Learning Democracy: Scharoun's schools and the politics of reconstruction
1, Dan Sudhershan2
1ucd school of architecture, UCD, Dublin, Ireland, 2University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
Constructed betwen 1957 and 1962 in the Westphalian town of Lunen, the Geschwister-Scholl school is a pivotal work in Hans Scharoun’s career. This paper discusses its broader significance within the context of postwar German reconstruction. Conceived shortly after the formation of the Federal Republic and completed as the benefits of the ‘economic miracle’ became widespread, the school, in some ways an avant-garde, individual response, can equally be seen as the embodiment of a society undergoing rapid processes of democratisation and modernisation.
The building’s low-lying arrangement of angular classrooms linked by loose circulation space had its origins in the design for a school presented by Scharoun at the Darmstadt Symposium of 1951. Scharoun talked of giving architectural form to the pedagogical process, attuning light and space to the children’s needs. Scharoun’s emphasis on place and function is often related to Martin Heidegger’s Building, Dwelling, Thinking, presented at the same symposium. But his reframing of an educational philosophy was more related what Jarausch calls the attempt ‘to lead Germany back into civilized society and the European economy.’ The transformation of education was central to these American-led efforts, which recognised the need ‘to fashion new learning objectives, new curricula, new teaching methods, new teachers, new relationships between the people, the teachers and the school.’
While Scharoun’s design spoke of radical reinvention, as an exclusive Gymnasium for girls, it nonetheless adhered to the traditions of German education. Despite its unconventional language, the school was embraced by its community. In his 1960 pamphlet Democracy as Client Adolf Arndt championed Scharoun’s ability to yoke political ideals to architectural form. But theories of school-building soon turned towards more flexible, functional approaches. Lunen’s sprawling footprint and idiosyncratic forms, born in a transitional phase of Germany’s recovery, became increasingly anachronistic within its modern democracy.