Wölfflin's argument that history consisted of the cyclical alternation of these moods was, in effect, a programmatic call for a new Germanic classicism, intended as a classicism of spirit and not of formal imitation--a call to which Behrens's abstract, systemic, and "natural" classicism was seen to respond.18 Behrens's interest in geometry was not, as it might first appear, neo-Platonic, but rather concerned classic elementary geometry understood as a logical, and hence necessary and universal, form of architectural composition, whose origins were, nevertheless, historically given. Bchrcns's clementalism was a way of thinking and composing that was seen to be essentially architectonic and self-referential, that clarified, generated, and regulated the Baukörper (the body of the building). It was the necessary condition for Gestaltung--the act of forming and structuring experience, space, and time, analogous to Kant's transcendental categories of space, time, and causality. His universalizing formalism sought to reveal the mediation of architectural formation in geometry, proportion, and grid.
Behrens's use of opaque crystalline forms with delicately incised taut surfaces was informed, from another direction, by Adolf Hildebrand's optically based theory of art as set forward in The Problem of Form, published in 1893. On the "scientific" assumption that vision was fundamentally two-dimensional in keeping with the planarity of the retinal image--the perception of depth being dependent on touch and movement--Hildebrand developed a theory of form as the expression of internal or underlying structure that privileged relief.1920 Just as Hildebrand's colleague the painter Hans von Marées invented a mode of representing depth on the plane that stratified space through the relief-like tactic of overlaying planes (similar to the later purism of Ozenfant and Le Corbusier), so Behrens's use of lines and geometric figures in solid and outline form achieved illusions of depth and spatiality without violating the surface integrity of the plane. This is particularly striking in the Crematorium at Delstern (1906-7) and the Third German Exhibition of Applied Art in Dresden (1906).
18. See Meier-Graefe, "Peter Behrens: Düsseldorf" Mi>Dekorative Kunst, op. cit.
19. Adolf Hildbrand, The Problem of Form in Painting and Sculpture, Max Meyer and Robert Morris Ogden, trans. (1893; New York: G.E. Steehert, 1945), 101 and 80-103.
20. Ibid., 34.