic by a cemetery worker, and the garden in which a market gardener in Brittany grew plants and flowers all over figures of horsemen and birds.

Some of the surrealist painters decided to put their ideas about architecture into practice. In 1933 Marcel Duchamp invented a door for his apartment in Paris which, in defiance of the French proverb 'a door must be either open or shut', could in tact be both open and shut at the same time. When it was opened to enter the bedroom, the bathroom was closed, and when the bathroom was open, the studio was closed. Salvador Dali, whose conception of architecture was that it should produce 'true realizations of solidified desires', produced a design for an interior representing the face of the actress Mae West (1936, Art Institute of Chicago); the pink divan shaped like a mouth was in tact made from this design by Jean-Michel Frank for the Baron de l'Epee. In 1938 Minotaure featured a plan by Matta for an apartment intended to create psychological effects : the staircase was without banisters (so that the user would learn to overcome vertigo), the walls were as limp as damp sheets, the furniture was movable and could be formed into different shapes, and spatial effects were created by the placing of mirrors. Later on, Matta made a study of various plans for dwellings, and following on this he designed his 'minimal house for the awakened man' in 1962. This is a suspended construction in copper and aluminium, consisting of monastic cells linked by bridges, gangways and corridors. It has neither doors nor windows : some of the walls are transparent and slide open.


Minimal House of the Awakened Man

Simon Rodia

(From Wikipedia)

Sabato "Simon" (or "Sam" to his friends) Rodia (1879 – 16 July 1965) was an Italian immigrant to the United States who spent much of his adulthood living in Los Angeles, California. In particular Rodia lived in the Watts district of Los Angeles where he constructed his most famous creation: the Watts Towers.
Rodia was born in 1879 near the town of Naples, Italy before emigrating to the United States at the age of 15 and living with his brother in Pennsylvania. However, his brother died soon afterwards, in a mining accident, and Rodia then moved to the west coast. He first lived in Seattle, then Oakland, then Long Beach before settling in Watts in the early 1920s, where he began construction of the the towers. While living in Seattle, he married and had three children with his wife.Rodia began working on the towers in 1921 and finished them in 1954. After finishing the towers, Rodia moved to Martinez, California where he lived until his death in 1965; it is generally accepted that he never saw his Towers again after leaving Watts. He moved due to disputes with his neighbors over the vandalization of the Towers.
Claims that Rodia's surname was "Rodella" or "Rodilla," or that his given name was "Sabatino," rather than Sabato, are generally given little credibility, and are likely the result of misspellings. There is some question of whether or not he was generally called "Simon" during his lifetime.


Many architects have made plans for a dream-architecture. In his book Alpine Architektur (1919), which contains thirty drawings, Bruno Taut showed how it would be possible to decorate mountains; he envisaged a 'flower valley', with its sloping sides covered with multi-coloured glazed frames which would sparkle in the light. Hermann Finsterlein, in his proposals for the 'Casa Nova' (1919-20), suggested a 'house-sculpture' with a floor in relief and walls which could be inflated to form wardrobes; his 'House of Contemplation' (1920) was to be a marble pyramid topped with a sphere of pink majolica, with windows made of smoked quartz. In his plans for an imaginary country town, 'Broadacre City', Frank Lloyd Wright gave full rein to the forward-looking vision of his poetic genius. Paolo Soleri, one of Wright's disciples, reconciled Utopia and reality in his plans for 'Mesa City' and his models of 'habitable bridges'.

The most surrealist of all was Bruce Goff, an architect in Bartles-ville, Okla. He was a theoretician of 'absolute architecture', which does not accept utility as its aim, and he created buildings whose extravagance is supported by great technical skill. His masterpiece was the Spiral House at Norman, Okla. (1951-7), which consists of a stone wall which winds in a logarithmic spiral around a central pillar. The main rooms are circular wooden volumes, while the first floor is linked directly with the garden by means of a bridge.

Bruno Taut
(1880 – 1938)

Bruno Taut
Pabellon del vidrio en la exposicion
del Werbund de Colonia

Bruno Taut
Pabellon de Cristal



Hermann Finsterlin
(1887 - 1973)

Hermann Finsterlin
Casa di vetro (Glass house)

Hermann Finsterlin
Composition of Forms

Hermann Finsterlin

Hermann Finsterlin


Hermann Finsterlin

(From Wikipedia)

Hermann Finsterlin (born August 18, 1887, in München; died September 16, 1973, in Stuttgart) was a visionary architect, painter, poet, essayist, toymaker and composer. He played an influential role in the German expressionist architecture movement of the early 20th century but due to the harsh economic climate realised none of his projects. By 1922, Finsterlin had withdrawn from the circle of expressionist architects as they moved towards the New Objectivity movement, he moved to Stuttgart to concentrate on painting and writing.


Frank Lloyd Wright
(1867 - 1959)

Frank Lloyd Wright
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
New York, 1959

Peggy Guggenheim Collection

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

In full Peggy Guggenheim Collection, in Venice, private collection of post-1910 paintings and sculpture formed by the American art collector Peggy Guggenheim and housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leonion the Grand Canal, her former home. It is considered to be one of the best collections of post-1910 modern art in Europe.
The entry hall contains a mobile by Alexander Calder. The dining room displays early Cubist works by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Modern sculpture is displayed on the terrace toward the Grand Canal, and the collection includes works by Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti, and Marino Marini. Examples of postwar American and European art include works by Jackson Pollock,Francis Bacon, and Mark Rothko. A separate wing in the garden, the “Barchessa,” contains Surrealist works by Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, René Magritte, Giorgio De Chirico, and others. The collection is directed by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation of New York City.

Peggy Guggenheim (1898 - 1979)

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

By name of Marguerite Guggenheim American art collector who was an important patron of the Abstract Expressionist school of artists in New York City.
Peggy's father was Benjamin Guggenheim, a son of the wealthy mining magnate Meyer Guggenheim, and one of her uncles was Solomon R. Guggenheim, who founded the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Benjamin died in the Titanic disaster in 1912, and his daughter came into her fortune in 1919. Unhappy with her bourgeois existence, she married the writer Laurence Vail in 1922 (divorced 1930) and adopted a bohemian lifestyle. She moved to Paris in 1930, and in 1938 she opened a gallery to exhibit and sell modern art.
Guggenheim returned to the United States in 1941 and married the Surrealist painter Max Ernst (divorced 1946). In 1942 she opened another art gallery, Art of This Century, in New York, and many of the artists she supported received their first one-man shows there. Among the important painters she sponsored were Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and Hans Hofmann.
After World War II Guggenheim moved to Venice, where she settled in an 18th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal. Thereshe displayed some of her art collection to the public, and in 1979 she donated the collection to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, which owns the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Known as the Guggenheim Collection, this donation contains many masterpieces of modern painting and is still on display in Venice.

Frank Lloyd Wright
Pfeiffer Chapel
Lakeland, Florida

Frank Lloyd Wright
Taliesin West
Scottsdale, Arizona


Bruce Alonzo Goff
(1904 - 1982)

Bruce Alonzo Goff
Spiral House at Norman

Bruce Alonzo Goff
Spiral House at Norman


Bruce Alonzo Goff
Boston Avenue Methodist Church Rush

Bruce Alonzo Goff
Eugene Bavinger House
Norman, Oklahoma, 1950



All these, however, were 'surrealists despite themselves', while the great architect Frederick Kiesler was an open adherent of the surrealist movement. He had already formulated his basic theories before he met Andre Breton in New York, where he illustrated Breton's Ode a Fourier, and took part in the production of VVV, but his contacts with the movement led him to expand his work. Kiesler was Austrian by birth, and had studied in Vienna, where he had been a friend of Adolf Loos; he was devoted to the theatre, and in 1922 he produced Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones with moving scenery. For a festival of drama and music in Vienna in 1924 he projected a double shell building of moulded glass, inside which hotels, car parks and gardens were laid out among a system of ramps which rose to the roof. Instead of lifts there were three platforms which ascended and descended, coming together at each level. In 1926 he went to New York, where in 1927-8 he built a cinema with four screens. The picture could be transferred from one to the other, or even projected on to the ceiling.


In 1933 he finally elaborated his 'Endless House', a project which he was never to be able to bring to fruition. Kiesler wished to create a 'continuous architecture' : he was opposed to the rectangular room, to the box-shaped house, to the use of beams and filling materials. The 'Endless House' is a concrete shell, with walls and ceilings incurving to give a perfectly enwrapping interior. The inside of the house, which appears to be made up of linked cave-like structures, was meticulously worked out. The windows are all of different shapes and sizes, and three kinds of lighting are available.



 Kiesler in front of a model of the Endless House,
1959, photo: Hans Namuth

Frederick Kiesler
Endless House

Frederick Kiesler
Endless House

Frederick Kiesler
Endless House, project, Plan



The furniture is in the form of sculptures integrated with the architecture. There is no bathroom, as each bed has a bath associated with it in the bedroom. The total effect is intended to produce 'inner peace'. Arp, who was a great friend of Kiesler's, wrote : 'In this egg, in these egg-shaped spheroid constructions, human beings will now be able to shelter and live as in the womb of their mother.'

Despite his fame, very few of Kiesler's plans were executed. In 1942 he built the Art of This Century Gallery in New York for Peggy Guggenheim. His first idea was to do away with frames for the paintings, and to replace them by the walls themselves, which he curved and lengthened with wooden supports. In his design for this gallery Kiesler defined 'the eighteen functions of the chair'. He made seats which would stand any way up, and which could also be used as tables, benches and trestles. At this time he came to uphold a style which he called 'correalism', to show that it reconciled different aspects of reality, such as the elements, life and space.


Frederick Kiesler
Nesting Coffee Table

Frederick Kiesler
Multi-use Rocker Prototype


Frederick Kiesler
Surrealist Gallery, Art of This Century
Peggy Guggenheim Gallery, New York, 1942


Frederick Kiesler
Grotto of Meditation

Frederick Kiesler
Study for a vision machine

Kiesler with "Bucephalus, Amagansett" , 1989


(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born Sept. 22, 1892, Vienna, Austria
died Dec. 27, 1965, New York, N.Y., U.S.

Austrian-born American architect, sculptor, and stage designer, best known for his “Endless House,” a womblike, free-form structure.
After study at the Technical Academy and the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Kiesler worked on a slum clearance and rebuilding project in Vienna with Adolf Loos. In the early 1920s Kiesler began to design for the stage. He designed what was probably the first theatre-in-the-round when he was architect and director of the International Music Theatre Festival of the City of Vienna, held in 1924.
At the invitation of two theatre groups Kiesler went to the United States in 1926. From 1933 to 1957 he was scenic director for the Juilliard School of Music, New York City. His designs for the Metropolitan Opera were notable for their imagination and low cost. From 1936 to 1942 he was director of the design laboratory of the Columbia University school of architecture.
Kiesler's “Endless House” was never built full-scale, but a large concrete model was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, in 1960. More sculpture than architecture, the house consisted of a group of joined, rounded, shell structures on piers that could be used as continuous space or as separately defined, closed-off rooms. Inside the Endless House (1966), written as a journal, is basically an account of Kiesler's artistic life. His last important work was the Shrine of the Book (1959–65), which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls in Israel.


The Shrine of the Book


Dead Sea Scrolls in Israel

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Ancient manuscripts (of leather, papyrus, and copper) discovered in desert caves and ancient ruins in the wilderness of Judaea. They are among the more important discoveries in the history of modern archaeology. Their recovery has enabled scholars to pushback the date of a stabilized Hebrew Bible to no later than AD 70, to reconstruct the history of Palestine from the 4th century BC to AD 135, and to cast new light on the emergence of Christianity and of rabbinic Judaism and on the relationship between early Christianity and Jewish religious traditions.

Documents were recovered in the Judaean wilderness from five principal sites: Khirbat Qumran, Wadi Al-Murabba'ah, Nahal Hever (Wadi Khabrah) and Nahal Ze'elim (Wadi Seiyal), Wadi Daliyeh, and Masada. The first manuscripts, accidentally discovered by a young Bedouin shepherd (1947) in a cave at Khirbat Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, were almost immediately labeled Dead Sea Scrolls. Later finds (especially in the 1950s to mid-1960s) in neighbouring areas were similarly designated.

Eleven caves near Qumran yielded numerous documents, all long presumed part of a library belonging to a fundamentalist Jewish religious sect (Essenes) that flourished at Qumran from the mid-2nd century BC to AD 68. Some scholars have suggested that the scrolls were not the work of Essene monks but rather a collected library of important Jewish works that was hidden for protection during the Roman invasion of AD 67 to 73. Though the documents themselves date from the mid-3rd century BC to AD 68, the majority were composed during the 1st century BC and 1st century AD. The oldest manuscripts are biblical.

The best-preserved documents are those found in Cave I at Qumran, including an Isaiah Scroll; the Rule of the Community (also called the Manual of Discipline); The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, or War Scroll; a scroll of thanksgiving hymns; and a commentary on the Book of Habakkuk.

Cave II contained only fragments. Cave III yielded the Copper Scroll, a list of Temple treasures and their hiding places. Cave IV sheltered the main deposit of the allegedly Essene library. Of the approximately 400 manuscripts, generally in poor condition, most were sectarian writings. About 100 are biblical and represent the entire Hebrew Old Testament, excepting the Book of Esther.

Several well-preserved documents also were recovered from Cave XI, including a large scroll with canonical, apocryphal, and unknown psalms. There was also a copy of Leviticus (dated to the 3rd century BC). The Temple Scroll, purchased in1967 from Bedouins, was probably removed from Cave XI more than a decade earlier. Its 66 preserved columns give details for the construction of the ideal Temple of Jerusalem.

Wadi Al-Murabba'ah, a second site 11 miles (18 km) south of Qumran, contained documents left by fugitives from the armies of Bar Kokhba (who led the Jews in a suicidal revolt against Rome in AD 132–135). Besides two letters of Bar Kokhba, legal documents in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and fragmentary biblical works of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, archaeologists recovered a remarkably well-preserved scroll of the 12 minor prophets that is virtually identical with the traditional biblical text.

When shepherds reported a third site in 1952, this one south of 'En Gedi, they presented as evidence a lost Greek translation (1st century AD) of the minor prophets, a letter of Bar Kokhba, biblical fragments, and legal documents of the Bar Kokhba era in Aramaic, Greek, and Nabataean. Excavations at Nahal Ze'elim, in the “Cave of Scrolls,” uncovered clear evidence of the Bar Kokhba era and, in the “Cave of Letters,” 15 papyri of Bar Kokhba with a psalms fragment. Later diggings produced additional letters of Bar Kokhba and a large body of Nabataean, Aramaic, and Greek documents. At Nahal Hever, in the “Cave of Horrors” (containing skeletal remains), there were bits of a Greek recension of the minor prophets.

A fourth site, 8.5 miles (13.6 km) north of ancient Jericho, yielded about 40 badly damaged documents deposited in a cave by Samarians who were massacred there by soldiers of Alexander the Great in 331 BC. These legal documents are allin Aramaic except for seals in Paleo-Hebrew. As the earliest (375–335 BC) extensive group of papyri ever found in Palestine, they are of immense value to historians.

A fifth site, at Masada, produced a Hebrew manuscript of Ecclesiasticus (c. 75 BC) and fragments of Psalms, Leviticus, and Genesis. Found also was a Scroll of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, possibly of Essene authorship. A similar manuscript was found in Cave IV at Qumrān.

All the manuscripts were placed under the control of a small committee of scholars. Most of the longer, more complete scrolls were published soon after their discovery. The majority of the scrolls, however, consist of tiny, brittle fragments. These fragments were published at a pace considered by many to be excessively slow, and access to the unpublished documents was severely limited by the editorial committee. In September 1991 researchers at Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio, announced that they had created a computer program that used a previously published concordance to the scrolls to reconstruct one of the unpublished texts. Later that month, officials at the Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif., announced that they would allow researchers unrestricted access to the library's complete set of photographs of the scrolls. With their de facto monopoly of the scrolls broken, the official scholars of the Israeli Antiquities Authority agreed to lift their long-standing restrictions on the use of the scrolls.


He even drew up a Manifesto of Correalism, in which, in opposition to Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus, he denies being Utopian : 'Enough bookish architecture has been invented. We don't want to bring out the latest, and the even later edition. We want buildings which are as flexible as the functions of living.'

Starting from the premise that the content of architecture is more important than its structure, he advocated 'houses which are not just walls with or without adornments, and whose foundations do not rest on a barrack-like mentality'. Instead of using a skeleton framework in a building, he substituted 'continuous tension', and made use of veils and membranes. He was fond of using the word 'galaxy' to show that his architecture consisted of a constellation of differing and contrasting spatial unities. There are examples of 'galaxies' in his plans for a 'universal theatre', which he worked on intermittently throughout his career.

In 1947 he superintended the staging of the 'Exposition Internationale du Surrealisme' in Paris, and himself designed the Hall of Superstitions. He took this as an unexpected opportunity to make known his conception of the synthesis of the arts. Unlike Gropius or Villanueva, for whom the synthesis of the arts is subordinated to architectural necessity, Kiesler insisted that it should be used in the service of poetry. This exhibition, whose ideological theme was outlined by Breton, was thus an attempt to include poetry in the synthesis of the arts, and Kiesler stressed the importance of this attempt : 'This collective work, created not by artists drawn from one single held, but by the Architect-Painter-Sculptor group, plus the Poet (the author of the Theme), represents - even if it fails - the most stimulating prospect for development in our plastic arts'. The design of the exhibition made manifest Kiesler's genius, and it also gave a new direction to his development. In 1953, when I spent a holiday with him at Golfe-Juan, he showed me sketches of a number of audacious projects, including a 'horizontal skyscraper'. From the ideas which he set out in Le Surrealisme en 1947, a catalogue published by the Galerie Maeght, right up to his last project - a Grotto of Meditation at New Harmony, Ind. - Kiesler has never ceased to oppose functional architecture and to preach the principles of a 'magical architecture', which, making use of the techniques and materials of our time, is the most convincing evidence for surrealism in architecture.



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