Aesthetics and the Professional Identity of
the Modern German Engineer
by Katherine Romba


Katherine Romba sets out the reasons why a consideration of aesthetics developed as a part of German civil engineering designs in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

She notes that the profession was formally established in about 1856. Though becoming increasingly focused on the mathematics, geometric analysis, and objective thought required to create structures in iron and concrete, the artistic nature of engineered construction was a topic of interest. This was distinct from applied ornamentation. She gives a number of examples including the Eiffel Tower and the Kaiser Bridge near Mainz.

'This body of aesthetic theory was initiated in 1890 by Franz Reuleau's essay 'Können eiserne Brücken nicht schön sein?'' (Cannot iron bridges be beautiful?). Most examples that followed came from the twentieth century, with publications such as Otto Schulz's essay 'Schönheit und Zweckmäßigkeit von Maschinen und Bauwerken' (Beauty and purposefulness of machines and buildings) from 1909, Franz Czech's essay 'Ästhetik der Raumumschliessenden Eisenkonstruktionen' (Aesthetic of the space-enclosing iron construction) from 1912, Karl Bernhard's lecture 'Die Aesthetik der Eisenbauten' (The aesthetic of iron construction), Hermann Jordan's and Eugen Michel's treatises entitled jointly 'Die künstlerische Gestaltung von Eisenkonstruktionen' (The artistic form of iron construction), and Georg Chr. Mehrtens' essay 'Aesthetische Fragen der Ingenieurkunst, besonders des Eisenbaues' (Aesthetic questions regarding the engineer-art, especially iron construction), all from 1913, and Hermann Jordan's essay 'Vorschläge zur künstlerischen Gestaltung von Brückenbauten' (Proposals regarding the artistic form of bridge construction) from 1916."

Katherine Romba points out that what binds these theories is their focus on defining the abstract principles that underlay the beauty of engineered design.

As well as being inspired by social and aesthetic motivations, the engineers who made up this movement also saw the use of aesthetic principles as a way of raising the standing of the profession in society.


Katherine Romba
Aesthetics and the Professional Identity of the Modern German Engineer
Second International Congress on Construction History, Volume 3, pp 2727 - 2741
Queens' College, Cambridge, UK, 29 March - 2nd April 2006.