From a “charming, quirky, and charismatic” character to someone with a Napoleon complex, the art collector Armand Bartos introduces his father’s collaborator, architect Friedrich Kiesler. But as this recent ORF broadcast shows, the only built project of the Austrian émigré, a museum built in 1965 in Israel named “the Shrine of the Book” is not his biggest achievement. Hani Rashid, Olafur Eliasson, Frank Gehry, Gerd Zillner, Peter Bogner and James Snyder appear throughout the documentary to present his multifaceted impact on avant-garde thought. He is the forerunner of the protagonists addressed in the exhibition Radical Austria: Everything is Architecture.
Kiesler writes: “Form does not follow function, function follows vision, vision follows reality”. As an „autodidact of the avant-garde“, Kiesler studies partly Architecture in Vienna but acts as a late-bloomer all-rounder that rejects modern minimalism. He is interested in the human perception of space and gets his first breakthrough in 1924 by taking part in the Internationale Ausstellung neuer Theatertechnik with his Raumbühne – alongside Fernand Léger’s Ballet Mécanique.
Then follows the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris where he introduces the term “Raumstadt”. The display design of the Saks department store in New York (1928) becomes an important income source during the financial crisis – years which he considers “the lost years of my life”. He creates the “first 100% cinema” in Greenwich Village for the Film Guild Cinema (1929), which projects images on all surfaces to imitate real 3D space.
He draws and leaves uncompleted the Space House (1933). He teaches scenography at the Julliard, while his partner Stefi records meetings with André Breton, Albert Einstein, Piet Mondrian, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp. He designs the exhibition concept of “Art of This Century” for the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery in Manhattan (1941), and the Universal Theater(1961).
Art historian Dieter Bogner explains how Kiesler was inspired by the Gesamtkunstwerk and Josef Hoffmann, but not without a twist: he positioned the human in the center of his design. Kiesler compares the egg to the human body while visualizing building elasticity.
On a CBS interview in 1960 Kiesler appears to explain the Endless House (1959) to James Macandrew: “Let me make you a simple sign, the sign of infinity…That could be a two-room endless house or two-space endless house. Or .. there is the continuity in a three-room, three-area unit, one-two-three…But the new concept of space, begins simply with a new feeling for life, a greater liberation of your personality, of your individuality, a greater independence. The house should respond to your individual needs at the moment.”