The Berlage

Session Room K

On Wolkenbügel

Richard Anderson

Front cover of Wolkenbügel: El Lissitzky as Architect

Richard Anderson will speak on his forthcoming book entitled Wolkenbügel: El Lissitzky as Architect, which explores how a visionary, never-realized architectural project, devised by one of the twentieth century's greatest artists, shaped architectural culture in Europe between the world wars. After achieving international acclaim as a painter and designer, El Lissitzky set out in 1924 to convince the world—and himself—that he was also an architect. He did this with a project for a “horizontal skyscraper,” which he gave an obscure and untranslatable name: Wolkenbügel. Eight of these buildings, perched atop slender pillars, were intended to stand at major intersections along Moscow's Boulevard Ring, integrating the flow of tramlines, subways, and elevators.

In Wolkenbügel, Richard Anderson explores Lissitzky's translation of visual and textual media into spatial ideas and offers an in-depth study of the surviving drawings and archival artifacts related to Lissitzky's most complex architectural proposal. This book offers a new and definitive account of how Lissitzky expanded the conceptual and representational tools available to the modern architect by drawing on many sources—including photography, typography, exhibition design, and even the elementary forms of the alphabet—to create the Wolkenbügel.

Anderson shows how the production and reception of a paper project served to link key ideas and relationships that animated the worlds of art and architecture, offering a new view on received histories of the interwar avant-gardes. By attending to Lissitzky's singular architectural project, Anderson reveals the dynamics of internationality in the constitution of modern architectural culture in Europe.

Richard Anderson is Professor of Architectural History and Theory at the University of Edinburgh. He is the editor of Ludwig Hilberseimer's Metropolisarchitecture and Selected Essays and the author of Russia: Modern Architectures in History.

The Berlage Sessions, a seven-part seminar series entitled “About the Book,” examines recent scholarship and their respective book production, from building biographies and academic anthologies to memoirs and novels. Topics will include El Lissitzky’s project for a “horizontal skyscraper,” a meditative tour of a family’s house on the Sardinian Coast, an account of the life and work of the architect Minoru Yamasaki, the role of modernism and material culture played in the aspiring Black American middle class of the early twentieth century, a critical-paranoid investigation of the paradoxes of OMA’s enigmatic Villa Dall’Ava, the emergence of world histories of architecture, and the tenuous relationship of eighteenth-century England to late-capitalist modernity through the lives and times of ceramics entrepreneur Josiah Wedgewood. The series will conclude with a reflection on how and for whom is architectural history is written.

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