Gottfried Semper: Architect of the Nineteenth Century

Harry Francis Mallgrave, Author Yale University Press $75 (448p) ISBN 978-0-300-06624-1
Semper is probably as well known for what he didn't build as for what he did. Architects know him best for his theoretical writings, while many laypeople know him for his work on Wagner's pipedream, the Munich Festspielhaus, elements of which (most notably the second proscenium) were appropriated for Bayreuth. Born in 1803, Semper was eventually appointed to the Academy of Fine Art in Dresden, where he socialized with Wagner, Schumann and others and began a prolific building career that included the Dresden Synagogue, the Art Gallery and, most famously, the Hoftheater. But the structure that most influenced his career was the ""Semper barricade,"" built when (encouraged again by Wagner) he sided with the republicans against the Saxon king in 1849. Exiled from his country, he spent six years in Paris and London and the subsequent 14 in Zurich--once more lured there by Wagner. As an architect without a patron, he built almost nothing for 20 years until, as an old man, he began work on Vienna's Art and Natural History museums. During that time, much of his effort went into writing, and it is here that Mallgrave, who teaches architecture at the University of Oregon, is likely to lose his lay audience. Semper's crucial Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts is difficult enough without adding the extensive publishing history and theoretical antecedents. It's also curious that such academic concerns share space in a volume that defines Gesamtkunstwerk. Semper deserves to be known better among an educated general audience, but this volume will only go partway to making the introduction. 131 b&w illustrations, 22 in color. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/27/1996
Release date: 05/01/1996
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