The First Goetheanum: A Centenary for Organic Architecture

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John Paull

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Published: 6 April 2020 | Article Type :


A century has elapsed since the inauguration (on 26 September, 1920) of a remarkable piece of architecture, Rudolf Steiner‟s Goetheanum, headquarters of the Anthroposophy movement, on a verdant hilltop on the outskirts of the Swiss village of Dornach, near Basel. The Goetheanum was an all timber structure, sitting on concrete footings and roofed with Norwegian slate. The building was begun in 1913, and construction progressed through the First World War. Rudolf Steiner‟s intention was to take architecture in a new and organic direction. On New Year‟s Eve, 31 December 1922, the Goetheanum hosted a Eurythmy performance followed by a lecture by Rudolf Steiner for members of the Anthroposophy Society. In the hours that followed, despite the fire-fighting efforts of the Anthroposophists and the local fire brigades, the building burned to the ground. The popular narrative is that the fire was arson but that was never proved. A local watchmaker and anthroposophist, Jakob Ott, was the only person to perish in the fire. He was falsely accused (in death) as „the arsonist‟ but the evidence is rather that he perished in his brave efforts at saving the Goetheanum. Rudolf Steiner saw the “calamity” as an opportunity “to change the sorrowful event into a blessing”. He promptly embarked on plans for a new building, Goetheanum II. This time there was to be “no wood”. The short-lived Goetheanum I had served as a placeholder for Goetheanum II. This new Goetheanum, Rudolf Steiner‟s finest work of organic architecture, is of steel reinforced concrete and today stands on the Dornach hill right on the site of the old Goetheanum.

Keywords: Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy, Goethe, Edith Maryon, Jakob Ott, Marie Steiner, fire, arson, disability, Dornach, Switzerland.

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John Paull. (2020-04-06). "The First Goetheanum: A Centenary for Organic Architecture." *Volume 3*, 2, 1-11