The Art of Building

Cover. The Giza Necropolis, Giza Plateau, Greater Cairo, Egypt.


This text is an extract from And The Temples Becomes Man GA 286 [1911] by Austrian occultist, social reformer, architect, and esotericist Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner [1861 - 1925].



This lecture of 12th, December, 1911, contains the fullest and most detailed account of what Rudolf Steiner said on so many occasions about the evolution of the Art of Building and its changing styles. He gives us pictures of happenings in the spiritual life of the Cosmos and in the life of the human soul which express themselves in the forms of sacred buildings and give birth to new forms as the evolution of humanity advances.

Translated from Die Ziele des Johannes-Bauvereins ‘Und der Bau wird Mensch’. Translated by D. S. Osmond. From GA# 286. Also known as: The Temple Is/Becomes — Man! or Art and Architecture that Reveal the Underlying Wholeness of Creation, lecture 1 of 14 in Architecture as a Synthesis of the Arts.

Berlin, December 12, 1911


Great and mighty creations of art and of culture through the ages have many things to tell us. In a beautiful and impressive lecture this morning, [Lecture by Dr. Ernst Wagner: Works of Art as Records of the Evolution of Humanity.] you heard how the creations of art and of culture help us to understand the inner constitution and attitude of the human soul in earlier times.

Now there is a certain reason why the responsibility of those who shared in the creation of ancient works of art, was made easier than it is for us to-day. In ancient times, human beings had at their disposal means of help which are no longer available in our epoch. The Gods let their forces stream into the unconscious or subconscious life of the soul; and in a certain sense it is an illusion to believe that in the brains or souls of the men who built the Pyramids of Egypt, the Temples of Greece and other great monuments, human thoughts alone were responsible for the impulses and aims expressed in the forms, the colours and so on. For in those times the Gods themselves were working through the hands, the heads and the hearts of men.

The Fourth Post-Atlantean epoch* [Greco-Roman Epoch] already lies in the far past and our age is the first period of time in which the Gods put man's own free, spiritual activity to the test. True, the Gods do not refuse their help, but they vouchsafe it only when by the strength of aspiration developed in the soul through a number of incarnations, men make themselves worthy to receive the forces streaming to them from above. What we ourselves have to create is essentially new — in the sense that we must work with forces differing altogether from those in operation in bygone times. We have to create out of the free activity of our own human souls. The hallmark of our age is consciousness — it is the epoch of the Consciousness Soul, the Spiritual Soul. 

Note 1
According to the writings of Russian mystic and author who co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, there will be seven root races associated with the Earth – with each root race being divided into seven sub-races. The seven root races are noted as: [1]. Astral or Etheric; [2] Hyperboreans; [3] Lemurians; [4] Atlanteans; [5] Aryans; [6] Yet to appear; [7] Yet to appear.  Blavatsky asserted that humanity was presently in the 5th or Aryan root race, which Theosophists believe to have emerged from the previous 4th root race [Atlantean].

And if the future is to receive from us such works of culture and of art as. we have received from the past, we must create out of full and clear consciousness, free from any influence arising from the subconscious life. That is why we must open our minds and hearts to thoughts which shed light upon the task ahead of us. Only if we know upon what laws and fundamental spiritual impulses our work must be grounded, only if what we do is in line and harmony with the evolutionary forces operating in mankind as a whole — only then will achievement be within our reach ... And now let us turn to certain fundamental ideas which can make our work fruitful — for what we have to create must be basically, and in its very essence, new.

In a certain sense our intention is to build a Temple which is also to be a place of teaching — as were the ancient Temples of the Mysteries. Buildings erected to enshrine what men have held most sacred have always been known as Temples. You have already heard how the life of the human soul in the different epochs came to expression in the temple-buildings. When with insight and warmth of soul we study these buildings, differences are at once apparent. A very striking example is afforded by the forms of temples belonging to the Second Post-Atlantean epoch of culture. Outwardly, at any rate, very little is left of these temples of the ancient Persian epoch, and their original form can only be dimly pictured or reconstructed from the Akasha Chronicle.* Something reminiscent of their forms did indeed find its way into the later temples of the third epoch, into Babylonian-Assyrian architecture and above all into the temples of Asia Minor, but only to the extent that the structure of these later buildings was influenced by the conditions obtaining in that region of the Earth.

Note 2
Akasha Chronicle'Everything which comes into being in time has its origin in the eternal. But the eternal is not accessible to sensory perception. Nevertheless, the ways to the perception of the eternal are open for man. He can develop forces dormant in him so that he can recognise the eternal.  These present essays will also show that at a certain high level of his cognitive power, man can penetrate to the eternal origins of the things which vanish with time. A man broadens his power of cognition in this way if he is no longer limited to external evidence where knowledge of the past is concerned. Then he can see in events what is not perceptible to the senses, that part which time cannot destroy. He penetrates from transitory to non-transitory history. It is a fact that this history is written in other characters than is ordinary history. In gnosis and in theosophy it is called the 'Akasha Chronicle.' Only a faint conception of this chronicle can be given in our language. For our language corresponds to the world of the senses. That which is described by our language at once receives the character of this sense world. To the uninitiated, who cannot yet convince himself of the reality of a separate spiritual world through his own experience, the initiate easily appears to be a visionary, if not something worse;' Rudolf Steiner [...]. Cosmic Memory GA 11, From The Akasha Chronicles [Preface]. The Rudolf Steiner Archives.


'In ancient times, human beings had at their disposal means of help which are no longer available in our epoch. The Gods let their forces stream into the unconscious or subconscious life of the soul; and in a certain sense it is an illusion to believe that in the brains or souls of the men who built the Pyramids of Egypt, the Temples of Greece and other great monuments, human thoughts alone were responsible for the impulses and aims expressed in the forms, the colours and so on.'


What was the most striking and significant feature of this early Art of Building?

Documentary records have little information to give on the subject. But if, assuming that investigation of the Akasha Chronicle itself is not possible, we study the buildings of a later epoch, gleaning from them some idea of what the earlier temples in that part of the world may have been, it will dawn upon us that in these very ancient temples, everything depended upon the facade, upon the impression made by the frontage of the temple upon those who approached its portals. A man who made his way through this facade into the interior of the temple, would have felt: 'The facade spoke to me in a secret, mysterious language. In the interior of the temple I find everything that was striving to express itself in the façade.' He would have felt this no matter whether he came as a layman or as one who had to some extent been initiated.

If we now turn from these temples - the character of which can only be dimly surmised by those unable to read the Akasha Chronicle - if we now turn to the temples, the pyramids or other sacred monuments of Egypt, we find something altogether different. Sphinxes and symbolic figures of mystery and grandeur stand before us as we approach an ancient Egyptian Temple; even the obelisks are enigmas. The Sphinx and the Pyramids are riddles - so much so that the German philosopher Hegel spoke of this Art as the 'Art of the Riddle.' The upward-rising form of the pyramid in which there is scarcely an aperture, seems to enshrine a mystery; from outside at any rate, a façade is indicated only in the form of a riddle presented to us. In the interior, as well as information on manifold secrets contained in the ancient mystery-scripts or what later took their place, we find indications in the innermost sanctuary, of how the hearts and souls of men were led to the God who dwelt in deep concealment within the temple. The building enshrines the most sacred Mystery — the Mystery of the God. The pyramids, too, are shrines around the holiest secret of humanity, namely. Initiation. These buildings shut themselves off from the outer world, together with the Mystery they contain.

Note 3
Initiation'The one who is able to enter fully into the spiritual world is known as an initiate. If we look for a moment at past civilisations we find that initiates were the leaders of humanity. In those times initiation was bestowed on the selected few by the teacher, guru or priest, and the aspirant submitted to his will. [...] The Pharaohs were initiated in this way. But besides rulers there have been persons at all periods of history who have possessed advanced faculties and who have instructed others. Methods have changed with changing human nature. Nowadays there is no need to seek out a ‘master’ for oral instruction. There is no need to live in isolation; one builds a little world for oneself within the self. A personal contact may be helpful but a contact through the written word is also personal.

Our present epoch dates back to the fifteenth century when man began to think in terms of number, weight and measure and when he began to be more conscious of himself as an individual. With the development of individuality, with ego-consciousness, it is no longer appropriate to follow the old ways. Everyone who will must go forward on his or her own initiative. Naturally he or she will seek guidance but the guidance given, in whatever form, will not be coercive.

The study of spiritual science is something readily available to anyone who can read. Those who feel the need to make personal investigation have to develop special organs of perception.

There is nothing very strange about this. Any normal person is capable of using his senses and his mind in order to learn. Anyone who wishes to extend his knowledge, or to apply such knowledge when gained, will find innumerable courses of study open to him. If he aspires to a profession, that of doctor for instance, he will follow a course of study, and learn to observe and make deductions. Through his study and his work he will develop new faculties and a heightened awareness in his particular sphere, so that in seeing a patient he will immediately see more than an untrained person and make his diagnosis accordingly. We might say that he has acquired new ‘senses’ and ‘higher’ knowledge. With his greater insight he will be able to prescribe the appropriate remedy, to manipulate, to perform an operation or to do whatever is necessary.

Similarly, those wishing to know the cause of things — the spiritual reality behind the physical phenomena — can also follow a course of study, develop new faculties and bring their knowledge to practical use. In this case, however, it is not a matter of enhancing the already existing organs of perception but of developing new, soul-spiritual ones. 

Passing now to the temples of Greece, we find that they retain the basic principle of many Egyptian temples in that we have to think of the Greek Temple as the dwelling place of the Divine-Spiritual; but the outer structure itself indicates a further stage. In its wonderful expression of dynamic power, of inner forces weaving in the forms, it is whole and complete, intrinsically perfect - an Infinitude in itself. The Greek God dwells within the temple. In this building, with its columns which in themselves reveal their function as ‘bearers’ capable of supporting what lies upon them, the God is enshrined in something that is whole and perfect in itself; an infinitude is here embodied, within Earth-existence. This is expressed in the whole form and in every detail of the building.

The idea of the temple as an expression of all that is most precious to man, is embodied in the Christian Temple or Church. Such buildings, erected originally over a grave, indeed over the Grave of the Redeemer, culminate in the spire which tapers upwards to the heights. Here we have before us the expression of an altogether new impulse, whereby Christian architecture is distinguished from that of Greece. The Greek Temple is, in itself, one complete, dynamic whole. The Church of Christendom is quite different. I once said that by its very nature, a temple dedicated to Pallas Athene, to Apollo or to Zeus needs no human being near it or inside it; it stands there in its own self-contained, solitary majesty as the dwelling-place of the God. 

The Greek Temple is an infinitude in itself in that it is the dwelling-place of the God. And it is really the case that the farther away human beings are from the temple itself, the truer is the effect it makes upon us. Paradoxical as it may seem, this is the conception underlying the Greek Temple. The Church of Christendom is quite different. The call of a Christian church goes out to the hearts and minds of the Faithful; and every one of the forms in the space we enter tells us that it is there to receive the community, the thoughts and aspirations of the congregation. There could hardly have been a truer instinct than that which coined the word Dom for the Temple of Christianity, for Dom expresses a gathering-together, a togetherness of human beings. 

We cannot fail to realise that a Gothic building, with its characteristic forms, is trying to express something that is never as separate and complete in itself as a Greek Temple. Every Gothic form seems to reach out beyond its own boundaries, to express the aspirations and searchings of those within the walls; there is everywhere a kind of urge to break through the enclosing walls and mingle with the universe. The Gothic arch arose, of course, from a deep feeling for the dynamic element; but there is something in all Gothic forms which seems to lead out and beyond; they strive as it were to make themselves permeable. One of the reasons why a Gothic building makes its wonderful impression is that the multi-coloured windows provide such a mysterious and yet such a natural link between the interior space and the all-pervading light. Could there be any sight in the world more radiant and glorious than that of the light weaving through the coloured windows of a Gothic cathedral among the tiny specks of dust? Could any enclosed space make a more majestic impression than this - where even the enclosing walls seem to lead out beyond, where the interior space itself reaches out to the mysteries of infinite space?


'Could there be any sight in the world more radiant and glorious than that of the light weaving through the coloured windows of a Gothic cathedral among the tiny specks of dust? Could any enclosed space make a more majestic impression than this - where even the enclosing walls seem to lead out beyond, where the interior space itself reaches out to the mysteries of infinite space?'


From this rapid survey of a lengthy period in the development of temple-architecture, we cannot have failed to realise that its progress is based upon underlying law. But for all that, we still confront a kind of Sphinx. What is really at the root of it? Why has it developed in just this way? Can any explanation be given of those remarkable frontages and facades covered with strange figures of winged animals and winged wheels, of the curious pillars and columns to be found in the region of Asia Minor as the last surviving fragments of the first stage of temple-architecture? These frontages tell us something very remarkable ... exactly the same, in reality, as the experience which arises within the temple itself. Can there be any greater enigma than the forms which are to be seen on fragments preserved in modern museums? What principle underlies it all?

There is an explanation, but it can only be found through insight into the thoughts and aims of those who participated in the building of these temples. This, of course, is a matter in which the help of occultism is indispensable. What is a Temple of Asia Minor, in reality? Does its prototype or model exist anywhere in the world?

The following will indicate what this prototype is, and throw light upon the whole subject. Imagine a human being lying on the ground, in the act of raising his body and his countenance upright. He raises his body upwards from the ground in order that it may come within the sphere of the downstreaming spiritual forces and be united with them. This image will give you an inkling of the inspiration from which the architectural forms of the early temples of Asia Minor were born. All the pillars, capitals and remarkable forms of such temples are a symbolic expression of what we may feel at the sight of a human being raising himself upright - with the movements of his hands, his features, the look on his face, and so on. If with the eyes of the Spirit we are able to look behind this countenance into the inner man, into the microcosm that is an image of the macrocosm, we should find, inasmuch as the countenance expresses the inner man, that the countenance and the inner man are related in just the same way as the facade or frontage of a temple of Asia Minor was related to its interior. A human being in the act of raising himself upright - that is what the early temple of Asia Minor expresses, not as a copy, but as the underlying motif and all that this motif suggests. The spiritual picture given by Anthroposophy of the physical nature of man helps us to realise the sense in which such a temple was an expression of the microcosm, of man. Understanding of the aspiring human being, therefore, sheds light on the fundamental character of that early Art of Building. Man as a physical being has his spiritual counterpart in those remarkable temples of which only fragments and debris have survived. This could be pointed out in every detail, down to the winged wheels and the original forms of all such designs. The Temple Is — Man! rings to us across the ages like a clarion call.

Note 4
Anthroposophy: In 1924, Rudolf Steiner defined anthroposophy as ‘… a path of knowledge, which intends to lead what is spiritual in the human being to what is spiritual in the universe’. Anthroposophy is fundamentally a study of the human being, our nature, development and task. The lens that Rudolf Steiner gives us is the view that we are spiritual beings living a physical existence. In this sense, Anthroposophy is the tangible path of inner development and a spiritual-scientific lifelong study. It draws and builds on the spiritual research of Rudolf Steiner, who maintained that every human being [Anthropos] has the inherent wisdom [Sophia] to solve the riddles of existence and to transform as individuals as well as society. Anthroposophy is a spiritual philosophy and spiritual science that speaks to the deep questions of humanity, to our basic needs and the need to develop a relation to the world in complete freedom. It strives to develop not only natural scientific, but also spiritual scientific research and to bridge the divisions between the sciences, the arts and the spiritual strivings of man as the three main areas of human culture. Anthroposophy is also an impulse movement to nurture and honour the life of the soul in the individual and in society and is active in the world as applied or practical anthroposophy in various initiatives such as: Waldorf education, Biodynamic farming, Medicine, Curative education Eurythmy, The Christian Community, Architecture, etc. Nb. The term ‘anthroposophy’ predates Rudolf Steiner. The word ‘anthroposophy’ comes from the Greek (anthropos meaning ‘human’ and sophia meaning ‘wisdom’). It can also be translated as ‘wisdom of the human being’ or understood as ‘consciousness of one’s humanity’. Anthroposophy is a spiritual philosophy; not a religion. It is a pathway to developing a conscious awareness of one’s humanity. It recognises the inherent ‘wisdom of the human being’ to support a lifelong quest for spiritual self-development; Sydney Rudolf Steiner College. What Is Anthroposophy?

And now let us turn to the temples of Egypt and of Greece. Man can be described not only as a physical being, but also as a being of soul. When we approach man on Earth as a being of soul, all that we perceive in his eyes, his countenance, his gestures, is, to begin with, a riddle as great in every respect as that presented by the Egyptian Temple. It is within man that we find the holy of holies - accessible only to those who can find the way from the outer to the inner. And there, in the innermost sanctuary, a human soul is concealed, just as the God and the secrets of the Mysteries were concealed in the Temples and Pyramids of Egypt.

But the soul is not so deeply concealed in man as to be unable to find expression in his whole bearing and appearance. When the soul truly permeates the body, the body can become the outward expression and manifestation of the soul. The human body is then revealed to us as a work of artistic perfection, permeated by soul, an infinitude complete in itself. And now look for something in the visible world that is as whole and perfect in itself as the physical body of man permeated by soul. In respect of dynamic perfection you will find nothing except the Greek Temple which, in its self-contained perfection, is at the same time the dwelling-place and the expression of the God. And in the sense that man, as microcosm, is soul within a body, so is the temple of Egypt and of Greece, in reality, MAN!

The human being raising himself upright - that is the prototype of the oriental temple. The human being standing on the soil of the Earth, concealing a mysterious world within himself but able to let the forces of this inner world stream perpetually through his being, directing his gaze horizontally forward - that is the Greek Temple. Again the annals of world-history tell us: The Temple is - MAN!

We come now to our own epoch. Its origin is to be found in the fruits of the ancient Hebrew culture and of Christianity, of the Mystery of Golgotha, although, to begin with, the new impulse had to find its way through architectural forms handed down from Egypt and from Greece. But the urge is to break through these forms, to break through their boundaries in such a way that they lead out beyond all enclosed space to the weaving life of the universe. The seeds of whatever comes to pass in the future have been laid down in the past. The temple of the future is foreshadowed, mysteriously, in the past. And as I am speaking of something that is a perpetual riddle in the evolution of humanity, I can hardly do otherwise than speak of the riddle itself in rather enigmatical words.

Constant reference is made to Solomon's Temple. We know that this temple was meant to be an expression of the spiritual realities of human evolution. We hear much of this Temple of Solomon. But a question that leads nowhere - and here lies the enigma - is often put to men living on the physical Earth. It is asked: Has anyone actually seen King Solomon's Temple? Is there anyone who ever saw it, in all its truth and glory? Here indeed there is a riddle! Herodotus traveled in Egypt and the region of Asia Minor only a few centuries after the Temple of Solomon must already have been in existence. From the descriptions of his travels - and they mention matters of far less importance - we know that he must have passed within a few miles of Solomon's Temple, but he did not set eyes upon it. People had not seen this temple! The enigma of it all is that here I have to speak of something that certainly existed - and yet had not been seen. But so it is ... In Nature, too, there is something that may be present and yet not be seen. The comparison is not perfect, however, and to press it any further would lead wide of the mark. Plants are contained within their seeds, but human eyes do not see the plants within the seeds. This comparison, as I say, must not be pressed any further; for anyone who attempted to base an explanation of Solomon's Temple upon it would be speaking quite falsely. In the way I have expressed it, however, the comparison is correct - the comparison between the seed of a plant and the Temple of Solomon.

Note 5
Herodotus [c. 484 BC - c, 425 BC]. An ancient Greek historian and geographer from the Greek city of Halicarnassus, part of the Persian Empire and a later citizen of Thurii in modern Calabria. He is known for having written the Histories – a detailed account of the Greco-Persian Wars.

What is the aim of Solomon's Temple? Its aim is the same as that of the Temple of the Future. The physical human being can be described by Anthroposophy;* the human being as the temple of the soul can be described by Psychosophy; and as Spirit, the human being can be described by Pneumatosophy. Can we not then picture man spiritually in the following way: - We envisage a human being lying on the ground and raising himself upright; then we picture him standing before us as a self-contained whole, a self-grounded, independent infinitude, with eyes gazing straight forward; and then we picture a man whose gaze is directed to the heights, who raises his soul to the Spirit and receives the Spirit! To say that the Spirit is spiritual is tautology, but for all that it underlines what is here meant, namely, that the Spirit is the super-sensible reality. Art, however, can work only in the realm of sense, can create forms only in the world of sense. In other words: The spirit that is received into the soul must be able to pour into form. Just as the human being raising himself upright and then the human being consolidated in himself were the prototypes of the ancient temples, so the prototype of the temple of the future must be the human soul into which the Spirit has been received. The mission of our age is to initiate an Art of Building which shall be able to speak with all clarity to the men of future times: The Temple is - Man - the Man who receives the Spirit into his soul! But this Art of Building will differ from all its predecessors. 

Note 6
The suffix sophy stands for knowledge, so anthroposophy refers to the knowledge of the anthropos or full human being, psychosophy refers to the knowledge of the psyche or soul, and pneumatosophy refers to the knowledge of the pneuma or spirit.
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