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Giedion, Sigfried

    Image Credit: Lars Muller Publishers

    Full Name: Giedion, Sigfried

    Other Names:

    • Sigfried Giedion

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1888

    Date Died: 1968

    Place Born: Prague, Praha, Hlavní Město, Czech Republic

    Place Died: Zürich, Switzerland

    Home Country/ies: Czechoslovakia

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre), German (culture, style, period), Neoclassical, and sculpture (visual works)


    Architectural historian; German Neo-Classicism. Giedion was born to Johann and Bertha Jacobs Giedion. He was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, which is present- day Prague, Czech Republic.  He received his Ph.D. in art history under Heinrich Wölfflin in Munich. Giedion was appointed professor at the university in Zürich. He left Switzerland shortly before World War II to be the Charles Eliot Norton professor of poetry in 1938 at Harvard University. His Norton lectures for 1938-1939 became his most famous book, Space, Time and Architecture: the Growth of a New Tradition. He married fellow Heinrich Wölfflin student Carola Giedion-Welcker, who under her married name Giedion-Welcker, also published on modern architecture. Giedion was appointed professor in Harvard University’s new Graduate School of Design in 1938, founded by Walter Gropius. He returned to Europe to head of the Federal Polytechnic School in Zürich in 1947. The following year his Mechanization Takes Command appeared. In 1951 he returned to the United States to teach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lecturing at Harvard. After Gropius’ retirement in 1952, his biography of Gropius appeared in 1954. Giedion returned to Harvard as a visiting professor from 1954-1956, lobbying with another part-time Harvard lecturer, Eduard F. Sekler, for a return architectural history courses to Harvard’s architectural program, which Gropius had eliminated. In 1957 he delivered the A. W. Mellon lectures at the National Gallery of Art, Washgington, D. C. In 1962 Giedion published his Bollingen lectures. His Mellon lectures were published in 1964 as Eternal Present. Giedion’s Mechanization Takes Command was criticized by Pierre Francastel in Francastel’s Art et Technique, 1956, accusing him of among other things, idealism. He doubted Giedion’s contention that the Crystal Palace and balloon-frame architecture in America were the seeds of modernist architecture. His classroom lectures, particularly at Harvard, presented a view of architectural history that all periods and styles led to modernism rather than that of some colleagues, such as Sekler, to examine each period on its own (Hoffman).

    Selected Bibliography

    [collected writings, Italian:] Siegfried [sic] Giedion: scritti di architettura 1928-1968: antologia critica. Palermo: D. Flaccovio, 2000; Bauen in Frankreich: Eisen und Eisenbeton. 2nd ed. Leipzig: Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1928; Space, Time and Architecture: the Growth of a New Tradition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1941; Spätbarocker und romantischer Klassizismus. Munich: F. Brückmann, 1922; Walter Gropius. Paris: G. Crès & cie, 1932.


    Rykwert, Joseph. “Siegfried [sic] Giedion and the Notion of Style.” Burlington Magazine 96, no. 613 (April 1954): 123-124; Hommage à Giedion: Profile seiner Persönlichkeit. Schriften und Dokumente von Sigfried Giedion sowie Beiträge der Freunde. Basel: Stuttgart, Birkhäuser, 1971; Hommage à Giedion, seines Persönlichkeit. Basel: Birkhäuser, 1971; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 40, 51 mentioned; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 46; Wölfflin, Heinrich. Heinrich Wölfflin, 1864-1945: Autobiographie, Tagebücher und Briefe. Joseph Ganter, ed. Basel: Schwabe & Co., 1982, p. 491; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art: de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 198; Hoffman, Alexander von. “Seeking a Place for History: An Introduction.” Form, Modernism, and History: Essays in Honor of Eduard F. Sekler. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Graduate School of Design/Harvard Unversity Press, 1996, pp. ix; Georgiadis, Sokratis. Sigfried Giedion: an Intellectual Biography. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 117-119; [obituary:] “Sigfried Giedion, Historian, 74, Dies, Architecture Theorist Was Professor at Harvard.” New York Times April 12, 1968, p. 35.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Giedion, Sigfried." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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