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18 October 2010
Dr Rudolf Steiner’s architectural ideas and buildings may be shunned by today’s architectural community but for Deakin University’s PhD candidate Fiona Gray the prejudice has proved to be a winner.
Ms Gray’s passionate argument as to why Steiner’s work should be valued by the architectural community won her the people’s choice award at the University’s Three Minute Thesis competition.
Ms Gray’s PhD is looking at Rudolf Steiner’s architectural theories and their translation into the built form.
“Rudolf Steiner has been associated with cult ideas and some of those ideas are a bit off-beat, but his architecture, like that of Antoni Gaudi is unusual,” she explained.
“You usually find people react positively or are repelled by it.”
Ms Gray said part of the reason opinion was so divided was that Steiner himself was a paradox.
“Steiner’s work is rooted in a strong philosophical foundation, he studied Goethe, Kant, Nietzsche, Hegel and Shelling among others and engaged in theosophy - an alternative esoteric movement,” she said.
“From these he created Anthroposophy which argues that the human intellect has the ability to contact spiritual worlds.
“At times Steiner’s work demonstrates a disciplined mind of remarkable intellect while at other times his somewhat absurd ramblings read like a bizarre fiction with an unfathomable plot.”
Ms Gray said Steiner’s beliefs and philosophies and the difficulties in communicating and understanding his work meant the architectural community dismissed him as a deluded occultist.
“His ideas though have established a foothold in areas such as education, biodynamic agriculture and therapeutic medicine, but in architectural circles he still remains deeply misunderstood and his work has largely been censored out of the pages of architectural history,” she said.
Ms Gray said in his time Steiner had produced 17 buildings, in Dornach, Switzerland a number of which were recognised in 1996 with Heritage listings.
“Steiner’s buildings are organic and quite hard to define,” she said.
“They were often idiosyncratic, but if you look at them you find they are expressive sculptures stemming from a holistic view that buildings should be designed from the inside out.
“Rather than presenting a formulaic approach to design, Steiner encouraged individual creative freedom.”
Ms Gray said Steiner argued for instance that while a community must strive for a unified solution, one house must not be obliged to be like another.
“He envisaged an architecture capable of truly expressing a spiritual conception of modern life,” she said.
“Though his ideas have met with considerable scorn and criticism, they remain powerfully present in the work of a number of contemporary organic architects for whom the Anthroposophic philosophy presents a means of moving beyond conventional ways of thinking about architecture.
“His concepts are worthy of further investigation.”
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Boiler House, Rudolf Steiner