Thesis ID: CBB980429046

“You Must Relax”: Stress and Environmental Health in the Work of Coop Himmelblau, 1969-1977 (2023)


This dissertation explores the impact of changes in conceptions of health and the relationship between mind and body on the field of architecture in the decades following WWII. The increased concern about lifestyle-diseases in the 1960s and 70s was frequently expressed through the concept of “stress,” which, this dissertation argues, became a central model through which architects and planners would come to understand and design the relationship between humans and their environment. Through a study of the experimental architecture group Coop Himmelblau and their collaboration with the Institute of Environmental Health in Vienna, this dissertation traces how theories of stress and relaxation, and emerging concerns about the environment in the late 1960s, helped forge interdisciplinary collaborations between architecture and medicine, and to establish the field of environmental health in Austria. It examines the shifting status of architecture and the home during a highly progressive and transformative period in Austrian politics, and the investment in housing as a research object and medium to alleviate pressures between individual and a rapidly modernizing society. While the work of Coop Himmelblau is often understood as part of an international corpus of experimental architecture, this dissertation looks at how their work engages with local and contemporaneous social, institutional, political, and urban conditions. It reads their practice in relation to transformations in the field of health and the concurrent expansion of the Austrian welfare state. The Institute of Environmental Health was established in 1970 by the newly elected Kreisky government to assess the impact of the environment on human health and productivity. Drawing from stress-research, biofeedback, cybernetics, ecology, and the nascent brain sciences, Coop Himmelblau and the institute collaborated on several projects and experiments that centered on the cognitive, behavioral, and emotional effects of the environment. The three chapters of the dissertation trace Coop Himmelblau’s work across three distinct scales and modes of intervention: from their early biofeedback-inspired gallery installations; their laboratory experiments with the institute; and finally, their attempt to implement their findings on the level of public policy with Entspannungsarchitektur 1, a proposal to redesign 19th century Viennese apartment buildings to promote relaxation.

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Authors & Contributors
Allen, Barbara L.
Bhattacharya, Sanjoy
Blum, Elizabeth D.
Brown, Phil
Bschir, Karim
Cantor, David
Science as Culture
Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Science and Education
Science in Context
Columbia University
Cambridge University Press
Basic Books
Brandeis University Press
CRC Press
Duke University Press
Environmental health; environmental medicine
Public health
Environmental pollution
Stress disorders
Public policy
Carson, Rachel Louise
Feyerabend, Paul K.
Mach, Ernst
Jacob, Josef
Time Periods
20th century, late
20th century
United States
Louisiana (U.S.)
United States. Army

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