Sets and architecture.

  Cover Copyright: © L. Bunte  

Sets and Architecture. The experiment of the reform theater in the garden city of Hellerau with regard to the relevance of universal space as a means of staging.

Elena Wittbusch
Theoretical masterthesis in the field of architecture | ST 2022 | RWTH Aachen University

Chair of Art History
Univ.-Prof. Dr. phil. Alexander Markschies
M. A. Frederike Eyhoff

Chair and research department for Architectural Theory
Univ.-Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Axel Sowa


In the overall context of the garden city of Hellerau, Heinrich Tessenow's reform theater occupies a special place. Built in 1911, the Festspielhaus, then the "Dalcroze Educational Institute for Rhythmic Gymnastics," is still regarded today as a symbolic building that translates reform ideas into architecture: Simplicity, order and cleanliness. The large ballroom has no permanently installed fixtures such as a stage, audience area or orchestra pit. As a result, the room can be used flexibly, which is why it is also referred to as a "universal room".

As early as 1906, the Geneva music educator Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950) cooperated with the Swiss theater reformer Adolphe Appia (1862-1928) and consulted him as a visual arts consultant for the project in Hellerau. They were instrumental in the planning of the educational institute: The changed position of the spectators entailed strong consequences for the architectural space. Completely new demands were placed on the theater space. It can be said that an attempt was made here to literally redefine the theater space. The Garden City of Hellerau exemplifies the design of a freely associated, educated, productive and globally thinking society.

In the resulting work, the focus will be on precisely this universal space of experimental theater. Without the idea of reform, so the thesis, it could not have come into being. To what extent the environment of the Garden City is firmly linked to it, or to what extent the experimental results of the large hall can be considered in isolation from the reform idea of the Garden City, will become part of the following analysis. How this space was designed, how technically the new demands on light and sound were implemented, which place was assigned to the audience, how the stage design was implemented, which methods were used to support the performance of the performing, and to what extent the space assumes a supporting or independent function in all these means of staging, will be examined through the reconstruction of the universal space.