Theses Doctoral

August Endell's Construction of Feeling

Mims, Martina

The German architect August Endell (1871-1925) is best known for his idiosyncratic buildings and interiors. As the first monographic study on his work in English, this dissertation uncovers the little-known design philosophy behind his works, and elucidates the intellectual origins and career of his important theory of experiential form. Endell was a polymath versed in scientific philosophy, empirical psychology, musicology and architecture. A man of extraordinary intellectual range, he saw his architectural practice as a laboratory for conducting experiments in psychology. In particular, his buildings explored architectural forms patterned on the workings of the human brain, as understood in late nineteenth century Germany. Previous studies of Endell generally have tried to situate him within one of the major German schools of thought in psychology, alternatively as a proponent of abstraction or empathy.

Through detailed analyses of his built works and written texts, this dissertation argues that Endell was in fact attempting a reconciliation between abstraction and empathy, through what I have interpreted as experiential forms, namely forms drawn from collective memories, feelings, and ethical relations. Endell was an activist for architectural design driven by a "science" of consciousness, and he was convinced that built experiential forms could serve an important unifying social function, counteracting processes of social disaggregation he believed was taking place in pre-World War I Germany. Endell was discredited and ignored for much of the twentieth century, perhaps because his claims about the influence of architecture in the functioning of the human brain and sensorium, in the absence of scientific proof, seemed condemned to remain hypothetical. To re-examine his work today, when neuroscience is giving us an entirely new picture of the brain, is to recover an important chapter in the pre-history of attempts to adequate our built environment to our human condition.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Bergdoll, Barry George
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 14, 2013