Technically symbolic: The significance of schema and Claude Bragdon's Sinbad drawings in “The Frozen Fountain”

2005 2005

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Abstract (summary)

In this dissertation I argue that Claude Fayette Bragdon (1866–1946) viewed schema as both technique and symbol and that he saw schemata as preeminent for the architect. Displacing the traditional approach to schematism as solely a systemized procedure, Bragdon assigned it representational meaning, the means to an instrumental and figurative end. “Schematic” is described by Bragdon as “a systematic disposition of parts according to some co-ordinating principle,” as well as “belonging to the higher dimension of consciousness, the aesthetic quality, a spiritual essence, love manifesting as beautifulness.” He linked sign to technique, spirituality to instrumentality, and did so by appropriating fundamental, universal principles of design (harmony, balance, rhythm) and creating representational sites of signification for both beauty and necessity. For Bragdon, schematic techniques developed from regulating lines of linear grid units, elementary figures of geometry and the human figure, parallel diagonals and musical ratios, the logarithmic spiral, platonic solids, hypersolids and magic squares, raised architecture from “mere scene-designing” to the level of art. This thesis explores the importance of Bragdon's final book of architectural theory, The Frozen Fountain, Being Essays on Architecture and the Art of Design in Space, which has received scant attention by architects since its publication in 1932. I demonstrate the relationships inherent in imagery and quests, the importance of the art of books and posters, the influence of orientalism and mathematics in the early 1900's, Bragdon's preference of point-of-view, and his belief in the first principles shared by all designers. Bragdon offered The Frozen Fountain as part manual and part missal of fundamental, universal truths for architects in a secular age. Although similar approaches to ordering and signification were used and described by architects such as Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Louis Sullivan, it was Bragdon's reputation as a Theosophist and his advocacy of a four-dimensional theory of ornament, that doomed this project to neglect. Bragdon's final architectural work provides an unusual view of the quest to navigate the traditional divide of technique and symbol.

Indexing (details)

0729: Architecture
Identifier / keyword
Communication and the arts; Bragdon, Claude Fayette; Frozen Fountain; Schema; Sinbad drawings
Technically symbolic: The significance of schema and Claude Bragdon's Sinbad drawings in “The Frozen Fountain”
Nixon, Mary
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 66/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780542199462, 0542199467
Leatherbarrow, David
University of Pennsylvania
University location
United States -- Pennsylvania
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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