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Glass architecture

Paul Scheerbart (1863-1915) was the eleventh and last child of Carl Eduard and Friederike. His mother passed away when Paul was 4 years old, his father when Paul was 10, and at age 15 he no longer had any siblings. At age 22, he moved to Berlin to earn a living as a journalist. He never stopped writing until the day he died: essays, articles, plays, poetry, utopian stories and futuristic novels.

A large part of his writing focuses on architecture, but it is also constructed with a singular type of architecture. He placed the emphases on certain self-referential words laden with meaning. In Glass Architecture[i] glass is the perfect transparent material that serves as a membrane, both to see and be seen through it, in successive overlapping layers in the cosmos. A new culture would emerge once we have stripped away the closed nature of the spaces we inhabit, letting the light of the sun, the moon and the stars penetrate them to their core.

Lesabéndio[ii] takes place on the planetoid Pallas: a place with a perfect symbiosis between nature and technology, a place where suffering does not exist. The asexuated bodies of the Pallasians endlessly move and mutate. Birth and death are no more than some living organisms being absorbed by others, without extinction, until reaching the “Great Being”. However the attraction toward the “Great Being”, free of obstacles or limits, in the end leads to a giant explosion of unimaginable and terrible pain.

Scheerbart’s glass building is fragile, the signifiers composing it sometimes drag together, stuck to one another, melded together with neither beginning nor end. His novella The Great Race is a procession of forms and emanations, a narration of the infinite. Humor and being ripped apart are two sides of the same coin. Worm-like spirits seek to be independent, to break free from the stars, in a furious race featuring winged sleighs, dirigibles with cannons, machines on stilts, and an endless list of other figures – in order to reach God and to become gods. “The symbolic world appears to them quite empty – like a house that’s been robbed and is falling down. An vermillion lizard of imposing form jumps from a mile-long window, blocks the way, and says excitedly: ‘Don’t forget that all the stars taken together, and everything imaginable taken together, however much we may enlarge it, with regard to infinity are always going to form a single mathematical point, one that includes everything but has no extension’”[iii].

He lived the last years of his life with his wife in a house near the glass palace of the Berlin botanical garden. He could barely move, his legs riddled with disease. He died in misery, desolate due to the war. One of his admirers, G. Scholem, wrote: “Scheerbart has just died! The man was another God: he too could have created a cosmos in six days”[iv].


[i] Scheerbart, P., “Glass Architecture”, in Glass Architecture and Alpine Architecture, by Paul Scheerbart and Bruno Taut, New York, Praeger, 1974, pp. 31-74.

[ii] Scheerbart, P., Lesabéndio. An asteroid novel, trans. by Christina Svendsen, Cambridge, Mass: Wakefield Press, 2012.

[iii] http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/buch/die-wilde-jagd-1760/8. Trans: Scheerbart, P., Rakkóx the billionaire & The Great Race, trans. by W. C. Bamberger, Cambridge, Wakefield Press, 2005, p. 104.

[iv] Scholem, Gershom, Tagebücher I, 1913-1917, ed. H. Kopp-Oberstebrink et. al., Frankfurt, Judisher Verlag, 1995, p. 174. See the translator’s introduction to Rakkóx the billionaire, p. ix.