»Architectural interpretations accepted without reflection could obscure the search for signs of a true nature and a higher order.«

Louis Isadore Kahn

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Fritz Kahn

Picturing the Man Machine

  • Detail from Fritz Kahn‚ “Entering a gland cave”‚ 1924. (All images from “Fritz Kahn” monograph by Uta and Thilo von Debschitz, Taschen, 2013) 1 / 12  Detail from Fritz Kahn‚ “Entering a gland cave”‚ 1924. (All images from “Fritz Kahn” monograph by Uta and Thilo von Debschitz, Taschen, 2013)
  • “The seven functions of the nose”, 1939.  2 / 12  “The seven functions of the nose”, 1939. 
  • “Travel experiences of wandering cell, in the dust storm of the windpipe”, 1924. 3 / 12  “Travel experiences of wandering cell, in the dust storm of the windpipe”, 1924.
  • “Osteogenesis”, 1924. “It is the cell itself which, quite mysteriously, conceives the plan, executes the work, is the tool, constitutes the material and ultimately represents and remains the completed work”.  4 / 12  “Osteogenesis”, 1924. “It is the cell itself which, quite mysteriously, conceives the plan, executes the work, is the tool, constitutes the material and ultimately represents and remains the completed work”. 
  • “Entering a gland cave”, 1924. “Ideal landscape picture of the microscopic structure of the human”. 5 / 12  “Entering a gland cave”, 1924. “Ideal landscape picture of the microscopic structure of the human”.
  • “Amoebas of the human body”, an illustration depticting the depths of a wound, 1943.  6 / 12  “Amoebas of the human body”, an illustration depticting the depths of a wound, 1943. 
  • “Support Structures”, 1924.  7 / 12  “Support Structures”, 1924. 
  • “The main shapes of the human are remarkably similar to the main types used in technical support structures″, said Kahn. 8 / 12  “The main shapes of the human are remarkably similar to the main types used in technical support structures″, said Kahn.
  • “The heart's work performance”, 1936.  9 / 12  “The heart's work performance”, 1936. 
  • “Vitamins”, 1952. “The functions of the vitamins and four organ systems of the human body. Organs functioning healthy are shown on the left, because they are supplied with sufficient vitamins″. 10 / 12  “Vitamins”, 1952. “The functions of the vitamins and four organ systems of the human body. Organs functioning healthy are shown on the left, because they are supplied with sufficient vitamins″.
  • This image compares the sensory network of a the human body to that of a building. 11 / 12  This image compares the sensory network of a the human body to that of a building.
  • “Walnut and human brain”, 1939. “The way a walnut is packaged is the same as a man′s brain″. 12 / 12  “Walnut and human brain”, 1939. “The way a walnut is packaged is the same as a man′s brain″.

With our current issue‚ Soft Machines‚ it seemed too good an opportunity to miss to revisit some of the extraordinary anatomical illustrations in the books of Fritz Kahn. His ambitious approach to his speculative drawings provided viewers with a different perspective in understanding science and the functions of the human body at the start of the twentieth century.

These meticulous visualisations illustrate biological processes of “the most competent machine in the world”: the human body. Kahn, a physician, commissioned and collaborated with freelance architects, painters and graphic designers in order to find the best possible way to picture and explain complex ideas and processes graphically. Seen as early precursors to the concept of the infographic, these works are still enormously influential today.

“The seven functions of the nose”, 1939. 
 

Fritz Kahn began his medical studies in 1907 at The University of Berlin, specialising in microbiology, whilst also working at a meteorological institute and initially writing articles for science magazine Kosmos. It wasn’t until after he worked as a surgeon, gynaecologist and obstetrical aide during the Weimar Republic that Kahn started pushing the illustrative boundaries. In the late 1930s, as he was Jewish, his books were judged “damaging and undesirable” in Germany, and his book on sexuality, Unser Geschlechtsleben was banned and burned. He himself escaped to France and later, with the help of Albert Einstein, to the USA. His vivid visual biological metaphors remained immensely popular internationally.

In 2013 siblings Uta and Thilo von Debschitz brought his work to new audiences, and reconceived Kahn’s biography and work in their book titled Fritz Kahn, aiming to reframe the life’s work of this once controversial man of illustration.

- Leigh Theodore Vlassis

www.fritz-kahn.com

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