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mediation/derivation

Author | Clemens Christian Finkelstein
MDes Thesis | History + Philosophy of Design
Harvard University | Graduate School of Design
May | 2017
Advisor | Erika Naginski
Committee | Erika Naginski, K. Michael Hays, Catherine Ingraham, Hadas Steiner, Lucy Maulsby, John May, Michael Osman, Sonja Duempelmann, Sophie Hochhäusl, Daniel Abramson


This Master thesis directs attention to a paired subset of translation/transformation, namely mediation/derivation, by tracing the architectural work of Jan Ruhtenberg (1896-1975). Despite his leading role as educator and practitioner, Ruhtenberg may well be the best “unknown” architect of the modern era. Part of the forgetting is due to a tragic biography that reveals the prejudices of the 1950s; he was disgraced as a homosexual, dropped by clients, and rejected by his family. Consequently, many of his buildings have been demolished in recent years—most famously the 1939 El Pomar Carriage House Museum at the Broadmoor Resort, Colorado Springs (known as the “Round Barcelona Pavilion”).

The biographical narrative serves as a nodal matrix through which I approach the concepts of mediation—the medium of transmission that surfaces as agency at the interposition of stages between stimulus and reaction—and derivation—which I define as the action of drawing, obtaining, or deducing from a source; the transposition from one point to another—as transformative acts of translation so as to offer an interpretation of selected projects that emerged from his professional experience as well as geographical and socio-cultural displacements.

Zeroing in on Ruhtenberg’s formative years 1929-1932 in Berlin, Germany, this thesis aims to analyze a distinct manipulation of minimalist syntax as a means of understanding what his approach to architecture ultimately represents: a highly particular and inventive reflection about Modernism’s mediation and derivation. The architect’s particular project under investigation is the “Four-Room Apartment for a Childless Couple,” Ruhtenberg's Gold-Medal-winning contribution to the German Building Exhibition in Berlin (1931). By tracing the historical narrative that explores Ruhtenberg’s close friendship with Philip Johnson and his early architectural beginnings as a private assistant to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the philosophical motif of the apprentice manifests warranting closer inspection as a figure that sustains intricate links to the notions of transference and origination; synthetic properties for a unique formulation of architectural Modernism.