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Beatriz Colomina is the Howard Crosby Butler Professor of the History of Architecture at Princeton University and a 2018–19 fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. She writes and curates on questions of design, art, sexuality, and media. Her books include Sexuality and Space (Princeton Architectural Press, 1992), Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media (MIT Press, 1994), Domesticity at War (MIT Press, 2007), The Century of the Bed (Verlag fur Moderne Kunst, 2015), Manifesto Architecture: The Ghost of Mies (Sternberg Press, 2014), Clip/Stamp/Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X–197X (Actar, 2010), Are We Human? Notes on an Archaeology of Design (Lars Müller Publishers, 2016), and X-Ray Architecture (Lars Müller Publishers, 2019). She has curated a number of exhibitions including Clip/Stamp/Fold (2006), Playboy Architecture (2012) and Radical Pedagogies (2014). In 2016 she was cocurator of the third Istanbul Design Biennial.
Reading literature and understanding that this is how you get a lot of the culture of that time was very important to me. Magic Mountain was a very important reference for this book, but also Tristan. You can read it and realize what a sanitorium was like. Even the character says it’s the architecture—the white walls, the simple furniture—that has this effect on his well-being. So architecture is a form of cure. I got this idea from literature, not architecture.
Sontag’s book, which had recently been published when I arrived in New York in 1980, had an enormous influence on me. I started seeing modern architecture in terms of all the pathologies related to it, real or imagined—agoraphobia, claustrophobia, nervous disorders, and, above all, tuberculosis and the obsession with hygiene, with germs, with fresh air.
Psychological problems of course were very dominant in the postwar years and in the very moment of this crisis, architects immediately say, No, no, our architecture is perfect for this! Neutra becomes, for me, a very key example, because he doesn't significantly change his architecture, but he argues that the architect has to be like a shrink and that the house is good for your mental health.