Whimsical cathedrals and spiritual portals: The architecture of Paul Goesch

by | May 3, 2023 | Religion

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. (RNS) — Having lost the First World War, Germany had also “lost the peace” — the treaty signed in Versailles in 1919 awarded the Allies billions in reparations and forced Germany to cede territory that had fed its rise to power and prosperity. The fledgling Weimar Republic was faced with rebuilding even as the once mighty Reich was mired in debt and economic depression.Out of this bleak reality Paul Goesch, a German expressionist, architect and spiritualist, joined with a group of like-minded colleagues to imagine a new future. Goesch’s designs are simultaneously monumental and childlike — and deeply religious, with traditional triumphal arches and Gothic facades rendered in organic lines and decorated with angels and visionary images.
Now, Goesch’s work is being shown in its own dedicated exhibition for the first time outside of Europe.
Paul Goesch, “Architectural composition (Triumphal arch) or Visionary design for a gateway,” c. 1920–21, graphite and gouache on watercolor paper. Centre Canadien d’Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, DR1988:0241
The exhibit, titled “Portals” after Goesch’s fascination with doorways and facades, is at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, through June 11. On display are a little more than 30 of the almost 250 Goesch pieces made in just two years, between 1920 and 1921, all of them owned by the Canadian Centre for Architecture. 

The intimacy of Goesch’s work grew out of the immense and collective spiritual trauma suffered by the Germans, whose collective psyche had been crushed by war. Robert Wiesenberger, curator of contemporary projects at the Clark, described it as “a moment of rebuilding in every sense.” Goesch was just one of a community of architects reevaluating how architecture represented ideas about war, spirituality and social values. 
This community Goesch belonged to was known as the Glass Chain, named after the favored material of their works, which were in large part fantasies, not plans for real constructions. “This group of architects who were imagining what the future of architecture should look like, especially at a moment when no one could build because of material shortages and hyperinflation and lack of commissions, so everything was so-called paper architecture,” Wiesenberger said.
Paul Goesch, c.1920. Collection: Freundeskreis Paul Goesch e.V., Cologne.
While inspired by the experimentation of contemporary architects — they pored over the new work of international innovators such as Antoni Gaudí and Frank Lloyd Wright — the Glass Chain architects were freed by their inability to realize their design …

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