A topical analysis of personal hygiene in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's house building as a prolegomena to the study of pragmatic building

Paul Bernard Clark, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation topically analyzes personal hygiene in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's construction of the single-family house. In describing carefully a building topic, the research follows the tradition of the phenomenological approach to architecture. Topical inquiry bridges the gap between utilitarian and formal representations by seeking the fundamental symbolic purposes of construction details. Topical thinking is a constructive curiosity based on the concept of scrupulositas, the concern for minutiae (the minute, precise, and scrupulous detail). Scrupulous details have the potential to serve society's existential mapping activities by aiding in the identification and satisfaction of societal interests. Mies van der Rohe's career-long construction of bathrooms and plumbing details represents a scrupulous way of building, one committed to exploring the subjective and objective aspects of personal hygiene. His explorations demonstrate a commitment to the discovery of details appropriate to hygienic privacy and propriety as well as to matters of daylighting, ventilation, and building construction. As these experiments influence the fundamental character of his house plans and elevations, they must be regarded as critical to his overall building project. The architect's consistent and focused analysis re-presents a way of building, one that we name Pragmatic Building in reference to the cultural activity described by Pragmatists. In an endeavor to characterize the essential building behaviors underlying Mies van der Rohe's topical construction, we follow the analyses of Charles Peirce, William James, John Dewey, Charles Morris, and D. W. Gotshalk. This description is given architectural focus through the complementary contributions of Leon Battista Alberti, Charles Moore et al., Christopher Alexander et al., and Christian Norberg-Schulz. Our analysis of Pragmatic Building is prefatory in nature, intending only to introduce into contemporary discourse principles useful in describing topical building inquiries. Subsequent contributions to the discourse of Pragmatic Building could, by developing an alternative to the common contemporary polarizing of architectural theory into matters of utility and form, further develop that integration into the ways which we think, teach, and learn architecture.

Subject Area

Architecture|Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

Clark, Paul Bernard, "A topical analysis of personal hygiene in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's house building as a prolegomena to the study of pragmatic building" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9712908.