A village postman from the remote Drome province of southern France, Ferdinand Cheval spent 33 years creating an "ideal palace" from stones gathered on his daily 32km round.
Surrealism in Architecture
Poorly educated and with no knowledge of architecture, he shaped his surreal palace from daydreams, without help. Considered a madman by fellow locals whose descendents live off his legacy today, the palace being a big tourist attraction , Cheval was hailed by artists and intellectuals, from Breton and the surrealists to Picasso. Here was - and is - a work of wholly spontaneous surrealist art, a man's dreams turned into a gloriously abstract work of architecture.
Today, Cheval's lifelong work is a national monument. Opened in , this curious, boot-like building in Potsdam, Germany, was designed to test Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.
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A telescope in the observatory caught cosmic rays that were reflected by mirrors to the "spectrographic" equipment in the basement. Erich Mendelsohn was the architect. Fascinated by the cosmos, he made dreamlike sketches of fantastic buildings that owe nothing to conventional architectural logic or to constraints imposed by existing materials.
The architect, who worked in Britain, Palestine and the US, said he designed the tower out of some unknown urge emanating from "the mystique around Einstein's universe". Originally, he had imagined the Einstein Tower as a building made of just one super-elastic material - a form of modern concrete that didn't exist when he did his first drawings. In the end, he had to make do with bricks rendered in stucco. His masterpiece was fully restored in - not, happily, as a museum, but as a working laboratory, although there is an open day once a month.
Greenwich Academic Literature Archive - Surrealism and architecture
Imagine a voluptuously shaped, womb-like house on stilts, with curved walls indistinguishable from floors and ceilings; with sand, pebble, wood, grass and tile floors; with bathing pools instead of baths; with coloured lenses and mirrors bringing light into organically shaped rooms. This was Frederick Kiesler's vision of the Endless House, never built - it was far too surreal for that - yet worked on in intriguing drawings until the architect's death in It remains a house of endless speculation and possibilities.
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Kiesler, born in Romania in , emigrated to New York in In trying to build the surreal, he was always unlikely to receive many commissions for real buildings. He made his living designing opera sets, exhibition stands and, with Armand P Bartos, the extraordinary Shrine of the Book, built in Jerusalem in to house the Dead Sea Scrolls. This haunting, surreal building offers a glimpse of the world he might have created if someone had commissioned the Endless House for real. The drawings still exist.
Surrealism and Architecture
Any takers? What's it got to do with architecture, you may well ask. But perhaps it makes its point perfectly well: surrealist architecture cannot really exist; it's beyond reality. If this could be built, it would be a lot more interesting than most contemporary "iconic" architecture. This is the dream-like city, without a purpose, that the British champion of surrealism, Edward James, built from until his death in It appears to exist as much in the imagination as it does in reality.
On Surrealism and Architecture (With Some Stylistic Apologies to André Breton)
Work on Las Pozas was most intense between and , with some craftsmen and labourers busy in the jungle. Flamingos, monkeys, parrots, turtles and crocodiles arrived during these years.
Electricity, too; in the evenings, the whole spectacle can be lit up by coloured lights. Its layout is labyrinthine.
Visitors can find themselves walking into a house that turns into a cave, or climbing a spiral stair that leads nowhere, except high into the sky. The three dozen or so structures were meant to be, in James's mind at least, stylised and everlasting flowers. Everyone seems to love its dreamlike roofscape, where chimneys and ventilation shafts twist and turn above parapets.
Each has its own character, each seems alive.
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Although his imagination was febrile and his architectural forms extraordinary and all but surreal, he saw himself as an inheritor of the gothic tradition brought into the modern age. This bizarre silent horror film, premiered in Berlin in , has long been described as a masterpiece of German expressionist cinema, but its crazily angled, cartoon-like sets are the stuff of surrealism, too.
It shows a nightmare world, brilliantly realised architecturally by set designers and art directors for director Robert Wiene.
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