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Architecture as Peacework: The First Goetheanum, Dornach, 1914: The Collected Works of Rudolf Steiner

At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the construction of the singular architectural masterwork that would later be called the Goetheanum (and, later still, the First Goetheanum) was already well under way on a hill just above the village of Dornach in neutral Switzerland. There, a small international community had gathered over the previous year to take part in this utterly unique artistic building project under Rudolf Steiner’s direction. When the war began, the mood and day-to-day life of Europe was instantly changed, no less so amid this ad hoc spiritual and artistic community: artillery could be heard in the distance; many were called back to their respective countries for armed service; and tensions between individuals of various nationalities who remained in Dornach were very soon in evidence.

This is the immediate background to these evening lectures given in the woodworking building next to the construction site in Dornach just two months after the start of the war. Never announcing his intentions, and using the metamorphosing forms of the hand-sculpted wooden architraves resting on the columns inside the building itself as illustration, Steiner embarked on a convincing and heartfelt appreciation, even celebration, of the uniquely beautiful qualities of the various European cultures then at war.

These lectures were given at a very specific time and place, to a very specific audience, with a very clear intention―to cultivate in the midst of violence and aggression not just tolerance for other peoples and cultures, but also love and sincere appreciation. Such intentions are still needed today―thus, the continued relevance of these lectures.