by Filip Henley

Erik Asmussen, Danish architect, established himself internationally through his organic architecture for the Rudolf Steiner seminariet in Järna from the mid-seventies until completion of the Cultural Hall at the seminariet, inaugurated summer 1992. During this period he designed many Steiner schools and other buildings within the anthroposophical movement in Scandinavia and Germany. His work has been an inspiration for a whole generation of architects, there having been annual architectural conferences at the seminariet over a period of many years from the seventies onwards. He was fully active as architect until his death in 1998.

July 2013

What we build should always be a whole, an entity, and the job of designing it is very much the job of giving it the wholeness of a work of art and the inevitability of the perfect tool.
— Ove Arup


The balancing act of the vertical and the horizontal - searching for the right proportions

Examples of "wholeness“ that we are familiar with are the "earth“, "plant“ and "man“. They are dynamic and meaningful organisations! This theory formed the key content of the opening lecture. We received pictures and objects that exemplified this. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe discovered the entelechy during his work with plants. He experienced wholeness in Palladio‘s architecture as well. With Walter Gropius´ led Dessau Bauhaus-movement, we see a radical change towards a complete rationalised (prefabricated and rectangular etc.) architecture: the international style.

This architecture is not a projection of man in space, like a temple; it is basically the white-box architecture that we see, there is not a differentiation between base, the middle and upper part. This modern architecture is not plant like, but like a motorised vehicle, that looks as if it can move away at any time.

In the same epoch Rudolf Steiner shared his knowledge in all kinds of ways through lectures, books and last but not least through his art. His spiritual science gives us a fundamental new view of the world: an insight of the human soul and spirit and how this relates to our physical body.

One of Steiner´s statements in which he characterises today‘s time, is that "the soul reaches up to the spirit“ and that "our soul receives the spirit“. As a result of his insights he advised architects, and himself created a new architecture, the so called goethean architecture. It is an architecture that is connected to the earth and shows us the three dimensions of space, and opens up a new way of experiencing a spiritual world in which each one of us lives. Steiner´s organic-formed architecture is very much connected to the site and is an expression of the function. One can characterise his architecture as spiritual-functional architecture.

These days we see an enormous range of architectural expressions, most designed by use of a computer. This medium opens up completely new possibilities. Many buildings have very wild forms that carry less content. Sometimes a story is told, like for example with the BMW-world in Munich, where a little ceremony of the marriage has been ´told´ between man and his car. The deeper meaning - that Steiner‘s or Gaudi‘s architecture contains - does not come into building by itself. This idea was discussed in further detail with Espen Tharaldsen.

In the workshop with Espen we spoke about the content of the lectures, raised questions and discussed topics focusing primariliy on anthroposophical art and architecture, and contemporary architecture. Here is an extract of the content.





Architecture can be deepened when meditation is part of the architect‘s life. The profession of an architect depends very much on his training and the architectural quality depends very much on the abilities one learns there. An anthroposophic form canon on its own can therefore not deliver us good architecture.

Our soul reaches up to the spirit in today‘s time. Architecture can facilitate this re-connecting process from our soul and spirit, by balancing the vertical and horizontal tendencies: vertical quality of the traditional church architecture (with a focus on the inner life of man) and the world-like (outer life of man).

For example, Gothic churches have the vertical dominant over the horizontal. In contrast, the box formed museum space of the café in Tate Modern very much has the horizontal dominant over the vertical orientation because of the window front. Here, architecture focuses on the outer world because of the view on the city, which one can enjoy. This influences a conversation here, when sitting in front of the window, because the city is so apparent.

During the conference Nicolas Pople showed us some of his church designs. This interested me a lot and I decided to visit one of his most recent examples, the congregation of the Christian Community in London. By visiting the church space I was able to experience the nice balance between the vertical and the horizontal directions. Therefore this architecture itself embodies the meaning of the service that is called „The Act of Consecration of Man“. During the conversation with my guide in the sacred space of the chapel, I encountered both the vertical and horizontal emphasis. This helped me to connect to the space and to my companion in a different way, compared to a conversation I had with a fellow visitor in the museum „Tate Modern“, just a couple of hours earlier. On reflection, becoming aware of these architectural qualities is for me a key starting point for judging and appreciating architecture; it is an experience that is triggered by architecture.





In the end, I think the architect should take a position on the proportions of space when considering  the building‘s task. A church would not be a church if the vertical or upstriving quality was not experienced in its main space for the service. The question of proportion is inherent to the purpose of the building. By taking this into account, an architecture with more meaning can be realised!

Contributed by a conference delegate

November 2013


Wholeness: An Approach to the Environment Underpinning a Design Process

Report on Opening Lecture by Dr Margaret Colquhoun on 11 July 2013

After leading Group 2 of the Introductory Workshop, Dr Margaret Colquhoun opened the Conference with a talk, on the theme of 'Wholeness'. She promptly provided delegates with an entertaining, as well as instructive examination of the qualities of three 'objects' which, we all agreed, exhibited the characteristics of wholeness: a plant, a human being, and the earth itself. She noted some qualitative aspects which these three objects appeared to have in common.

At the top of the plant, one finds global and plate-like forms, which give the plant a particular identity. In the human being, the skull shows a global and plate-like form, comprising many parts, but essentially hollow inside. At the top of the earth lies the arctic ocean, with most continents spread across the northern hemisphere. Those land masses that do reach down are generally attenuated - a pattern paralleled in the human being's legs and toes; and in the plant, in its root systems.

As the bud opens, the petals emerge, subsequently to die; whereas the roots are always growing. Between these two extremities, a stick structure forms the link. In the human, the head is more or less 'complete' at birth, with bones laid in plates, which remain. In the lower body, in contrast, the long bones are constantly dissolving and being rebuilt. Thus the head, with its organs, the eys and ears, are formed by processes akin to those forming the buds of plants. On the earth, mountain-building creates inner space; granite being an example of the dead and fixed residues of earlier life. Ridges in mid-oceans are openings where new building is occurring. In mid-continents, water flows.

Margaret explored these patterns in greater detail; noting that, on the earth, it was at the 'anomaly' of the rift valley, that the origins of humanity itself have been found, and where the presence of Christ took place. Self-evidently, all the objects and their characteristics had to do with LIFE - demonstrating a dynamic and meaningful organisation; and out of this - WHOLENESS.

The development pattern of a plant's leaves, from bottom to top, was then shown through examples; from stick-like; to expanded, water filled; to feathery and airy; finally (finially?) shrinking to a point, at the top. Growth patterns could also be related to the seasons. The first leaf has to 'work hard' to develop form; after increasing interactions with the environment, earth and sun, less work is then needed to accomplish this form-making, as the impulse moves through the first 'sketch' of the leaf shape, setlling over time into its particularity. In Margaret's view, 'entelechy', the spirit becoming material, creating out of itself, is integral to this wholeness.

She related Goethe's search for the 'original' plant; how he observed the way the plants changed as he crossed the Alps and, seeing the palm in the botanic garden in Padova, the idea came to him of the plant origin as LEAF - a universal oneness, with multiple manifestations.

In a sweep of imagination, she then drew parallels between 'place' and the human form: the head - the house; the ribs - the street/terrace; the diaphragm - the haha/fields. In similar vein, older village forms of houses clustered around their common space, a square with civic and religious buildings and functions, showed a wholeness of intent and realisation.

To conclude, she spoke of her work at Pishwanton Wood, in East Lothian, Scotland, where over 20 years she has led a project where artistic and scientific streams can be integrated, responding to nature in a creative, dynamic way. Consensus design with Chris Day, walking the site and landscape, had at the start, enabled an 'opening of the heart' - sensing the mood; sketching, revisiting; finding the memory picture; visiting again, and then feeding in the physical facts.This aimed to achieve what Goethe described as 'exact sensorial fantasy' - exact sensing, through re-creating the quality of place, inwardly. From this intuitive 'becoming one' with a place, a flash of insight could break through - the genius loci. These 'waves' of exploration and reflection, enabled a plan to come into being.

Pishwanton sits on the edge of what, in the distant past, was the Iapetus Ocean, separating the land masses that later became England and Scotland. Through a deep understanding of the site and its history and life, a threefolding emerged which then manifested in the garden itself. She then took us on a visual tour of the site, including the now numerous buildings. She was pleased to report that no concrete had been used, plastic had been kept to a minimum, and even electricity had a limited presence. An example of wholeness in action!

This proved to have been a very successful lecture to commence the event; many of the themes touched upon, finding their resonances over the next three days of discussions and workshops.

Sebastian Tombs

October 2013



"Walls Which Are Not Walls"

Today’s struggle between wholeness and fragmentation in architecture