Architectures of Hiding

Marcia Feuerstein & Jodi La Coe

Camouflage: The Disappearance of Form and Shadow

To camouflage a person in the light of day, contextual clothing patterns have been created to allow someone to blend into the immediate environment. These patterns disintegrate form. Militaries have effectively designed camouflage uniforms for all types of environments including forests, deserts, oceans, and snow-covered terrains. Curiously, the most recent design for military camouflage uniforms created for the US Space Force, ignores this rather unique, inhospitable theater – devoid of human battlefronts – by reusing existing patterns related to Earth’s forests. Although lacking creativity in the face of changing environmental conditions, there is no practical need to hide a human form that cannot survive in space and will not likely encounter a hostile force. This is not the first time that camouflaging techniques have required rethinking. During World War I, the science of military camouflage was redirected to focus on the obliteration of shadows with the advent of aerial surveillance using airplanes outfitted with photographic cameras. By World War II, artists, architects, and engineers were enlisted to assist the military in obscuring their locations. Governments also made attempts to hide urban structures and even entire cities from aerial bombardment. This paper will examine the Bauhaus origins of the work of two camoufleurs, Oskar Schlemmer and László Moholy-Nagy. In their early explorations of form, movement, light, and shadow in theatrical costuming and photography at the Bauhaus, Schlemmer and Moholy-Nagy experimented with reflective and absorptive light patterns to alter the appearance of human figures, manipulating form and shadow. Although the work of the Bauhaus artists was deemed degenerate by the Nazis, Schlemmer was later compelled to paint obscurant patterns on buildings for the Luftwaffe, hiding significant German military sites. In Chicago, Mayor Edward J. Kelly engaged with School of Design founding director Moholy-Nagy and faculty György Kepes to explore any means to camouflage the entire southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. While Moholy-Nagy and Kepes developed an experimental, camouflage design studio, Schlemmer was forced to hide himself and his paintings depicting scenes from the window of his apartment. Stemming from Bauhaus Gestaltung, these conditions of survival are revealed and concealed through the disappearance of form and shadow.

Keywords: camouflage, Schlemmer, Moholy-Nagy, Kepes

DR. MARCIA FEUERSTEIN, PhD, AIA considers architecture and the body, embodiment, performance and theater through her teaching, scholarship and designs. Her research investigates links between theory, practice and performance in architecture through books, essays, installations, presentations, and design projects. Her current work includes Expanding Field: Women in Architecture (Lund Humphries). Other publications include contributions to edited volumes (Ceilings and Dreams; Body and Building; Architecture as a Performing Art); Changing Places) and journals on issues of embodiment, performance, reuse, and atmosphere in architecture. She is an associate professor at Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture + Design at the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center.

DR. JODI LA COE is a registered architect who teaches in the School of Architecture at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She earned a PhD in Architecture and Design Research from the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center of Virginia Tech and a Master of Architecture in the History and Theory of Architecture from McGill University. Her research interests bridge the art and science of historical visualizations of space – the connections, interactions, and inspirations informing the relationship between the architectural imagination and cultural histories. Her dissertation on Constructing Vision: László Moholy-Nagy’s Partiturskizze zu einer mechanischen Exzentrik, Experiments in Higher Dimensions examines synaesthetic spatial-temporal representations.