Fondazione Prada, Heidegger's hut

Obsession with huts showcased in Venice

The exhibition Machines à Penser explores the idea of isolation close to nature as an important part in the creative thinking process.

Mapping the links between philosophers’ obsession with huts in the beautifully restored interiors of Fondazione Prada, here the piano nobile galleries.

When Dieter Roelstraete was invited to curate the Fondazione Prada exhibition to coincide with the Architecture Biennale in Venice, he knew immediately what he wanted to do. ”I have been thinking about this topic for years: the idea of the huts” he explained, referring to some very specific huts associated to three leading thinkers of the twentieth century: Martin Heidegger, Theodor Adorno and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Belgian curator Dieter Roelstraete in front of Wittgenstein’s cabin reconstructed inside the first floor gallery

The idea of philosophers working in isolation, surrounded by wild nature had intrigued Roelstraete, who studied philosophy himself and understood the attraction of being able to focus your thoughts in a profound way. ”The dream of the hut is a very powerful vision of being away from the global 24/7 connected society”. Although this need was very much evident already way before the internet, as Roelstraete has observed through his interest towards huts: ”Many artists, writers and composers felt the need to isolate themselves to be more productive: Strindberg had a hut, Edward Grieg had a hut”.

Reconstruction of Heidegger’s hut in the Black Forest in Germany, where he wrote Being and Time, published in 1927

Of the three philosophers Heidegger is probably the most quoted in the theory of architecture. His ideas on phenomenology have been very influential for architects and academics, and his hut in the Black Forest in Germany has become a sort of pilgrimage site. The iconic hut dating from the 1920s has attracted phenomenology enthusiasts and philosophical tourists from all over the world. ”When I went there with my friends we all thought we’d like to live there. Of course it’s a bit a of a joke, because we can’t have it”, Roelstraete says, ”But there is something very seductive about it”.

Wittgenstein’s walking stick on loan from the von Wright collection at Helsinki University

Wittgenstein’s cabin was built on an even more remote location in Norway, where it could only be reached over the water across the Sognefjord. Although the hut has been removed from its original location, the empty site is now a tourist destination. Adorno’s hut is even more mysterious as an appropriated construction by the Scottish poet and sculptor Ian Hamilton Finlay.

Adorno’s Hut (1986-87), by poet and sculptor Ian Hamilton Finlay

The lure of rural seclusion has influenced architects as well. ”Many architects build huge structures that define the cityscape, but they would actually like to live on a farm in Switzerland”, Roelstraete observes with a hint of irony. And indeed that was also very much the case with Le Corbusier, who loved staying in Le Cabanon, a small timber cabin on the Côte d’Azur. It wasn’t as isolated as the philosophers’ huts, but anyhow there is a contradiction in the futuristic schemes he envisioned and the simple cabin life he seemed to prefer. 

Inside Heidegger’s hut, black and white photographs of the philosopher’s 1960s cottage life by Digne Meller Marcovicz

  Machines à Penser at Fondazione Prada, Venice, 26.May – 25. November 2018