Spring 2012

The Architecture of Psychoanalysis

The consulting rooms of Ernst Freud

Volker M. Welter

Anyone seeking psychoanalysis in Berlin during the 1920s had to choose between a private practitioner and a clinic. A search might have started with a visit to Karl Abraham, who practiced in the city’s Grunewald neighborhood until his death in 1925, and continued in a wide, circular sweep through the western parts of the city, meeting along the way Hans and Jeanne Lampl in Dahlem, Sandor Radó in Schmargendorf, Max Eitingon in Tiergarten, and, back in Grunewald, René A. Spitz. If these consultations were unsuccessful, there was still the Poliklinik für Psychoanalytische Behandlung nervöser Krankheiten on Potsdamer Strasse and, after 1928, in new premises on Wichmannstrasse, both in the Tiergarten district. Or, for a longer stay, Ernst Simmel had opened the psychoanalytical clinic Sanatorium Schloss Tegel in 1927. Possibly unbeknownst to our hypothetical patient, the search would have taken him through a sequence of modern psychoanalytic interiors designed by Ernst L. Freud (1892–1970), the youngest son of Sigmund Freud and a successful domestic architect in Weimar-era Berlin after 1920 and in London after 1933.

From the late nineteenth century onward, the name Freud had gradually become identified with psychoanalysis, but in the 1920s, at least in Berlin, the name was also synonymous with the creation of the earliest documented architect-designed psychoanalytic consulting rooms. Intellectually, Sigmund Freud’s conception of psychoanalysis has long been recognized as a major contribution to Western modernity. Architecturally, however, his consulting room and adjacent study at Berggasse 19 in Vienna illustrated all that his progressive contemporaries, such as Arts and Crafts architects and hygiene reformers, believed was wrong with late nineteenth-century domestic interiors. Cramped with furniture and filled with antiquities, statues, books, oriental rugs, artworks, and aromatic cigar smoke, the rooms were sensuously rich and offered plenty of opportunities for one’s thoughts and gaze to sojourn, but also for unhygienic dust to settle.

Compared to his father’s quarters, consulting rooms designed by Ernst Freud were free from visual clutter, abundant artwork, decorative figurines, and oriental rugs—a visual clarity that, however, was perhaps not unique to the architect. For example, in the mid-1920s the Santa Barbara psychoanalyst Pryns Hopkins described the London consulting room of Ernest Jones as “large, but unlike that of his mentor, Freud, it was nearly bare of furniture and gloomy.”[1] At first glance, the rooms by Freud appear as if he had deliberately sought to separate himself architecturally from his father’s legacy. He conceived couches with clear geometrical lines, experimented with their position within the rooms, developed purpose-made chairs for the psychoanalysts, and combined these pieces with, perhaps, an engraving or two of the founder of psychoanalysis, a writing desk with a chair, a net curtain, and a potted plant. Judging from the few surviving black-and-white photographs, Ernst Freud’s psychoanalytic rooms come across as almost inconspicuous modern designs, delineating an interior that obviously aimed to impress itself as little as possible on the patient’s mind. Yet on further inspection, the consulting rooms show that despite all the stylistic differences, Freud had studied closely the setting of his father’s consulting room and adapted those elements that the elder Freud had identified as essential for the psychoanalytic space.

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