William Lethaby, symbolism and the occult

Sangha, Amandeep K. (2017) William Lethaby, symbolism and the occult. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

The thesis will reconsider the thought and design work of the architect William Richard Lethaby (1857–1931). The research will focus upon Lethaby’s affiliation with the occult, with particular reference to alchemy. The relationship between nineteenth- and twentieth-century architects and occultism has been overlooked, and in many cases intentionally neglected, by scholars and historians. Current scholarship in the field has placed a greater emphasis on twentieth-century proponents of the occult. This detailed study on Lethaby and the occult therefore forms an original contribution to existing scholarship, highlighting the parallels between the nineteenth-century architect’s work and the ideology and imagery of the occult. The thesis will demonstrate Lethaby’s familiarity with occult concepts and the extent to which these were employed by him in his work. The study will then go on to examine how Lethaby’s fascination with occult themes and magic had a consequent influence on his contemporaries and question how far this interest in the occult impacted the future generation of designers and subsequent movements.

The research will recognise Lethaby’s work within the context of its time and suggest it to be a product of its era. Alongside the well-documented Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth-century there also existed a spiritual revolution. This encouraged countless individuals, particularly members of the avant-garde, to reject the traditional religious pathways and to seek answers through more experimental and mystical alternatives. The majority of Lethaby’s working life was spent in London, where there was a revival of interest in the occult that included the foundation of such societies as the Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The thesis will illustrate how Lethaby was profoundly influenced by the Zeitgeist, which was saturated with references to spiritualism, mysticism and the occult.

Lethaby’s attraction towards mysticism and magic, as see in first published book, Architecture, Mysticism and Myth (1891), which was later revised and retitled Architecture, Nature and Magic (1928), was not confined to his theoretical work but also pervaded both his design and his completed work. A considerable portion of the thesis will therefore, for the first time, extensively scrutinise several of Lethaby’s drawings and architectural work to suggest how they embody his interest in the occult. The study will conclude by unearthing parallels between Lethaby’s completed works and those executed by prominent modern architects with recognised occult affiliations, such as Lauweriks, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, to suggest a comparable use of occult symbolism, with similar intent.

The thesis will create a renewed interest in Lethaby and address the impact of occultism on the architect, his contemporaries and the wider Arts and Crafts Movement. Finally, it will put forward that subsequent twentieth-century schools or movements in architecture with spiritualist tendencies, such as the Bauhaus and the Modern Movement, were not so much revolutionary as evolutionary, advancing from a previous Arts and Crafts ideology.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Ekici, Didem
Hanks, Laura
Keywords: Architecture, Arts and Crafts, Occult, Magic, Symbolism
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NA Architecture
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Engineering > Built Environment
Item ID: 44643
Depositing User: Sangha, Amandeep
Date Deposited: 13 Dec 2017 04:40
Last Modified: 24 Apr 2018 15:49
URI: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/44643

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