If you’re looking for an architect you might be drawn to a Modernist or a Postmodernist or even a Brutalist.

But if you have in mind a Surrealist, Frederick Kiesler (1890 – 1965) is your man.


Kiesler isn’t very well known – his most famous work was an art gallery for Peggy Guggenheim, Art of This Century in NY (1942).


Also, he was Hedy Lamarr’s uncle.


Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler

Surrealist architecture isn’t very practical, which many clients consider a shortcoming.

And Kiesler set a standard for impracticality.

“If Kiesler wants to hold two pieces of wood together, he pretends he’s never heard of nails or screws. He tests the tensile strengths of various metal alloys, experiments with different methods and shapes, and after six months comes up with a very expensive device that holds two pieces of wood together almost as well as a screw.”

Architectural Forum, 1947.

He was short on built projects (and short himself: under 5 feet, he said, “Genius and talent is hardly ever given to tall people”).

But he was huge on ideas, like these:

“Art can no longer live in mid-air nor architecture on the ground of business. That’s over.”

“Our Western world has been overrun by masses of art objects. What we really need is not more and more objects, but an objective.”

“Form does not follow function; function follows vision. Vision follows reality.”

And his unbuilt projects had beautifully poetic names:

The city in space

The endless theatre (shaped like an egg)

The endless house:


Space stage (1924)

City in Space (1925)

Horizontal Skyscraper (1925)

Endless Theatre Without a Stage and Four Dimensional Theatre (1926)

The Telemuseum (with walls designed as receiving screens for transmitted pictures – in 1927)

The Flying Desk (1930)

Nucleus House (1931)

Murals Without Walls (1936)

Vision Machine (“quasi-scientific, grandiose yet vague, ideogrammatic and poetic rather than diagrammatic”)(1937)

Mobile Home Library (1938)

Hall of Superstitions (1947)

Grotto for Meditation (in the shape of a dolphin, underground) (1962)

and Tooth House (1948).

His original drawing for Tooth House hangs in my office.


In his whole career, only one Kiesler building was built.

The Shrine of the Book (1965), it is in Jerusalem and houses the Dead Sea Scrolls.


Six months later, Frederick J. Kiesler was dead.


For more on Frederick J. Kiesler, you might consult Frequently Asked Questions About Frederick J. Kiesler.

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