Spatial Visions: Training Emotions through Urban Architecture, 1860s–1960s

AHA Session 9
Central European History Society 1
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Mile High Ballroom 1B (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Eva Giloi, Rutgers University at Newark

Session Abstract

This panel explores the intersection between three recent, fruitful ‘turns’ in historical scholarship: the spatial turn, the emotional turn, and the aesthetic (or visual) turn. Focusing on Germany over the span of a century, the three papers examine how large-scale emotions were distilled into ‘proper’ form, making manageable unfamiliar and disorienting feelings of vertigo, consumer desire, and democratic allegiance. The panel connects the individual experiential plane to wider social projects devoted to training the emotions, as novel, often daunting feelings were navigated through the use of visual stimulation, guided immersion into spaces, attachment to accessories, and the self-conscious creation of ‘emotional worlds’ or ‘affective atmospheres.’

To examine the intersection between the spatial, emotional, and aesthetic, the panel puts scholars from different disciplines into dialogue with each other: Tamar Zinguer (architecture); Philipp Nielsen (history of emotions); Eva Giloi (history of material culture and display). The papers are pulled together in a comment by Dagmar Ellerbrock (History, TU Dresden), giving the topic an international perspective.

In “Anchor Stone Building Blocks: Play and the Defeat of Gravity, Berlin 1877,” Tamar Zinguer focuses on the experience of verticality and vertigo, as modern technologies opened access to spaces expanding upwards: in cities with the construction of high-rise buildings and suspension bridges, and above cities through the development of flight. Designed by the architect Gustav Lilienthal and his brother, the flight pioneer Otto Lilienthal, the Anchor Stone Building Blocks brought the dizzying experience of verticality back to earth by miniaturizing its effects and reducing its anxieties to manageable form.

In “How the Police Produced Emotions: Traffic Ordinances, Urban Tempos, and Consumer Visions in Berlin, 1900,” Eva Giloi illuminates how urban authorities taught pedestrians how to ‘see’ and interact with consumer goods. While the Berlin police had long regulated the movement of bodies and unwanted emotions through the use of traffic ordinances, building codes, and architectural lines of egress, they did so in 1900 against a growing consumer culture that sought to arrest pedestrians gazes, while stoking their desires. The police sought to reconcile these divergent goals by calibrating the rhythm and tempo of urban walking, thus attempting to train pedestrians to adopt a ‘proper’ stance towards consumerist accessories and their emotional attachments.

Drawing on his training in the history of emotions, Philipp Nielsen explores how politicians in post-war West Germany used architecture to shape emotional ties to the state in his paper: “Building Bonn: Experiencing Democracy in a Post-Totalitarian State.” Faced with the challenge of fostering patriotic identification while rejecting the Nazi legacy of extreme nationalism, the Bonn government sought an aesthetic language fit to promote a robust yet modest attachment to democracy. As the emotive work of the government buildings stretched out from the parliamentarians’ interior workspaces to encompass visitors in the foyers and citizens walking past—or sailing by on the Rhine river—the state sought to create spaces of open dialogue, supported by complex but ultimately failed acoustics, glass transparencies, office fixtures, and other modes of inhabitation.

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