Dr. Johannes Stoffler
Swiss National Science Foundation, SNF
Swimming Pool Landscapes in Switzerland
The history of the open-air baths of the modernist period in Switzerland exemplifies the evolution of notions of physical well-being, moral conceptions and the understanding of nature that took place during this epoch. The open-air bath not only represented a piece of ‘liberated living’ (Befreites Wohnen) with the ‘light, air, and opening’ for the physical strengthening of the public at large as demanded by Sigfried Giedion, General Secretary of CIAM and from Zurich, in his manifesto of the same name in 1929. It successively changed from an institution of body hygiene and strengthening to a place of mental regeneration and the subjective enjoyment of nature.
Contrary to the functional aesthetic accentuated in the early open-air paths of the modernist avant-garde, these so-called park baths embedded their functions in a backdrop of picturesque nature – a sentimental interpretation of pre-industrial natural and cultural landscapes. This connection of function and sentiment, of engineering and nature, became a great popular success and stood for a paradigm change in the self-conception of the modernist era: following a period of elitist manifestoes, the movement had accommodated itself to the needs of the populace.
The project examines this development from the enclosed baths of the 19th century lying on natural waters, used solely used for cleansing the body, to the park baths of the leisure society after World War II.
The theme was presented on October 17, 2008 at the symposium “Modernism and Landscape Architecture 1890-1940” of the National Gallery of Art Washington D.C. and the Centre for Garden Art and Landscape Architecture Hanover (CGL).
The symposium proceedings will be published in the Studies in the History of Art series of the National Gallery of Art, to be released in August 2009.