Thinking Perspectives: The Layered Meaning of Heinrich Tessenow’s Drawings (1901 – 1926)

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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An architectural perspective drawing gives a naturalistic spatial representation of an architectural project, which is usually represented in orthographic drawings, such as floorplans, sections, and elevations. However, that same perspective drawing can also express theoretical architectural concepts and ideas in a non-verbal, but highly communicative way. To investigate that particular quality, this dissertation takes a systematic look at the historical case of the perspective drawings made by the German architect Heinrich Tessenow (1876-1950), focusing on the period between 1901 and 1926. Tessenow, one of the key figures in early twentieth-century German architecture, was mostly interested in the Kleinwohnung (small workers’ and lower-middle-class house) and the Kleinstadt (small town)

Initially, Tessenow’s perspectives appeared in various well-read architectural journals, such as Bautechnische Zeitschrift and Deutsche Bauhütte. These journals not only offered the drawings (and their maker) a publishing platform but also actively invited various writers to respond to them, thus contributing to a lively public discourse on architecture. As a consequence, perspective drawings played a major role in Tessenow’s first three publications, Zimmermannsarbeiten (1907), Der Wohnhausbau (1909) and Hausbau und dergleichen (1916). In all three books, perspective drawings were much more than illustrations or building visualisations to his texts: they actively contributed to Tessenow’s architectural thinking and his emerging visual theory of architecture.

This dissertation wants to address some basic questions that relate to this: what is the meaning of these perspectives in Tessenow’s visual theory of architecture and what role did they play in the development of his thinking on the Kleinwohnung?

To answer these questions, a great number of perspective drawings are collected from various sources. Quite deliberately, these drawings are detached from their immediate context, regarding the projects they depict, the media in which they appeared and their chronological order. This collection of detached drawings is then subdivided into three main thematic categories that summarize Tessenow’s oeuvre in these years and all relate to the Kleinwohnung: Haus (house); Raum (room or space) and Sache (thing or object).

To relate Tessenow’s perspective drawings to his architectural thinking, three epistemic architectural notions are distilled from writings by both Tessenow and some of his contemporaries. These notions are Empfindung (sensibility), Abstraktion (abstraction) and Gewöhnlichkeit (ordinariness) and their epistemic character follows from the fact that they not only define Tessenow’s architectural thinking but relate to a broader German architectural culture.

By intersecting these notions with the drawings arranged in the categories of Haus, Raum and Sache, it becomes possible to select more than 20 sets of related drawings that are then subjected to a comparative iconographic architectural analysis, in which the typological organization of building, space or object; and the formal composition of its appearance are linked to aspects such as its immediate setting, spatial delineations and material expression. The method of juxtaposing perspective drawings with a similar subject and subsequently comparing these drawings makes it possible to reveal general patterns and qualities related to the depicted subject beyond the individual case. Together, these analyses form the basis of a series of speculative reconstructions of Tessenow’s inquiries into several relevant topics related to the Kleinwohnung.

Besides the historical significance of Tessenow’s case, the analyses presented in this dissertation also demonstrate the significance of perspective drawing. They make clear that this kind of drawing was, and is, able to bring together different scales, elements and atmospheres in one image, which is immediately understandable to both architects and to all the others involved in architecture and building. They also show how perspective drawing can contribute to architectural thinking and thus forms an important theoretical tool that continues to be relevant in the present day.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Avermaete, T.L.P., Supervisor
  • Havik, K.M., Supervisor
Award date14 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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