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Hans Scharoun.

This new book begins, like a good thriller, at the scene of the crime: the Baensch House of 1935. By launching into his monograph here, Blundell Jones tackles, head on, all the most interesting issues (such as what exactly Scharoun was doing in Nazi Germany when almost every other important architect had fled). The advent of the Baupolizei caused Scharoun to abandon white architecture for ever; his buildings became schizophrenic, with conventional facades containing increasingly complex and surprising interiors. It at once becomes clear what Scharoun's real achievement is: the abolition of empty space and its replacement by planned areas that always have some purpose or movement, drawing you in and through, and up and out and beyond. At this same time, incidentally, the exiled German critic Walter Benjamin was working on his 'Arcades Project'; just as Benjamin's thought defied simple axiality, moving (as Pierre Missac wrote) like 'a knight's move in a game of chess', and the physical arcades he was describing became undetachable from their itinerant populations, their beginnings, their ends, and their internal cross-references, so Scharoun's buildings began to defy the camera. They are non-perspectival and impossible to photo, graph because their power exists in moving through them. The plan of the much later 'Salute' block of flats (1961-3) resembles a pair of lungs, as if Scharoun understood them as drawing air through them.

What distinguishes this book is the emphasis that Blundell Jones gives to the transitional phases that Scharoun's buildings went through until their final form emerges. The first chapters are dominated by his vibrant watercolours, stimulated by contact with Taut and Behne as if these, and not the early buildings themselves, comment on the development of his work.

Later, Scharoun seems to have been influenced by Mendelsohn, and his plans first take on the dynamic amorphism that led him to Hugo Haring and his own style. By the time of his Weissenhof exhibition house - arrived at through a long process of revision - he is demonstrably an independent voice alongside the neighbouring anti-localising rationalists such as Mies and Gropius.

As post-war German architecture is re-evaluated (and, among other things, one realises that the ascetic boxes of the 1950s were actually a style and not some public act of contrition) one can distinguish the role played by Germans beyond the Bauhaus in the development of modern architectural thought. The accepted view is that they provided a stern counterpoint to the sunny Graeco-Roman romanticism of Le Corbusier: this book suggests a more interesting picture. Scharoun's school-cities, like Haring's 'organ-like' buildings and Taut's crystal-crowned mountain-tops, lie behind some of the emotional yearnings of today's post-internationalists and late-modernists, and the unresolved clashes of hard and soft (such as at Gunter Behnisch's new Bundestag) are actually the descendants of a German tradition that is marked by Scharoun's city plan for Berlin of 1946, and the stiff eastern spine and spilling western innards of his State Library. This is a first-rate study, imaginatively and inspiringly (as well as competently) written, properly illustrated and stylishly designed.

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Author:Brittain-Catlin, Timothy
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1995
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Next Article:The Architecture of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

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