Open House London 2021: A visit to Rudolf Steiner House
Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Every September the Open House London festival invites us to celebrate the UK capital’s architectural wonders by granting the public free entry to hundreds of famous, exciting, eye-catching, intriguing, or normally closed-off spaces. One of the iconic buildings that opened its beautiful doors last weekend was the Rudolf Steiner House.
Firstly, few people know that Rudolf Steiner House, a hub for contemporary culture located right in the heart of the city is an example of organic functionalism and also London’s only (and finest) illustration of expressionist architecture.
But who was Rudolf Steiner?
Considered by his peers as either a creative genius or an eccentric oddity, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, esotericist, claimed clairvoyant, and architect best known for his belief that architectural creation is a way of apprehending our place in the universe. During his lifelong attempts towards finding a synthesis between spirituality and science, he invented Anthroposophy as an esoteric system that proves the connection between spiritual and material.
“A man must be able to think in shapes and colours just like he is able to think in thoughts and terms.” (R. Steiner)
Other famous pioneers of anthroposophic architecture (also known as "organic architecture") were Antoni Gaudí and Frank Lloyd Wright, each being inspired by the principles of the living nature which led to free, expressive forms.
The expressionist architecture was striving towards the same spiritual and aesthetic ideals as Expressionists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Hans Scharoun, Bruno Taut, Hans Poelzig, Eric Mendelsohn, and Max Baer.
The Rudolf Steiner House in London
The Grade 2 listed house was designed by the architect Montague Wheeler (1874-1937) and built between 1926 and 1937 to serve as the home of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain. Wheeler himself was an active member of the Anthroposophical Society and between 1935 and 1937 he was the chairman of the British branch.
As the name suggests, the Rudolf Steiner House faced in Granolithic concrete blocks was based on the work of Rudolf Steiner, with emphasis on the first Goetheanum building in Dornach, Switzerland (1914) – a remarkable wooden structure of timber that was destroyed by fire in 1922 and rebuilt from concrete. Legend says that Le Corbusier visited the construction site and “stood speechless as he surveyed the vast immanence”.
As for the expressionist features of the London house, the flowing, irregular curves and angles of the main staircase create a sensation of metamorphosis and free movement, making it a fine staple of this unique and sinuous style.
The original models of the building were shaped in clay, a life-long favourite medium of Steiner, and helped to infuse the cold concrete structure with life.
The Façade’s most poignant expressionist elements are the ground floor windows and the rounded archways, making the building an almost unique sample of the symbolic expressionism widespread in German art before and after World War I.
The Foyer was modernised in 1989-90, when the handrails and the first flight of steps were also added. Besides offering a welcoming transition into the auditorium, it's often used as an exhibition space for artworks created by anthroposophically-inspired artists.
The 220-seat theatre opened in 1926 and remains to this day a vibrant performance space. The powerful composition was dedicated to staging shows of “Eurythmy”, the expression of the spirit through the physical movement of the building - an art described as "visible speech and song," developed by Steiner himself, in collaboration with Marie von Sivers.
The café’s main wooden enclosure is surrounded by concrete and brick, reflecting a fascinating polarity that infused a lifeless space that was once used as a fire escape with a room warmly and playfully inundated by daylight.
Today, Rudolf Steiner House also operates as a stunning venue with a diverse offer of spiritually oriented events, art events, workshops, and talks on the teachings of philosopher Rudolf Steiner.
Apart from the spaces mentioned above, the house is also home to a small but characterful bookshop, a roomy library, and a therapy and wellness centre.
Just like Steiner relied at the turn of the 20th century on the Goetheanum to exhibit his philosophy of Anthroposophy in Germany, Wheeler’s Steiner House in London remains a place that continues to spread this immense legacy in spirituality and science through an equally charismatic, welcoming, and enigmatic space.
So next time you're in Marylebone or even better, during next year's Open House London, make sure you'll stop by for a refreshing dose of mysterious architectural and sculptural fluidity.
Rudolf Steiner House 📍 35 Park Rd, London NW1 6XT.
🚇 The closest London Underground Station to Rudolf Steiner House is Marylebone on the Bakerloo line (and also the Marylebone Train Station) and Baker Street (Bakerloo, Circle and Hammersmith & City, Jubilee and Metropolitan Lines).
📌 Nearby London Attractions:
Madame Tussaud's London (550 m).
The Regent's Park (280 m).
Sherlock Holmes Museum (200m).