Birgit Jooss

Hans Soeder and the reformation of the Kassel Art Academy

It is a little-known fact that the Kassel Art Academy was redesigned in the 1920s in the spirit of the art school reform movement. Architect Hans Soeder, who today has been largely forgotten, was responsible for this.

As a member of the Deutscher Werkbund, he was close to the moderate orientation of New Building. In addition to establishing a degree in architecture, he set up numerous workshops, as he did at the Bauhaus and advocated close cooperation between teachers and students on commissions.

With the defeat of the German Empire in 1918 and the ensuing economic crisis, many art academies were forced to no longer focus solely on the exclusive genres of fine art—painting and sculpture. Education in the economically more important arts and crafts was fostered, and the merging of art academies and arts and crafts schools was accelerated. In this way, the new state wanted to save money on the one hand, and on the other, to achieve greater flexibility and a higher level of design productions that had long since been industrialized. This forced unification succeeded in some cities, such as Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt am Main, Karlsruhe, and Weimar, but not in Kassel.

In Kassel, students had successfully resisted the call to merge the Academy of Fine Arts and the School of Applied Arts into a single art school in a protest letter in 1920 5/9. However, the Prussian Ministry of Culture still wanted the subjects of architecture and arts and crafts to be taught at the Academy of Fine Arts. To this end, it appointed a new director in 1923, the architect Hans Soeder

The architect Hans Soeder

© HNA, Kassel / Repro: Bastian Ludwig

Installed both as a professor of architecture and director, he was hired to make the academy more progressive. As a member of the Deutscher Werkbund, Soeder was close to the moderate orientation of New Building. In 1919, he had applied for a position as workshop manager at the Bauhaus in Weimar.

He immediately replaced architectural studies for artists in Kassel with a full course for craftsmen builders and technicians and rebuilt the department, which he described as an architectural school.

At the same time, together with the painting professor Ewald Dülberg, he introduced further fundamental innovations: They combined "free" academic art with "applied" art in a holistic, practice-oriented teaching concept. In addition to the existing workshops for printing and plaster casting, workshops for carpentry, metal, ceramics, weaving, dyeing, and bookbinding were now set up with the aim of "creating the possibility of bringing academic studies into much closer and more varied contact with public life than before." What was meant was close cooperation between masters and students on commissions.

In retrospect, Stephan Hirzel regarded this reform process as a direct effect of the Bauhaus—which is not entirely true—when he wrote in 1952:

Above all the Bauhaus as a united art academy and arts and crafts school in Weimar had given the education of its students a solid foundation in the form of workshops. Following this example, the Kassel Academy opted for a fundamental reform.

Stephan Hirzel: 175 Jahre Kasseler Akademie. Jubiläumsausstellung im Landesmuseum Kassel, Kassel 1952, pp. 23-24

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