Dr. Rainer Schützeichel
ETH Zurich, Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta)
Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
Intellectual history alongside (and intertwined with) urban and architectural history has always caught my interest. At the moment, I am following this research interest firstly in a project that is looking at a larger, regional scale: At ETH Zurich, we are conducting a research project on the Swiss civil engineer Heinz Isler (1926–2009), who played a major role in the development of prestressed thin concrete shells and was influential in shaping the Swiss infrastructural landscape by implementing a network of industrial buildings. These structures can shed light on developments in engineering, on changing conditions inside the construction industry, as well as on the phenomenon of land-consuming sprawl in industrial zones. Secondly, I am following the traces of several disciples of the architect and urban planner Theodor Fischer (1862–1938), who was one of the doyens of modern, yet traditionally rooted architecture in Germany. My goal is to carve out the effect that Fischer’s teaching had on the younger generations of architects who then, in turn, set the tone during the interwar years and in the reconstruction of cities during the early postwar period.
Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?
During the current semester, I am taking a pause from teaching to concentrate on my research. In the upcoming semester, though, I will be teaching History of Urban Design as a guest lecturer at Hochschule München. It is the relationship between theory, cultural history, and practice that intrigues me and that I want to reveal to the students. In past years, I concentrated on the discourse of space in German architectural theory – a discourse which also evolved in urban planning around the turn of the century. This opens up new perspectives on industrialized cities as both estranged environments that could be reclaimed and on larger spatial relationships that went beyond the historical boundaries of cities on the other. This investigation into theory and its actual effects on planning practice informs my teaching of urban history.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
I am very much looking forward to the publication of my PhD thesis on the architect and theoretician Herman Sörgel (1885–1952), which will appear in the fall this year. It is not only that this research – as is the nature of a dissertation – accompanied me for many years. It is also my aim to contribute with this book, which for the first time shifts the focus from both Sörgel’s unfinished “Theorie der Baukunst” and his architectural and urban designs to a broader understanding of modernism in general by introducing a figure that until now has not been in the center of the historiography of modern architecture.
What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?
One that sounds rather self-explanatory: be curious, and be aware that when you answer one research question you raise at least two new ones. Although this can sometimes be sobering or even annoying, it is the best driver for research. And certainty about the fact that history never follows an easy logic of smooth progress, but that it contains a bundle of fascinating sub-plots, is one of its best outcomes.
You have written about the application of the philosophical concept of “Einfühlung” (empathy) in architecture. What is an example of a structure or architectural work that you particularly empathize with, and why?
It is rather an urban project than an architectural work that I am empathizing with, if I have to choose one. I am thinking of Joze Plecnik’s (1872–1957) renewal (or better, refurbishment) of Ljubljana’s city center. He was able to implement this by a series of punctual interventions: When strolling through the city along the river bank of the Ljubljanica, one is confronted with several bridges that were carefully implanted into the urban fabric, flights of stairs, monuments, and public buildings such as the Market or the National Library. In Ljubljana, one can experience a vivid urban center and at the same time some kind of open-air exhibition making visible the architectural search for an identity which the newly constituted capital city undertook in the crucial years after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Slovenia’s independence from the Viennese reign.