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Marianna Charitonidou, “Gottfried Semper face au Crystal Palace Le Stoffwechsel ou l’osmose entre arts décoratifs et architecture/Gottfried Semper’s Perplexity Before the Crystal Palace: Stoffwechsel as Osmosis between Decorative Objects and Architecture”, Faces, 77 (2020): 16-21; 63-65.

Abstract

This paper examines how Gottfried Semper’s approach triggered the shift from an understanding of ornament as artefact to an experimental model. In parallel, it reveals the implications of such a reorienta- tion of the concept of ornament for both design and architecture. Pivotal for this shift was Semper’s “On the Formal Principles of Adornment and its Meaning as a Symbol in Art” (1856), which marks, firstly, a relocation of the quest for demonstration to theorisation, and, secondly, an intensification of the interaction between graphic illustration and abstract speculation. What is argued here is that Semper’s cosmological inquiries on ornamentation enacted a comprehension of ornaments as non-autonomous objects, upgrading them into reflective devices. Semper was in exile in London between 1850 and 1855, after his escape from Dresden on 9 May 1849 when Prus-sian and Saxon troops defeated the revolt in which he had participated in support of democratic rights and the unity of the German state. The presentation will focus on Semper’s comments on the 1851 Great London Exhibition, and especially on his critical remarks regarding Sir Joseph Pax-ton’s Crystal Palace whose design for the Great Exhibition had been accepted in the summer of 1850. Some months later, in February 1951, Semper drafted a school programme including lessons for engineers and architects. In March of the same year, Edwin Chadwick invited Semper, on be-half of Paxton, to become an assistant of the latter while working on the Crystal Palace. Semper rejected this offer, presenting as an excuse his involvement in the establishment of a school for architects in London, which, as he stated, had garnered publicity in the German and Swiss news-papers. Despite the fact that Semper interpreted the Great London Exhibition as a “world phe-nomenon” representing contemporary cultural conditions, he described the sentiments that a walk through it provoked as a “Babylonian confusion”, claiming that the perplexity it induced prevented an intelligible perception of the exhibited objects, making the impression they instigated non-compatible with his aspiration for a “practical heuristics” system. My objective is to examine whether the questions that arose in Semper’s mind when experiencing the Crystal Palace pushed him to question the understanding of architecture that he had previ-ously developed in The Four Elements of Architecture , which was published shortly before his arrival in London, according to a distinction into four elements: the hearth, the roof, the enclosure and the mound. Additionally, I will investigate the extent to which his encounter with the Crystal Palace played a role in his use of the concept of stoffwechsel, which Semper introduced from bi-ology in order to describe the material transformation of artistic forms. The elaboration of this no-tion allowed Semper to argue for replacing the conception of ornament as artefact by its under-standing as architectural element. In other words, it is through this concept that Semper defended his integration of the decorative object into the history of architecture. These questions will be discussed in relation to an analysis of why Practical Art in Metal and Hard Materials (1852) was pivotal for the re-invention of decorative objects’ meaning.
FACES
Journal d’architecture no 77 / Printemps 2020 / L’ i n s t i n c t d e l ’ o r n e m e n t
Rédacteur en chef
Paolo Amaldi
Directeur de publication
Philippe Meyer
Comité de rédaction
Nicolas Bassand
Adrien Besson
Isabel Concheiro Guisan
Jean-Paul Jaccaud
Jean-Frédéric Luscher
Philippe Meier
Membre honoraire
Cyrille Simonnet

Nicola Navone, Mendrisio
Jacques Lucan, Paris
André Bideau, Zurich
Coordination éditoriale
Eliza Culea-Hong
Relecture
Florence Collin

Traduction
Carole Delporte
Marie Christine-Guyon
Eliza Culea-Hong
Correspondants
Philippe Potié, Paris
Florian Hertweck, Berlin et Luxembourg
Jean-Pierre Chupin, Montréal
Graphisme
Catherine Baud, Infolio
Site internet
Gino Ladowitch
Photolithographie
Karim Sauterel, Infolio
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

les années 2016-2020.
Image de couverture :
Christian, Erik et Aage Holst, Jarmers Plads, 1956-
1959, Copenhague, Danemark (photo Philippe Meyer).

Shneel Malik, Indus, Bio-ID Lab, Bartlett School
of Architecture, 2019. (© Shneel Malik).
© Faces, 2020
ISBN 978-2-88474-989-3
Tirage : 1500 exemplaires.
Faces est publié avec l’aide de :
ses partenaires : Haute École du paysage, d’ingénierie et d’architecture de Genève (Hepia) ;
Haute École d’ingénierie et d’architecture de Fribourg (HEIA-FR) ;
Joint master d’architecture (HES-SO Master) ;
son généreux bienfaiteur : Atelier Jaccaud Spicher ;
ses soutiens : Fédération des Architectes suisses (FAS) comité central, FAS section Genève ;
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Atelier Bonnet ; Graber Pulver, Gabriele Guschetti ; Amaldi-Neder ; Giorgis Rodriguez Architectes ;
Bakker&Blanc ; Bassi Carella Marello Architectes ; Frundgallina.
Éditorial
2 L’ordre vital
3 The Vital Order
Paolo Amaldi, translated from French by Eliza Culea-Hong
Dossier
4 L’ornement, ou le rire de Dionysos
Philippe Potié, guest editor
10 De la décoration par les ombres
La pensée picturale d’Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc [peer-review]
Laura Trazic
16 Gottfried Semper face au Crystal Palace
Le Stoffwechsel ou l’osmose entre arts décoratifs et architecture [peer-review]
Marianna Charitonidou, traduit de l’anglais par Carole Delporte
22 Au seuil du profane et du sacré
Adolf Loos et la question de l’ornement
Can Onaner
28 Durabilité ornée
Crise climatique, articulations du temps et autres manifestations de la nature [peer-review]
Andreas Körner, traduit de l’anglais par Carole Delporte
36 Béni soit l’Ornement !
Andrés Ros Campos, traduit de l’espagnol par Marie-Christine Guyon
38 L’ornement nu, entre muscles et ossature
Susanne Stacher
Repérage
 
Foyer Chevrens II à Anières, Lacroix-Chessex architectes
Federico Neder
Hommage
52 Venturi-Scott-Brown en flânerie
Voyage de Philadelphie à Genève
Jacques Gubler
English section
61 Ornament, or the Laughter of Dionysus
Philippe Potié, guest editor, translated from French by Eliza Culea-Hong
63 Gottfried Semper’s Perplexity before the Crystal Palace
Stoffwechsel as Osmosis between Decorative Objects and Architecture [peer-review]
Marianna Charitonidou
66 Ornate Sustainability
Climate Crisis, Articulations of Weather, and other Shapes of Nature [peer-review]
Andreas Körner
69 The Naked Ornament, between Muscles and Skeleton
Susanne Stacher
FACES
16
La philosophie de Gottfried Semper a transformé
notre compréhension de l’ornement : d’artefact, il
devient un modèle expérimental. Cette approche
permet de reconsidérer le concept d’ornement
tant pour le design que pour l’architecture. Son
texte intitulé « De la détermination formelle de
l’ornement et de sa signification comme symbole
de l’art1 » constitue le point de départ de cette
nouvelle prise de position. Il marque, d’une part,
le passage de la démonstration à la théorisation
GOTTFRIED SEMPER
FACE AU CRYSTAL PALACE
Le Stoffwechsel ou l’osmose entre arts décoratifs et architecture
Marianna Charitonidou
Traduit de l’anglais par Carole Delporte
et, d’autre part, une plus forte interaction entre
abstraction et graphisme. Comme l’indique l’inti-
tulé, Semper suggère une « transition méthodolo-
gique de la démonstration à la théorisation2 », qui
se fonde non seulement sur la tension entre l’il-
lustration graphique et la pensée abstraite, mais
aussi sur la dialectique entre vision et théorie.
La distinction entre les notions d’ornement et
de parure est essentielle pour comprendre l’ap-
proche de l’architecte allemand. Semper fait
Gottfried Semper, croquis d’ornements
directionnels pour la tête. Dessins préparatoires
avec instructions manuscrites pour l’illustration de
Der Stil, détail. (gta Archives/ETH Zurich, Gottfried
Semper, 20-0163-25A.)
PEER-REVIEW
17
référence à la parure dans le texte mentionné
ci-dessus, dont une partie a été publiée dans les
« Prolégomènes », l’introduction de son magnum
opusLe Style dans les arts techniques et tec-
toniques ou esthétique pratique3. Le terme spé-
cifique employé par Semper dans la version
originale allemande est Schmuck. Deux carac-
téristiques se rattachent à ce concept, ce qui le
distingue du principe de décoration : sa nature
incarnée et sa dimension cosmologique. Semper
estime que « tous les éléments décoratifs dont se
sert l’architecture […] tirent leur origine de la
parure corporelle et, étroitement en rapport avec
celle-ci, de certains procédés de l’industrie fami-
liale la plus primitive4 ».
La manière dont il dessine les parures montre
qu’il conçoit les ornements comme des exten-
sions du corps humain. Son croquis d’une
ménade dansante d’après un bas-relief néo-
attique, par exemple, est révélateur de son intérêt
pour l’osmose entre le corps humain, le tex-
tile et l’ornement : Semper invente le concept
de mouvement oscillant tout en liant étroitement
ces trois notions. À ses yeux, les corps humains
qui occupent l’espace jouent un rôle fondamen-
tal. Cela se manifeste dans ses esquisses d’êtres
humains à l’intérieur d’espaces architecturaux,
comme le montre son dessin pour la section cana-
dienne du Crystal Palace, mais aussi sa décla-
ration suivante : « D’abord, on a l’individu qui
habite l’espace ; viennent ensuite les bijoux, les
vêtements et les meubles ; et enfin la décoration,
où l’on prend en compte les mesures du plafond,
du sol et du mur5. » Semper s’inspire du terme
grec ancien kosmos pour expliquer sa concep-
tion de l’ornement, en insistant particulièrement
Gottfried Semper, dessins de médaillons, Londres,

Gottfried Semper, 20-1-4.)
Gottfried Semper, dessins de parures.
(gta Archives/ETH Zurich, Gottfried Semper, 20-4-1.)
Dessin d’une ménade dansante par Gottfried
Semper. Pour cette figure, il s’inspire d’un bas-
relief néo-attique. (gta Archives/ETH Zurich,
Gottfried Semper, 20-0212-8.)
FACES
18
sur ses quatre significations : monde, ordre,
hiérarchie et ornement6. Lorsqu’il s’installe à
Londres, il emporte avec lui le livre d’Alexander
von Humboldt intitulé Cosmos7. Semper voit dans
l’ornement une passerelle jetée entre les humains
et le cosmos. Il utilise l’expression « ornement
directionnel » (Richtungsschmuck), affirmant
qu’il est le « plus spirituel8 » (die geistigere)
de tous les ornements. Dans sa conférence « Des
styles architecturaux », en 1869, Semper insiste
sur le lien entre les hommes et le cosmos :
 
    
      
ancien dont il ait fait usage […] C’est le
premier pas significatif vers l’art […] Dans
  
recherche d’individualité, ce penchant pour

  -
-
  

personne9. »
Gottfried Semper face
au Crystal Palace : l’émergence
d’une théorie nouvelle.
En 1849, la Société des arts et son président, le
prince Albert, ont l’idée d’organiser une grande
exposition à Londres en 1851. L’Exposition uni-
verselle, également appelée « Exposition des
œuvres de l’industrie de toutes les nations », est
mise en place par le fonctionnaire et inventeur
britannique Sir Henry Cole, sous le patronage
du prince Albert. Cole décrit cette exposition,
qui attire six millions de visiteurs, comme « un
espace sans commune mesure pour toute l’indus-
trie humaine10 ». Le projet de Sir Joseph Paxton
pour le Crystal Palace de l’Exposition est enté-
riné à l’été 1850. En 1851, le palais est construit
à Hyde Park – et sera démantelé un an plus tard.
Semper s’exile à Londres à l’automne 1850,
après avoir précipitamment quitté Dresde le
9 mai 1849. Il fuit les persécutions à la suite du
soulèvement de mai à Dresde, au cours duquel il a
joué un rôle de premier plan11. Avant de gagner la
Grande-Bretagne, il séjourne quinze mois à Paris.
Semper reste à Londres jusqu’à l’été 1855, puis
s’installe à Zürich, il est nommé professeur
à l’École polytechnique, en partie avec le sou-
tien de Richard Wagner. Grâce à ses relations à
Londres, il parvient à publier plusieurs textes, et
enseigne au Department of Practical Art de 1852
à 185512. Avant d’obtenir ce poste, il tente de
créer une école privée pour architectes. À cette
fin, en février 1851, il élabore un programme édu-
catif comprenant des cours pour les ingénieurs et
les architectes. En mars 1851, Edwin Chadwick
invite Semper, au nom de Paxton, à assister ce
dernier pour la conception du Crystal Palace.
Semper refuse son offre, au prétexte qu’il est trop
occupé par la création de son école d’architectes à
Londres, qui, selon ses dires, fait l’objet de publi-
cité dans les journaux allemands et suisses.
D’après le récit d’Ákos Moravánszky, Semper
visite quotidiennement l’Exposition universelle13.
Il découvre la reconstitution d’une hutte primitive
Le Crystal Palace de Hyde Park vu de Knightsbridge
Road, pour l’Exposition universelle de 1851.
Gravure dédiée aux membres de la Commission
royale. Londres : Read & Co. Engravers & Printers,
1851.
19
des Caraïbes qui a un puissant impact sur sa théo-
rie de la construction. Il inclura le schéma de cette
cabane dans le deuxième volume de Der Stil in
den technischen und tektonischen Künsten oder
Praktische Ästhetik, publié en 186314. Semper
souligne que, dans le cas de la hutte caribéenne,
on est confronté à « tous les éléments de l’archi-
tecture antique dans leur forme la plus pure et la
plus originale : le foyer de la cheminée, la terrasse
sous forme de talus de terre, le toit supporté par
des colonnes et la cloison en nattes15 ».
Grâce à ses relations avec Henry Cole, Semper
contribue à la conception des sections cana-
dienne, danoise, suédoise et ottomane de l’Ex-
position universelle de 1851 à Londres. D’après
   -
selle de 1851 a eu une influence décisive sur
Semper16 ». Pour préparer les espaces dédiés au
Canada, au Danemark, à la Suède et à l’Empire
ottoman, il passe beaucoup de temps à observer
les autres espaces d’exposition et à se promener
dans le Crystal Palace. Il a l’occasion de compa-
rer les expositions de divers pays européens avec
celles de peuples « primitifs » tels que les Lapons,
les Amérindiens et les Tibétains. Il admire parti-
culièrement les Tibétains pour leur manière intui-
tive de traiter les matériaux. Il déclare notamment
à ce sujet : « Tous les moyens techniques, méca-
niques et économiques que nous avons inventés
et qui nous donnaient l’avantage par le passé ne
nous aideront pas à améliorer notre art industriel.
Afin d’égaler ces peuples sur le plan artistique,
nous devons faire consciemment ce qu’ils font
instinctivement, à savoir respecter les propriétés
des matériaux et les exigences de l’art17. » Son
expérience de l’Exposition universelle lui permet
de réaliser « une évaluation critique de la produc-
tion artistique moderne18 ».
À la même époque, Semper travaille sur Les
Quatre Éléments de l’architecture19. Il écrit
une grande partie de ce livre à Londres et en
publie des extraits dans les revues Museum of
Classical Antiquities20 et Journal of Design and
Manufactures21, respectivement en juillet et
décembre 1851. Comme Semper a travaillé sur
cet ouvrage l’année même de l’Exposition, on peut
s’interroger sur la relation entre sa découverte du
Crystal Palace et sa vision de l’architecture. Ainsi,
sa distinction des quatre arts techniques – textile,
céramique, tectonique et stéréotomie – est-elle due
à l’influence du Crystal Palace ? Moravánszky
nous rappelle que Semper, dans Les Quatre
Éléments…, évoque une « organisation flexible
[…] qui ne repose pas sur des catégories de maté-
riaux fixes22 ». Cependant, sa critique du fer et sa
description du palais comme un « vide coiffé de
verre23 » semblent prouver qu’il ne croit guère à la
flexibilité de ces deux matériaux.


Bien que Semper considère l’Exposition univer-
selle de Londres comme un « phénomène mon-
dial », représentatif des manifestations culturelles
contemporaines, il avoue son sentiment, en déam-
bulant dans l’immense espace, d’une « confusion
babylonienne24 ». En outre, il affirme que la per-
plexité qui en découle empêche une perception
intelligible des objets exposés, ce qui est incom-
patible avec son aspiration à une « heuristique
pratique25 ». En lisant l’article de Semper intitulé
« Science, industrie et art » qui correspond, dans
l’ensemble, à ses réflexions sur l’Exposition uni-
verselle, on découvre son point de vue critique sur
le Crystal Palace. Dans ce texte, rédigé au moment
la clôture de l’Exposition, Semper affirme qu’une
nouvelle compréhension de l’architecture doit
s’adapter aux besoins de l’industrialisation et de
la mécanisation, et suggère d’améliorer la forma-
tion artistique afin de répondre aux progrès de la
technologie et à l’apparition de nouveaux modèles
socio-économiques. Comme en témoigne le titre
de cet essai, Semper défend une vision de l’archi-
tecture fondée sur la symbiose entre la science,
l’industrie et les arts. Ce texte est essentiel dans
l’œuvre de l’architecte allemand, car il s’emploie
à définir une nouvelle approche de l’architecture,
fondée sur une relation organique et universelle
entre l’art et la société.
Comme le fait remarquer Harry Francis
Mallgrave dans sa préface au Style dans les arts
techniques et tectoniques ou esthétique pratique,
Semper se montre très critique vis-à-vis du fer en
tant que matériau. C’est manifeste lorsqu’il décrit
le fer comme un « terreau infertile pour l’art »,
affirmant : « L’idéal serait une architecture invi-
sible ! Plus le tissu métallique est fin, plus il est
parfait26. » Sa réprobation du fer en tant que maté-
riau de construction est liée à ses réflexions sur la
hutte en bambou de l’Exposition universelle de
1851. Selon Gevork Hartoonian, « Semper consi-
dère que la hutte déstabilise le Crystal Palace en
tant représentation de l’objectivité émergente
propre au capitalisme grandissant27. » Cette dés-
tabilisation à laquelle Hartoonian se réfère est
liée à la contradiction entre l’espace coloré et
flexible permis par la structure métallique du
palais et la distinction entre le textile, la céra-
mique, la tectonique et la stéréotomie, chère à sa
théorie des quatre éléments. La logique morpho-
logique du Crystal Palace remet en question la
différenciation entre le foyer, le toit, la cloison et
Gottfried Semper, dessins de la hutte
caribéenne de l’Exposition universelle de 1851.
(gta Archives/ETH Zurich, Gottfried Semper,
20-0163-285A.)
FACES
20
la terrasse à laquelle Semper fait référence dans
le cinquième chapitre des Quatre Éléments de
l’architecture.
En 1852, après la fin de l’Exposition, Semper
écrit un essai intitulé L’Art appliqué aux métaux
et aux matériaux durs : ses techniques, son his-
toire, ses styles à la demande d’Henry Cole
essai qui ne sera jamais publié. Il décrit sa
vision du musée idéal, qui présenterait une
« collection complète et universelle ».
  
    
 
       
      -
tances ; il doit montrer l’histoire, l’ethno-
graphie et la philosophie de la culture28. »
Le musée idéal de Semper obéit à une logique
comparative. Au lieu de classer les objets expo-
sés suivant un ordre chronologique ou esthé-
tique, Semper suggère une classification « selon
les quatre techniques primordiales de fabrication
et leurs éléments correspondants29 ». Il décrit ce
musée comme « un bon système de comparaison »
et « une sorte d’index de l’histoire de la culture ».
En un sens, sa conception du musée idéal est une
tentative de rectifier les erreurs de l’Exposition
universelle. Le modèle comparatif de Semper
s’inspire de la juxtaposition des œuvres à l’inté-
rieur du Crystal Palace. De plus, il remet en ques-
tion la scénographie en fonction d’une période
stylistique ou d’un lieu – tels l’Alhambra,
Pompéi, etc. –, ou suivant une logique liée à
l’histoire naturelle – l’ethnologie, la géologie
ou la zoologie30 – le principe même du Crystal
Palace. En parallèle, Semper imagine son musée
idéal comme un dispositif pédagogique. Ainsi, ce
musée aidera les étudiants « à concevoir les rela-
tions mutuelles entre les objets, à observer leurs
affinités et leurs dissemblances, à découvrir les
lois et les prémices dont dépendent ces relations,
qu’elles soient positives et négatives31 ».
Le musée idéal de Semper et les stratégies
comparatives sur lesquelles il se fonde sont en
liaison avec le « système organique de com-
paraison32 » pour l’art, qu’il a présenté lors
d’une conférence à la Marlborough House le
11 novembre 1853. Dans ce discours, que Joseph
Rykwert considère comme l’un des plus impor-
tants que l’architecte a prononcés à Londres,
Semper souligne que « l’architecture est la com-
binaison de toutes les branches de l’art indus-
triel et de l’art en général, en vue de produire
un puissant effet d’ensemble, suivant une ligne
directrice ». Il fait également remarquer que
« les principes de l’esthétique architecturale ont
d’abord été appliqués aux objets industriels, et
que la dichotomie actuelle entre l’art industriel
et le grand art est l’une des principales causes
de leur déclin33 ». Cette conférence fait partie
d’une série donnée en 1853 au Department of
Practical Art, récemment restructuré par Cole
et le prince consort, et établi dans le nouveau
musée des Manufactures de South Kensington.
Semper assure la direction de la division du tra-
vail du métal et du bois de 1852 à 1855. Entre-
temps, en 1854, il dessine un théâtre s’inspirant
des amphithéâtres romains pour l’intégrer au
Crystal Palace de Joseph Paxton. Le palais est
démonté et réassemblé au sommet de Penge
Peak, près de Sydenham Hill, dans le sud de
Londres34, et inauguré par la reine Victoria
le 10 juin 1854. Le 30 novembre 1936, il est
détruit par un incendie.
Le Stoffwechsel
métamorphose continue des
matériaux et ses implications
pour l’ornement
Le Crystal Palace joue un rôle important
dans l’intérêt de Semper pour le concept de
Stoffwechsel35. Stoffwechsel signifie littérale-
ment « changement de matière » et a été intro-
duit dans la biologie au xixe siècle pour décrire
le métabolisme, c’est-à-dire le processus de cir-
culation des matériaux dans la nature. Semper
emploie ce terme emprunté de la biologie pour
décrire la transformation matérielle des formes
artistiques. Cette notion lui permet d’appréhen-
der l’ornement non plus comme artefact, mais
comme élément architectural et de défendre l’ob-
jet décoratif dans l’histoire de l’architecture. Il
est intéressant de noter que, selon la théorie de
Gottfried Semper, manuscrit d’une conférence à
la Marlborough House, Department of Practical

Zurich, Gottfried Semper, MS-122.)
21
1 Gottfried Semper, « De la détermination formelle de l’or-
nement et de sa signification comme symbole de l’art »
(Über die formelle Gesetzmäßigkeit des Schmuckes und
dessen Bedeutung als Kunstsymbol, Meyer und Zeller,
1956), Du style et de l’architecture, Écrits 1834-1869,
traduit de l’allemand par Jacques Soulillou, Parenthèses,
2007.
2 Spyros Papapetros, avant-propos à la traduction anglaise
de : « Über die formelle Gesetzmäßigkeit des Schmuckes
und dessen Bedeutung als Kunstsymbol » de Semper,
dans Res: Anthropology and aesthetics, 2010. Voir aussi
Alina Payne, From Ornament to Object : Genealogies of
Architectural Modernism, Yale University Press, 2012.
3 Gottfried Semper, Der Stil in den technischen und tekto-
nischen Künsten oder Praktische Ästhetik, 2 vol., 1861
et 1863.
4 Semper, « Des styles architecturaux », op. cit.
5 « L’Art textile, 1855-1859 », extrait de Wissenschaft,
Industrie und Kunst und andere Schriften über Architektur,
Kunsthandwerk und Kunstunterricht, Kupferberg, 1966.
6 Spyros Papapetros, « Ornament as Weapon : Ballistics,
Politics, and Architectural Adornment in Semper’s
Treatise on Ancient Projectiles », in 
Alina Payne, éds., Histories of Ornament : From Global
to Local, Princeton University Press, 2016.
7 Alexander von Humboldt, Cosmos. Essai d’une descrip-
tion physique du monde, 4 vol., Paris, 1847-1859, réédi-
tion, Utz, 2000.
8 Semper, « De la détermination formelle de l’ornement et
de sa signification comme symbole de l’art », op. cit.
9 Semper, « Des styles architecturaux », op. cit.
10 Henry Cole, cité par Ákos Moravánszky dans
Metamorphism : Material Change in Architecture,
Birkhäuser, 2017.
11 Voir Wolfgang Herrmann, Gottfried Semper im Exil :
Paris, London 1849-1855, Birkhäuser. Voir aussi le pro-
jet de recherche « Architecture et mondialisation de la
connaissance au xixe siècle : Gottfried Semper et l’his-
toire de l’architecture » mené par Sonja Hildebrand
(USI, responsable) et Philip Ursprung (ETH Zurich,
co-responsable) avec le soutien de la Swiss National
Science Foundation (SNSF).
12 Le nom « Department of Practical Art » (département
d’Art appliqué) n’a été utilisé qu’un an. L’intitulé com-
munément employé par la suite dans les ouvrages
d’arts décoratifs des années 1950 est « département des
Sciences et des Arts ».
13 Moravánszky, op. cit.
14 Semper, op. cit., vol. 2, Keramik, Tektonik, Stereotomie,
Metallotechnik, F. Bruckmann, 1863.
15 Semper, ibid.
16 Gottfried Semper : In Search of
Architecture, MIT Press, 1984.
17 Semper, cité par Herrmann, ibid.
18 Herrmann, ibid.
19 Semper, « Les quatre éléments de l’architecture.
Contribution à une architecture comparative », dans Du
Style et de l’architecture, Écrits 1834-1869. Édition ori-
ginale : Die Vier Elemente der Baukunst Ein Beitrag zur
vergleichenden Baukunde, Friedrich Vieweg, 1851.
20 Semper, « On the Study of Polychromy, and its Revival »,
in Museum of Classical Antiquities, vol. 1, juillet 1851.
21 Semper (avec des ajouts d’Henry Cole), « On the Study of
Polychromy », in Journal of Design and Manufactures,
vol. 6, décembre 1851.
22 Moravánszky, op. cit.
23 Gottfried Semper, Science, Industrie et Art, traduit par
Émile Reiber, adapté et présenté par Estelle Thibault,
Infolio, 2012. Édition originale : Wissenschaft, Industrie
und Kunst : Vorschläge zur Anregung nationalen
Kunstgfühles, bei dem Schlüsse der Londoner Industrie-
Ausstellung, Friedrich Vieweg & Sohn, 1852.
24 Ibid.
25 Claudio Leoni, « Art, production and market condi-
tions Gottfried Semper’s historical perspective on com-
modities and the role of museums », in Journal of Art
Historiography, 2014.
26 Semper, op. cit.
27 Gevork Hartoonian, « Architecture & Capitalism :
A Golden Gridlock », dans Proceedings of the Society of
Architectural Historians, édité par Ann Marie Brennan
et Philip Goad, SAHANZ, 2016.
28 Semper, Practical Art in Metals and Hard Materials ;
Its Technology, History and Styles, National Art Library,
Victoria and Albert Museum, 1852.
29 Mari Hvattum, « “A complete and universal collec-
tion” : Gottfried Semper and the Great Exhibition »,
in Mari Hvattum, Christian Hermansen, éds., Tracing
Modernity : Manifestations of the Modern in Architecture
and the City, Routledge, 2004.
30 Moravánszky, op. cit.
31 Semper, Practical Art…, op. cit.
32 Semper, Conférence, Department of Practical Art,
Londres, 11 novembre 1853. gta Archives/ETH Zurich,
Gottfried Semper, MS 122.
33 Ibid.
34 Voir Jan Piggott, Palace of the People : The Crystal
Palace at Sydenham 1854-1936, University of Wisconsin
Press, 2004.
35 Le Stoffwechsel de Semper est généralement traduit dans
les ouvrages de référence par « métamorphose maté-
rielle » ou « changement matériel ».
36 Semper, op. cit.
37 Moravánszky, op. cit.
38 Bernard Cache, « Gottfried Semper : Stereotomy,
Biology, and Geometry », in Perspecta, vol. 33, Mining
Autonomy, 2002.
39 Christopher Wood, A History of Art History, Princeton
University Press, 2019.
40 Ibid.
Gottfried Semper, dessin du théâtre du Crystal
Palace. (gta Archives/ETH Zurich, Gottfried Semper,
20-0134-3.)
Marianna Charitonidou est maître de conférences et
cher cheus e post doct orale au dép artem ent d e l’ar chi-
tecture de l’École polytechnique fédérale de Zurich
(ETH Zürich), à l’École d’architecture de l’Université
nationale polytechnique d’Athènes, et au départe-
ment d’histoire et de théorie de l’art de l’École des
beaux-arts d’Athènes.
Semper, le nouveau matériau incorpore l’ancien,
et se comprend comme une nouvelle phase dans
un processus en perpétuelle évolution. Semper
lui-même décrit le Stoffwechsel ainsi :
« Lorsqu’un motif artistique subit un traitement
matériel, son type originel s’en trouve modifié ;
il reçoit, pour ainsi dire, une coloration spéci-
fique. Le type n’est plus dans son premier stade
de développement et opère une métamorphose
plus ou moins importante. Si le motif subit un
nouveau changement de matière [Stoffwechsel],
à la suite de cette transformation secondaire,
voire multiple, la forme qui en résulte est un
composite, exprimant le type primitif ainsi que
toutes les étapes précédentes36. »
Dans Metamorphism : Material Change in
Architecture, Ákos Moravánszky affirme que la
théorie de Semper sur le Stoffwechsel « s’inté-
resse moins à la technique de construction en soi
qu’à ses effets sur les formes architecturales lors
du passage de l’architectonique à la stéréotomie,
une sorte de transfert de la cabane en bois à l’im-
meuble en pierre37 ». Cette remarque rappelle
l’observation de Bernard Cache selon laquelle
la « conception de la stéréotomie [de Semper] se
fonde entièrement sur la transposition de la tec-
tonique du bois à celle de la pierre38 ». Pendant
son séjour à Londres, Semper est confronté
d’une part à ce que Christopher Wood appelle
« le chaos total de l’historicisme éclectique39 »
et, d’autre part, à la nécessité de repenser sa
théorie afin de répondre aux avancées de l’in-
dustrie et de la technologie. La « confusion
babylonienne » expérimentée dans le Crystal
Palace le pousse à redéfinir l’articulation des
différents arts et le sens même de l’architec-
ture. Sa conception de « l’esthétique pratique »
découle de sa compréhension des artefacts en
tant que Stoffwechsel. Pour cette raison, il a ten-
dance à souligner l’importance de leur genèse,
et à ne pas limiter son interprétation à leur forme
finale. Un aspect essentiel de sa vision des arte-
facts en tant que Stoffwechsel est son intention
de dépasser le dilemme entre « les interpréta-
tions anthropologique et symbolique des motifs
primordiaux40 ».
63
Gottfried Semper’s approach triggered the shift
from an understanding of the ornament as arte-
fact to an experimental model. It contributed to a
reorientation of the concept of ornament for both
design and architecture. Pivotal for this shift was
Semper’s text entitled “On the Formal Principles
of Adornment and Its Meaning as a Symbol in
Art” (1856), which marks, firstly, a relocation of
the quest for demonstration to theorization, and,
secondly, an intensification of the interaction
between graphic illustration and abstract specula-
tion. Semper’s conception of the ornaments sug-
gests a “methodological shift from demonstration
to theorization”1, which is based not only on the
tension between graphic illustration and abstract
speculation, but also on the dialectics between
vision and theory.
The distinction between the notion of “orna-
ment” and the concept of “adornment” is of
great significance for understanding Semper’s
approach. Semper refers to the notion of “adorn-
ment” in the aforementioned text, part of which
was published in “Prolegomena” to his magnum
opus Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts:
Or Practical Aesthetics2. The specific term that
Semper employed, in its original German ver-
sion, is Schmuck. Two special characteristics of
this notion, which distinguish it from the notion
of decoration, are its embodied nature and its
cosmological dimension. Semper believed
that “[a]ll the decorative elements attending
to architecture […] owe[d] their origin to the
adornment of the body and, closely connected
with it, to a few techniques of the most prim-
itive family industries”3. The way he designed
the adornments shows that he conceived them
as extensions of the human body. For instance,
his sketch of a dancing maenad after a neo-at-
tic bas-relief is telling regarding his interest in
the osmosis between the human body, the tex-
tile and the adornment. Semper conceived the
notion of “oscillating movement” and the afore-
mentioned three notions as closely connected.
The human bodies inhabiting space were of
great significance to him. This becomes evident
not only in the way he used to sketch human fig-
ures in the architectural spaces he designed, as
we can see in a sketch he made for his proposal
for the Canadian section in the Crystal Palace,
but also in his following words: “Determined by
GOTTFRIED SEMPER’S
PERPLEXITY BEFORE
THE CRYSTAL PALACE
Stoffwechsel as Osmosis between Decorative Objects and Architecture
Marianna Charitonidou
the individual who inhabits the room, then come
jewelry, clothing and furniture, and finally we
have the decoration of space in which the meas-
urements of the ceiling, of the floor and the wall
are considered”4. Semper drew upon the Ancient
Greek word kosmos to explain his understand-
ing of adornment, placing particular emphasis
on the four meanings of this word: world, order,
hierarchy, and adornment5. It is worth-noting
that when he moved to London, he took with
him Alexander von Humboldt’s book entitled
Kosmos6. Semper’s conception of adornment
was based on his intention to understand it as
a bridge between the humans and the cosmos.
He also used the expression “directional orna-
ments” (Richtungsschmuck), claiming that they
are “the most spiritual”7 (die geistigere) among
all the categories of ornaments. Enlightening
regarding Semper’s intention to perceive adorn-
ment as the bond between men and cosmos is
his following remark, in his text entitled “On
Architectural Style” (1869):
“Adornment is, in fact, a very remarkable
cultural-historical phenomenon! It belongs
to the privileges of man and is perhaps the
oldest of which he made use […] It is the
first and most significant step toward art
[…] In adornment, man tends to express
that striving for individuality, that inclina-
tion for detachment which is innate in him.
[W]hatever I adorn, be it living or inani-
mate, a part or a whole, I endow it with a
right to exist by making it the focus of rela-
tions that are valid for it alone. I elevate it
8
Gottfried Semper’s Encounter
with the Crystal Palace and

In 1849, the Society of Arts and its president
Prince Albert conceived the idea of holding a
Great Exhibition in London in 1851. The Great
Exhibition, which was also called “Exhibition
of the Works of Industry of All Nations”, was
organized by the British civil servant and inven-
tor Sir Henry Cole under the Patronage of Prince
Albert. Cole described this exhibition, which
attracted six million visitors, as “an unrivalled
storehouse for the useful results of all human
industry”9. Sir Joseph Paxton’s design of the
Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition was
accepted in the summer of 1850. In 1851, the
Crystal Palace was built in Hyde Park and was
dismantled a year later. Semper was exiled to
London in the fall of 1850, after having escaped
from Dresden on May 9, 1849. He left Dresden
in order to avoid the problems caused by his
involvement in the May uprising in Dresden,
during which he had taken a lead role on the
barricades10. His arrival in Great Britain was
preceded by a short stay of fifteen months in
Paris. Semper stayed in London until the sum-
mer of 1855, when he settled in Zürich and was
appointed as Professor at the Zürich Polytechnic,
partly thanks to the support of Richard Wagner.
During his stay in London, due to his connec-
tions, he managed to publish several texts, and
taught at the Department of Practical Art from
1852 to 185511. Before being employed at the
Department of Practical Art, he had tried to
establish a private school for architects. For
this purpose, in February 1851, he drafted a
school programme including lessons for engi-
neers and architects. In March 1851, Edwin
Chadwick invited Semper, on behalf of Paxton,
to become an assistant of the latter while work-
ing on the Crystal Palace. Semper rejected this
offer, presenting as an excuse his involvement
in the establishment of a school for architects in
London, which, as he stated, had garnered pub-
licity in the German and Swiss newspapers.
Semper, as Ákos Moravánszky informs us, vis-
ited the Great Exhibition every day12. There,
he encountered a reconstruction of a primitive
Caribbean hut, which had a great impact on his
theory of building. He would include the diagram
of this Caribbean hut in the second volume of Der
Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten
oder Praktische Ästhetik published in 1863
13.
Semper believed that in the case of the Caribbean
hut, one is confronted with “all the elements of
antique architecture in their pure and most orig-
inal form: the hearth as the counterpoint, raised
earth as a terrace surrounded by posts, the col-
umn-supported roof, and the mat enclosure as a
spatial termination or wall”14.
PEER-REVIEW
FACES
64
Thanks to his connections with Cole, Semper
managed to contribute to the design of several
displays in the Great Exhibition, such as the
Canadian, Danish, Swedish, and Ottoman sec-
     
“[t]he Great Exhibition of 1851 was the decisive
influence on Semper”15. While he was work-
ing on the preparation of the displays of Turkey,
Canada, Sweden, and Denmark, he was spending
much time on observing the various exhibits and
on walking around in the Crystal Palace. He had
the opportunity to compare the exhibits of vari-
ous European countries with those of primitive
people, such as the Sámi, the American Indians,
or the Tibetans, and to admire the latter for the
intuitive way in which they managed to treat the
attributes of the materials. Characteristically, he
remarked regarding this matter: “None of the
technical, mechanical, and economic means that
we have invented and by which we have that
advantage over the past” would help us improve
our industrial art. In order to equal these peo-
ple artistically, we should consciously do what
they do instinctively, namely study and respect
“the properties of the material and the require-
ments of the task”16. His experience of the Great
Exhibition made him confirm “his critical assess-
ment of modern artistic production”17.
During that same period, Semper was working
on Die vier Elemente der Baukunst (The Four
Elements of Architecture18). He wrote a big part
of this book in London and he managed to pub-
lish some extracts of it in the journal Museum
of Classical Antiquities19 and the Journal of
Design and Manufactures20, in July 1851 and
in December 1851, respectively. The fact that
Semper was working on The Four Elements of
Architecture the year of the Great Exhibition
invites us to examine to what extent his under-
standing of architecture in the aforementioned
book is related to the thoughts that arose in his
mind when experiencing the Crystal Palace. For
instance, a question that arises is that of how we
could relate his distinction of the four technical
arts – textile, ceramics, tectonics, and stereot-
omyto the impact that the Crystal Palace had on
his understanding of architecture. Moravánszky
reminds us that Semper, in The Four Elements
of Architecture, refers to a flexible organization
[…], not based on fixed material categories”21.
However, his critique of iron and his descrip-
tion of the Crystal Palace as a “glass covered
vacuum”22 make us be skeptical regarding his
applause of the flexibility achieved thanks to the
use of iron and glass.

the Conception of an Ideal Museum
Despite the fact that Semper interpreted the Great
London Exhibition as a “world phenomenon”
representing contemporary cultural conditions,
he described the feelings that a walk through it
provoked as a “Babylonian confusion”23. In par-
allel, he claimed that the perplexity it induced pre-
vented an intelligible perception of the exhibited
objects, making the impression they instigated
non-compatible with his aspiration for a “practi-
cal heuristics”24 system. Reading Semper’s arti-
cle entitled “Science, Industry, and Art”, which,
to a certain extent, is a report of his reflections
regarding the Great Exhibition, one is confronted
with his critical view regarding the Crystal
Palace. In this text, which was written around the
time of the Great Exhibition’s closure, Semper
describes how a new understanding of architec-
ture should be adapted to the needs of industriali-
zation and mechanization and suggests how could
be improved in order to respond to this new par-
adigm that emerged thanks to the advancement
of technology and the appearance of new socio-
economical models. As it is reflected in the title
of this essay, Semper supported an understanding
of architecture based on the symbiosis of science,
industry, and the arts. The significance of this text
for the conceptual edifice of Semper lies in the
fact that it encapsulates his endeavor to shape a
new approach of architecture, which would be
based on an organic and universal relationship
between art and society.
As Harry Francis Mallgrave remarks, in his
preface to Style in the Technical and Tectonic
Arts: Or, Practical Aesthetics, Semper was crit-
ical vis-à-vis iron as material. This becomes
evident when he describes iron as an “infertile
ground for art”, claiming that its “ideal is invis-
ible architecture! For the thinner the metal tis-
sue, the more perfect it is”25. His disapproval of
iron as building material should be interpreted in
relation to his reflections about the model of the
Caribbean bamboo hut that he saw at the Great
Exhibition of 1851. As Gevork Hartoonian has
argued, “Semper’s reading of the displayed hut
de-stabilizes the Crystal Palace as an important
representation of the emerging objectivity unique
to the rising capitalism”26. This de-stabilization is
related to the contradiction between the colorful
and flexible space achieved thanks to the metallic
structure of the Crystal Palace and the distinction
between textile, ceramics, tectonics, and stereot-
omy, which is central for his theory of the four
elements. The morphological logic of the Crystal
Palace challenged his distinction between the
hearth, the roof, the enclosure, and the embank-
ment to which Semper refers in the fifth chapter
of The Four Elements of Architecture.
In 1852, just after the end of the Great
Exhibition, in an essay entitled “Practical Art
in Metal and Hard Materials: Its Technology,
History and Styles”, commissioned to him by
Cole but never published, Semper describes
his idea of an ideal museum which would con-
tain among its exhibits a “complete and univer-
sal collection”, to borrow his own expression.
Characteristically, he remarks:
“It must show how things were done in all
times; how they are done at present in all
the Countries of the Earth; and why they
were done in one or the other Way, accord-
ing to circumstances; it must give the his-
tory, the ethnography and the philosophy
27
The ideal museum that Semper conceived was
a comparative matrix. Instead of choosing to
categorize the various artefacts that would be
displayed in this museum according to a chron-
ological or aesthetic order, Semper suggested a
classification “according to the four primordial
techniques of making and their corresponding
‘elements’”28. He described this museum as “a
good Comparative System of Arrangement” and
as “a sort of Index to the History of Culture”.
To a certain extent, Semper’s conception of an
ideal museum was an attempt to rectify the ambi-
tions that lied behind the conception of the Great
Exhibition. The comparative pattern of Semper’s
conception of his ideal museum drew upon the
comparative display he encountered in the case
of the juxtaposition of various displays in the
Crystal Palace. However, Semper’s ambition
was to challenge the organization of the exhib-
its according to stylistic periods or places, such
as Alhambra, Pompeii etc., and according to
categories related to natural history, ethnology,
geology or zoology29, which was the case in the
Crystal Palace. Moreover, Semper conceived
his ideal museum as a pedagogical device. This
becomes evident when he declares that this ideal
museum would help students “see the things in
their mutual relations, to observe their mutual
Affinities, and Dissimilarities, and to find out the
Laws and Premise upon which all these mutual
positive and negative relations depend”30.
Semper’s conception of the ideal museum,
and the comparative strategies on which it was
based should be interpreted in conjunction
with his so-called “organic system of compari-
son”31 for art, which he presented in a lecture at
Marlborough House on November 11, 1853. In
this lecture, which Joseph Rykwert considers as
one of his most important talks in London, Semper
underscored that: “Architecture is the combining
together of all the branches of industrial art and
of art in general in one great general effect, and
after one directing Idea”. He also remarked that
“the principles of Aesthetics in Architecture have
had their first applications on objects of indus-
try, and the separation which exists now between
the latter and between Architecture and high art
is one of the principal causes of their decay”32.
This lecture was part of a series of talks he gave
in 1853 at the Department of Practical Art, which
had been recently restructured and was estab-
lished by Cole and the Prince Consort in the
new Museum of Manufactures located in South
Kensington. Semper was employed as direc-
tor of the metal and woodworking division in
the Department of Practical Art from 1852 until
1855. In the meantime, in 1854, Semper designed
a theatre that had as its model the Roman ones,
to be included in Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace,
which was transferred and reassembled at the
top of Penge Peak next to Sydenham Hill in
South London33 and was inaugurated by Queen
Victoria on June 10, 1854. It was destroyed by
fire on November 30, 1936.
Stoffwechsel as a Continuous
Metamorphosis of Materials
and Its Implication for Adornment
Semper’s encounter with the Crystal Palace
played an important role for his interest in the
concept of Stoffwechsel34. Stoffwechsel liter-
ally means “change of matter”. Semper intro-
duced this term from the biology of the 19th
century in order to describe the material trans-
formation of artistic forms. Initially, this term
was employed in biology to describe metabo-
lism, a process concerning how materials circu-
late in nature. The use of t Stoffwechsel allowed
Semper to replace the conception of ornament as
artefact by its understanding as architectural ele-
ment. It contributed to the shaping of a concep-
tion of ornaments as constitutive architectural
components and helped Semper defend the inte-
gration of the decorative object into the history of
architecture. Worth-noting regarding this concept
is the fact that, according to Semper’s theory, the
new material incorporates the old one as a trace
and is, thus, understood as a new phase within a
continuous process of mutation. Semper himself
describes Stoffwechsel as follows:
65
1 Spyros Papapetros, foreword to the English translation
of Semper’s text entitled “On the Formal Principles
of Adornment and Its Meaning as a Symbol in Art”,
in Res: Anthropology and aesthetics 57-58 (Spring-
Autumn 2010): 299-308. Original edition: Über die
formelle Gesetzmäßigkeit des Schmuckes und dessen
Bedeutung als Kunstsymbol (Zürich: Meyer and Zeller,
1856). See also Alina Payne, From Ornament to Object:
Genealogies of Architectural Modernism (New Haven,
Conn.: Yale University Press, 2012).
2 Gottfried Semper, Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts:
Or, Practical Aesthetics, introduction by Harry Francis
Mallgrave, translated by Harry Francis Mallgrave and
Michael Robinson (Los Angeles, CA: Getty Research
Institute, 2004). Original edition: Der Stil in den tech-
nischen und tektonischen Künsten oder Praktische
Ästhetik, which was published in two volumes in 1861
and 1863, respectively.
3 Idem., “On Architectural Style” (1869), in idem, The Four
Elements of Architecture,
4 Idem., “Textile Kunst” (1855-59), in Wissenschaft,
Industrie und Kunst und andere Schriften über Architektur,
Kunsthandwerk und Kunstunterricht, ed. Hans M. Wingler
(Mainz and Berlin: Kupferberg, 1966), 101.
5 See Spyros Papapetros, “Ornament as Weapon: Ballistics,
Politics, and Architectural Adornment in Semper’s
            
Payne, eds., Histories of Ornament: From Global to Local
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 58.
6 Alexander von Humboldt, Kosmos: Entwurf einer phy-
sischen Weltbeschreibung (Stuttgart and Augsburg:
J. G. Cotta, 1845).
7 Semper, “On the Formal Principles of Adornment and its
Meaning as a Symbol in Art”
8 Idem, “On Architectural Style” (1869), in idem, The Four
Elements of Architecture, 270.
9 Henry Cole quoted in Ákos Moravánszky, Metamorphism:
Material Change in Architecture (Basel: Birkhäuser,
2017), 93.
10 See Wolfgang Herrmann, Gottfried Semper im Exil:
Paris, London 1849-1855 (Basel: Birkhäuser, 1978).
See also the research and edition project “Architecture
and the Globalization of Knowledge in the 19th Century:
Gottfried Semper and the Discipline of Architectural
History” headed by Sonja Hildebrand (USI, responsible)
and Philip Ursprung (ETH Zürich, co-responsible) with
the support of the Swiss National Science Foundation
(SNSF).
11 The name “Department of Practical Art” was employed
only for one year. It is the name that is more commonly
used in the broader literature of the Design Reform and
the decorative arts in the 1850s “Department of Science
and Art”.
12 Moravánszky, Metamorphism: Material Change in
Architecture.
13 Semper, Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen
Künsten, oder Praktische Aesthetik, vol. 2, Keramik,
Tektonik, Stereotomie, Metallotechnik (Munich:
F. Bruckmann, 1863).
14 Idem, Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts: Or,
Practical Aesthetics, 666.
15 Wolfgang Herrmann, Gottfried Semper: In Search of
Architecture (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1984).
16     Gottfried
Semper: In Search of Architecture (Cambridge, Mass.;
London, UK: The MIT Press, 1984), 85.
17 Wolfgang Herrmann, Gottfried Semper: In Search of
Architecture, 85.
18 Idem, The Four Elements of Architecture and Other
Writings, eds. Harry Francis Mallgrave and Wolfgang
Herrmann (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1989). Original edition: Die Vier Elemente der Baukunst
Ein Beitrag zur vergleichenden Baukunde (Brunswick:
Friedrich Vieweg, 1851).
19 Idem, “On the Study of Polychromy and its Revival”, in
Museum of Classical Antiquities 1, vol. 1, no. 3 (1851):
228-246.
20 Idem. (with additions by [Henry Cole]), “On the Study of
Polychromy”, in Journal of Design and Manufactures 3,
vol. 6, no. 34, December 1851, 112-113
21 Moravánszky, Metamorphism: Material Change in
Architecture, 98.
22 Semper, “Science, Industry, and Art: Proposals for the
Development of a National Taste in Art at the Closing
of the London Industrial Exhibition”, in idem, The
Four Elements of Architecture and Other Writings,
eds. Harry Francis Mallgrave and Wolfgang Herrmann
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 130.
Original edition: Gottfried Semper, Wissenscha ft,
Industrie und Kunst: Vorschläge zur Anregung natio-
nalen Kunstgefühles, bei dem Schlüsse der Londoner
Industrie-Ausstellung (Brunswick: Friedrich Vieweg &
Sohn, 1852). French edition: Gottfried Semper, Science,
Industrie et Art, translated by Emile Reiber, adapted and
presented by Estelle Thibault (Paris: Infolio, 2012).
23 Idem, “Science, Industry, and Art: Proposals for the
Development of a National Taste in Art at the Closing of
the London Industrial Exhibition”, 130.
24 Claudio Leoni, “Art, Production and Market Conditions:
Gottfried Semper’s Historical Perspective on
Commodities and the Role of Museums”, in Journal of
Art Historiography no. 11 (2014): 3.
25 Semper, Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts: Or,
Practical Aesthetics, 659. See also Wolfgang Herrmann,
“Semper’s Position on Iron as a Building Material,”
in idem, Gottfried Semper: In Search of Architecture
(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984), 174-83.
26 Gevork Hartoonian “Architecture & Capitalism: A
Golden Gridlock” In Proceedings of the Society of
Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand:
“When an artistic motif undergoes any
kind of material treatment, its original type
will be modified; it will receive, so to speak,
a specific coloring. The type is no longer in
its primary stage of development but has
undergone a more or less pronounced met-
amorphosis. If the motif undergoes a new
change of material [Stoffwechsel] as a result
of this secondary or even multiple transfor-
mation, the resulting new form will be a
composite, one that expresses the primeval
type and all the stages preceding the latest
35
Ákos Moravánszky, in Metamorphism: Material
Change in Architecture, claims that Semper’s
theory of Stoffwechsel “is less concerned with
building technology itself than with its effect
on the expression of architectural forms at the
moment of transition from tectonics to stereot-
omy, a form of transfer of timber building onto
solid building”36. This remark brings to mind
Bernard Cache’s observation that Semper’s “con-
ception of stereotomy is ent irely based upon the
transposition of wood tectonics into stone”.37
During his stay in London, Semper was con-
fronted with what Christopher Wood calls “full
chaos of eclectic historicism”38, on the one
hand, and with the necessity to reshape his the-
ory in order to respond to the new conditions of
industry and technology, on the other hand. The
outcome of the “Babylonian confusion” experi-
enced in the Crystal palace pushed him to rethink
the articulation of the different arts and to con-
ceive in a new way the significance of archi-
tecture. His conception of “practical aesthetics”
derived from his understanding of the artefacts as
Stoffwechsel. For this reason, when he described
the artefacts, he tended to emphasize the impor-
tance of the process of their genesis, without lim-
iting his interpretation to the description of their
final form. A significant aspect of his understand-
ing of artefacts as Stoffwechsel is the intention
to go beyond the dilemma “between the anthro-
pological and the symbolic interpretations of the
primordial motives”39.
33, Gold, edited by AnnMarie Brennan and Philip Goad,
250-256. Melbourne: SAHANZ, 2016.
27 Semper, “Practical Art in Metals and Hard Materials;
Its Technology, History and Styles.” MSL/1863-1-3.
National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum,
London, 1852.
28 Mari Hvattum, “‘A Complete and Universal Collection’:
Gottfried Semper and the Great Exhibition”, in Mari
Hvattum, Christian Hermansen, eds., Trac ing Mode rni ty:
Manifestations of the Modern in Architecture and the
City (London; New York: Routledge, 2004), 128.
29 Moravánszky, Metamorphism: Material Change in
Architecture,
30 Semper, “Practical Art in Metals and Hard Materials;
Its Technology, History and Styles”.
31 Idem, Lecture, Department of Practical Art, London,
11 November 1853. MS 122, Archiv GTA (Geschichte
und Theorie der Architektur), ETH Hönggerberg,
Zürich. Published as “London Lecture of November 11,
1853” (edited with a commentary by Harry Francis
Mallgrave, preface by Joseph Rykwert), in Res: Journal
of Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 6 (1983): 8-22.
32 Ibid.
33 See Jan Piggott, Palace of the People: The Crystal
Palace at Sydenham 1854-1936 (Madison: University
of Wisconsin Press, 2004).
34 Semper’s Stoffwechsel is generally translated in schol-
arly literature into English as “material metamorphosis”,
“material change” or “material transformation”.
35 Semper, Style: Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts,
or, Practical Aesthetics, 250.
36 Moravánszky, Metamorphism: Material Change in
Architecture, 209.
37 Bernard Cache, “Gottfried Semper: Stereotomy, Biology,
and Geometry”, in Perspecta, Vol. 33, Mining Autonomy
(2002), 80-87.
38 Christopher Wood, A History of Art History (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019), 237.
39 Ibid.
Marianna Charitonidou is a lecturer and a postdoc-
toral fellow at the department of architecture of ETH
Zurich, the school of architecture of the National
Technical University of Athens, and the department
of art history and theory of Athens school of Fine
Arts.
... His interpretation of antiquities should be understood in relation to his intention to go beyond the imitation of how ancient Greeks coloured their monuments. [31,32], in which he related the polychromy of Archaic Greek architecture to the necessity to adapt the perception of its forms to the glare and visual qualities of the Mediterranean light [33] (Figures 3 and 4). As Moravánszky remarks, in Metamorphism: Material Change in Architecture, Semper, in the aforementioned book, refers to the fact that James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, during their survey on ancient Greek monuments in 1757, discovered that the monuments were coloured [25]. ...
Article
Full-text available
The article examines the collaborations between the pensionnaires of the Villa Medici in Rome and the members of the French School of Athens, shedding light on the complex relationships between architecture, art, and archeology. The second half of the 19th century was a period during which the exchanges and collaborations between archaeologists, artists, and architects acquired a reinvented role and a dominant place. Within such a context, Athens was the place par excellence, where the encounter between these three disciplines took place. The main objective of the article is to render explicit how the revelations of archeology, actively disseminated by the members of the French School of Athens-the "Athéniens"-had an important impact on the approach of certain pensionnaires of the Villa Medici in Rome. Particular emphasis is placed on certain pensionnaires, who decided to devote their envois to ancient monuments of Greece. In parallel, the article intends to shed light on the methods that helped the pensionnaires-architects of the Villa Medici in Rome appropriate archaeological discoveries concerning Greek antiquities. The article takes, as a starting point, the following hypothesis: to better understand the figure of the architect-archaeologist, of whom Jacques Ignace Hittorff is an emblematic example, it is pivotal to bear in mind that before the second half of the 19th century neither the figure of Hellenic archeology nor the figure of the architect had yet acquired their autonomy. Taking into account that Johann Joachim Winckelmann, in the middle of the 18th century, forged an ideal Greek model, which was criticized during the second half of the 19th century, the article also sheds light on the fact that the revelations of archaeologists have called into question the Winckelmannian image of Greece. Another aspect that is explored in the article is Jacques Ignace Hittorff's studies concerning the polychromy of ancient Greek monuments , paying special attention to his Restitution du temple d'Empédocle à Sélinonte ou l'Architecture polychrome chez les Grecs. The article also explores how the shifts of the status of philhellenism are related to the mutations of the meaning of travel to Greece. In parallel, it investigates the impact of Greek independence on the ideals of beauty and nature in arts, as well as how Greek independence is related to the intensification of the interest in the excavations of Greek antiquities.
Original edition: Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten oder Praktische Ästhetik
  • Gottfried Semper
Gottfried Semper, Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts: Or, Practical Aesthetics, introduction by Harry Francis Mallgrave, translated by Harry Francis Mallgrave and Michael Robinson (Los Angeles, CA: Getty Research Institute, 2004). Original edition: Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten oder Praktische Ästhetik, which was published in two volumes in 1861 and 1863, respectively.
On Architectural Style" (1869), in idem, The Four Elements of Architecture
  • Idem
Idem, "On Architectural Style" (1869), in idem, The Four Elements of Architecture, 270.
  • Henry Cole
Henry Cole quoted in Ákos Moravánszky, Metamorphism: Material Change in Architecture (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2017), 93.
  • See Wolfgang Herrmann
See Wolfgang Herrmann, Gottfried Semper im Exil: Paris, London 1849-1855 (Basel: Birkhäuser, 1978).
Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts: Or, Practical Aesthetics
  • Idem
Idem, Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts: Or, Practical Aesthetics, 666.
The Four Elements of Architecture and Other Writings
  • Idem
Idem, The Four Elements of Architecture and Other Writings, eds. Harry Francis Mallgrave and Wolfgang Herrmann (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). Original edition: Die Vier Elemente der Baukunst Ein Beitrag zur vergleichenden Baukunde (Brunswick: Friedrich Vieweg, 1851).