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Markus Breitschmid

Markus Breitschmid

Architectural theoretician, historian, and author
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Architectural theoretician, historian, and author
Countries Switzerland
Occupations Art historian Architectural historian Architect Educator
Gender male
Birth 20 April 1966 (Lucerne, City of Lucerne Constituency, Canton of Lucerne, Switzerland)
Star sign Taurus
Education Technical University of Berlin
The details

Markus Breitschmid (born 20 April 1966, Lucerne, Switzerland) is a Swiss architectural theoretician and author. He has lived and worked in the USA since the 1990s, and is a permanent resident of the USA. Breitschmid, together with the architect Valerio Olgiati, has introduced the term Non-Referential Architecture into the architectural discourse.


Breitschmid is a professor of architecture at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) since 2004. Previously, among other academic appointments, he was the "2003 Visiting Historian for the History of Architecture and Urbanism" at Cornell University and taught at the University of North Carolina. He has been a visiting lecturer and visiting critic at many universities, museums, and professional associations in America, Europe, and Asia.

Breitschmid received his architectural education in Switzerland, the United States and Germany. He is a registered architect in Switzerland and a member of the Swiss Institute of Architects and Engineers. He received his Philosophiae Doctor (Ph.D.) in Engineering Science from the Technische Universität Berlin, where he was the first doctoral student of the architectural theoretician Fritz Neumeyer, the pre-eminent Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-scholar.

Writings on Architecture

Breitschmid's writing concerns the aesthetic mentality of modernism and contemporary architecture. Among other subjects, Breitschmid has written books on the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's thoughts on building, the work of Swiss architect Valerio Olgiati, and on Non-Referential Architecture.

Breitschmid submitted his doctoral dissertation "Der Baugedanke bei Friedrich Nietzsche" at the Technische Universität Berlin in 1999; it was subsequently published as a German-language book titled "Der bauende Geist. Friedrich Nietzsche und die Architektur" (The Building Spirit. Friedrich Nietzsche and Architecture). Together with books on Nietzsche by Fritz Neumeyer and Tilmann Buddensieg, "Der bauende Geist" became the foundation for scholarship on the subject of Nietzsche and architecture. "Der bauende Geist" was included in Hanno-Walter Kruft's "A History of Architectural Theory from Vitruvius to the Present" for the revised 2013 edition.

Subsequently, Breitschmid's publications have dealt with such subjects as Contemporary Swiss Architecture, Bruno Taut, Tectonics in Architecture, and Theories of Interpretation.

Since 2006, Breitschmid has made a name for himself by means of a sustained collaboration with architect Valerio Olgiati on numerous publications that took on the form of books, essays, and interviews. In her 2012 book "Forms of Practice", the Rumanian-British architecture historian Irina Davidovici argues that the thesis "The Significance of the Idea" – that Breitschmid used to describe Olgiati's œuvre – is pertinent for all of the contemporary architecture of “post-Enlightenment culture.”

Since 2013, Olgiati and Breitschmid propagate Non-Referential Architecture as a response to a contemporary societal current that increasingly rejects ideologies of any kind, political and otherwise. The first use of the term Non-Referential appears in a reprint of an interview between Olgiati and Breitschmid in the Italian journal Domus. In 2014, Breitschmid published a rebuttal titled "Architecture is Derived from Architecture" (published in German language) in the Swiss journal Werk, Bauen + Wohnen, thereby responding to an architectural claim made by others that attempts to imbue meaning into architecture from the extra-architectural.

In 2018, Breitschmid and Olgiati published the book Non-Referential Architecture, a treatise on contemporary architecture. It analyses the societal currents of the early 21st century and argues that those currents are radically different from the epoch of postmodernity. The book proposes a new framework for architecture and defines the seven underlying principles – 1) Experience of Space, 2) Oneness, 3) Newness, 4) Construction, 5) Contradiction, 6) Order, 7) Sensemaking – for a Non-Referential Architecture.

Published works (selection)

As author

  • Der bauende Geist. Friedrich Nietzsche und die Architektur. Quart, 2001. ISBN 978-3-907631-23-2
  • Can Architectural Art-Form be Designed Out Of Construction? Architecture Edition, 2004. ISBN 978-0-9702820-8-8
  • Nietzsche's Denkraum. Edition Didacta, 2006. Hardcover: ISBN 978-3-033-01206-6 Paperback: ISBN 978-3-033-01148-9
  • Between Object and Culture, in: Wolkenkuckucksheim - Cloud-Cuckoo-Land - Vozdushnyi zamo. Eduard Fuehr (ed.), Cottbus: No. 2/2007.
  • Three Architects in Switzerland: Beat Consoni – Morger & Degalo – Valerio Olgiati. Quart, 2008. ISBN 978-3-907631-88-1
  • Un’architettura che, in fondo, e ‘solo’ astratta, in: Casabella. Francesco Dal Co (ed.), Milano: 72/No.770, 2008, pp. 8–9; 107-108.
  • The Significance of the Idea. The Architecture of Valerio Olgiati. / Die Bedeutung der Idee. Die Architektur von Valerio Olgiati. Niggli Verlag, 2008. ISBN 978-3-7212-0676-0
  • El Inventorio Conceptual de Valerio Olgiati / Valerio Olgiati's Ideational Inventory in: El Croquis No.156, 2011. ISBN 978-84-88386-65-6
  • The Architect as 'Molder of the Sensibilities of the General Public': Bruno Taut and his Architekturprogramm. in: The Art of Social Critique. Painting Mirrors of Social Life, Lexington Books, 2012. ISBN 978-0-7391-4923-2
  • Christ & Gantenbein. Around the Corner. Hatje & Cantz, 2012. ISBN 978-3-7757-3381-6 [co-authored with Victoria Easton]
  • Architektur leitet sich von Architektur ab. in: Werk, Bauen + Wohnen, No. 9, Zürich, 2014. ISSN 0257-9332
  • Mais Além!. in: Valerio Olgiati. Indexnewspaper, No. 5, Porto, 2016. ISSN 2182-3391
  • Bruno Taut - Glass House at Cologne. in: Harry Francis Mallgrave, David Leatherbarrow, Alexander Eisenschmidt (eds.) The Companions to the History of Architecture, Volume IV, Twentieth-Century Architecture, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., London, 2017. ISBN 978-1-444-33851-5
  • Non-Referential Architecture. Ideated by Valerio Olgiati; Written by Markus Breitschmid. Basel: Simonett & Baer 2018 ISBN 978-3-906313-19-1

As editor

  • Conversation with Students – Valerio Olgiati. Virginia Tech Architecture Publications, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9794296-3-7
  • A Modern Milieu – Julius Meier-Graefe. Architectura et Ars Series, Volume 1, Virginia Tech Architecture Publications, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9794296-0-6
  • Thoughts on Building. Corporis Publisher for Architecture, Art, and Photography, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9795472-8-7
  • K + N House at Wollerau – Valerio Olgiati. Architecture Case Study, Volume 11, Corporis Publisher for Architecture, Art, and Photography, 2009. ISBN 978-0-9802274-9-9
  • Olgiati. English Edition. Birkhäuser, 2011. ISBN 978-3-0346-0783-4 (text edited with Leina Gonzalez; also available in German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese editions)
  • Seattle Central Library – Rem Kohlhaas. Architecture History Case Study No.15, Corporis Publisher for Architecture, Art, and Photography, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9893936-5-2
  • Architecture and the Ambient – Mario Botta. Architectura et Ars Series, Volume 2, Virginia Tech Architecture Publications, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9893936-5-2
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