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The Merzbarn: The Architectural Imagination of Kurt Schwitters

Part 2 Dissertation 2014
Joseph Hawkins
University of East London London | UK
The Merzbarn was a fusion of avant-garde sculpture and dry stone barn that was the last in a series of Merzbauten (Merz buildings) formed by artist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948). Constantly constructed and reconstructed from treasured personal possessions, found objects and detritus, these structures functioned simultaneously as art works, studios, autobiographical archives and resonant dwellings. For the purposes of preservation the Merzbarn is now located at two sites in the UK. The external envelope of the barn is found at its original location at Elterwater, in the Lake District, whilst its internal sculptural form has been relocated to The Hatton Gallery in Newcastle.

In this dissertation three encounters with the Merzbarn at different sites will be used to develop an account of Schwitters’ architectural imagination. From the specificities of this artist’s imagination, one that seeks to work with the palimpsestic qualities of buildings, sites and objects, I signal the critical potentials of such interdisciplinary imaginations for architectural theory and practice.

My first encounter with the Merzbarn at Elterwater initiates a discussion on the themes of dwelling, presence and displacement, whilst the second encounter at the Hatton Gallery attends to the spatial imaginaries of collage and the entwined figure of the creative user. A replica Merzbarn constructed in the courtyard of The Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 2011 constitutes my third encounter. Here the re-imagination of the pavilion as an architectural typology and the potential for developing new architectures from everyday contexts and materials are explored.

These multiple sites and experiences of the Merzbarn reinforce the need for analyses of architecture, the built environment and artworks that attend not only to finished objects, but to the sites, spaces and processes of their production, consumption and circulation. The architectural imaginaries materialised at the multiple Merzbarns suggest how architects could use creative practice to engage critically with the world as found. At the Merzbarns this means being attentive to the fragment and to material remains, whilst exploring the productive potential within processes of change, displacement, and entropy.

Joseph Hawkins

Claude Saint-Arroman
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