Theory of Perception · Visual Communication

Bauhaus, Architecture, and Gestalt.
More than a BAG of tricks

Johan Wagemans

In this lecture, I will discuss some Gestalt notions in architecture, with a focus on Bauhaus. Although it is not clear to what extent Bauhaus was under direct influence of Gestalt psychology, I will maintain that the connections between Gestalt issues and Bauhaus are deep, more than a bag of tricks the perceptual system and the architect use. Indeed, architecture and Gestalt theory share a fundamental interest in topics such as perceptual grouping, simultaneous contrast, figure-ground organization and the ambiguity of it. A core theme of both is that we always experience organized wholes, not isolated parts, not even the mere sum of parts. Spatial relationships, composition, and balance rule, both the Gestalt of perceptual experiences in general, as well as the appreciation of architecture.

In addition to these obvious themes, I will also introduce some ideas that are familiar to architects and designers but that are not commonly linked to Gestalt psychology. First, Gestalts are essentially hierarchical: They consist of intrinsically connected, mutually interdependent layers of organization. A second key notion is that of microgenesis: the gradual or sudden emergence in awareness of structure and meaning. Third, Gestalt qualities not only concern properties of part and whole, but also so-called tertiary qualities that relate the perceiver to the world (e.g., the requiredness of a design, the physiognomy of a Gestalt). Especially these aspects of a self-world resonance constitute a deep grounding of the connections between Bauhaus, architecture and Gestalt.

Biographical Notes

Johan Wagemans has a BA in psychology and philosophy, an MSc and a PhD in experimental psychology, all from the University of Leuven, where he is currently a full professor. His research interests are mainly in so called mid-level vision (perceptual grouping, figure-ground organization, depth and shape perception) but stretching out to low-level vision (contrast detection and discrimination) and high-level vision (object recognition and categorization), including applications in autism, arts, and sports (see He is currently chief-editor of Perception, i-Perception and Art & Perception.



Technische Universität Berlin
Institute for Architecture
Chair of Architectural Theory

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