The Notebooks of Ludwig Kurz

Born on the 5th of May 1898, Ludwig Kurz was thirteen when he became carpenter’s apprentice to his brother-in-law. In this photograph, that’s him holding the front end of the timber.

At the time and in the Tyrol region with its traditions of building in timber, a carpenter was a craftsman who could construct out of timber anything from a shelf to a building. They were framers and roofers as well as joiners and cabinetmakers. In this next photograph commemorating something I’m not sure what, that’s Ludwig at the top as he was youngest. On the right is the certification of completing his apprenticeship in 1914.

Ludwig was 16 in 1914 and volunteered for Austria-Hungary’s Kaiserjaeger (The Kaiser’s Army), joining the 9th Division of the 52nd Infantry then defending the southern Tyrol border against Italy. As youngest recruit, he was made assistant to the infantry chaplain but soon saw heavy fighting around Meran (now Merano in Italy) over 1916–1918. Captured by Italian troops, he was interred for five years in Genoa.

Upon his release in 1922 aged 24, he returned to working for his brother-in-law and, during the winters when building work outdoors was not conducted, he studied at the Government Vocational School in Bozen, Austria in order to become a master carpenter. From his graduation report and the dates on his notebooks we know the subjects he took and when he took them.

  • (1922-23) Italian, German, Geography, Mathematics, Geometry, Physics, Technical Drawing, Freehand Drawing
  • (1923-24) Construction Materials, Building Construction & Professional Practice, Building Services & Fittings, Working Drawings,
  • (1924–25) Building Typologies, Site Machinery, Site Management, Construction Mechanics, Surveying, Accounting, Rights & Duties, Modelling, Practical Workshop

Geometry

Geometry was a first-year course and one of the most theoretical courses taught but there was never any doubt as to how it would be applied. If you are going to be a carpenter making things out of wood, it’s important to know exactly how big to make those pieces if they’re going to fit together securely. Wood is a wonderful material but very unforgiving when its joins aren’t precise. Ludwig was taught how to define distances geometrically as well as with measurable dimensions. I’m astounded by these pages in the Geometry notebook.

We all know how to draw a square or a hexagon given the length of a side, and can probably work out how to draw an octagon given the radius of the enclosing circle. I never knew it was even possible to geometrically construct a septagon or a nonagon, let alone different ways for whether the given is the length of a side or the radius. We can probably consider this knowledge lost.

I can’t not mention how meticulously these notes have been written and the diagrams drawn. Just look at the handwriting – no – look at how each letter is formed!

Ballpoint pens weren’t to go on sale until almost 1940. Ludwig used a dip-nib pen and an inkwell. 

Each letter is perfectly formed and joins with others to make a word, and then a paragraph, and finally a page in which drawings and diagrams are carefully laid out to fill and balance the page. There’s a reverence for this new knowledge and the recording of it. Errors and corrections are rare. What these pages reveal is something beyond neatness or perfectionism. It’s a type of worship, a devotion. Students can’t be forced to do this. Ludwig did it out of love and respect for the craft. The pages of these notebooks are Ludwig’s first constructions and they are exquisite. He was not being taught how to write, how to construct polygons, or even how to learn. An attitude towards the craft was being fostered. If we are astounded, shocked, by the level of perfection in these notebooks then I suspect it is because we have never known what the attitude of a craftsman looked like. These notebooks show us.

And then there are the diagrams. To ink straight lines, Ludwig used a ruling pen such as the one at the top in the compass set shown below. With a ruling pen, the width of the line is set by turning the wheel to change the width of the gap in which a drop of ink is placed using an eyedropper. Each line requires testing to check the width. Optimum results occur when there is sufficient ink to complete the line in a single movement. Drawing straight lines was risky enough but drawing circles and arcs more so as the ruling pen was attached to a compass. Such attachments are still sold in the more expensive compass sets.

Descriptive Geometry

Carpenters need to know, understand, and physically describe the geometry of something before they can even begin to fabricate it. I don’t have to read German to know Ludwig’s Descriptive Geometry class taught him the relationship between surfaces and solids, how to draw those surfaces and solids, and how to generate developments of increasingly complex three dimensional objects. People other than carpenters require a sense for the relationship between three-dimensional objects and their two-dimensional representations but carpenters need to know the precise dimensional correspondence if they are to successfully fabricate something.

The developments of truncations are particularly impressive. They are not the drawings of someone who is learning. They are the drawings of someone who has understood.

Some pages physically demonstrate how a two-dimensional representation of an object becomes a three dimensional object. Spatial ability is a notoriously difficult thing to foster let alone teach but I can’t think of a better way than this. 

All this knowledge is applied knowledge and there is no doubt as to its application. That these notebooks have survived at all suggests they were kept and used as references.

A Year 2 Test (graded)

Building Typologies

What we see here is the sum of all knowledge required to set out and plan multiple-occupancy residential buildings of up to three storeys.

Notice in the drawing on the right, above, how daylighting of the corridor space is considered. The drawing on the left, below, shows how its ventilation was dealt with. This could be categorised as building science or theorised as vernacular but it is being taught simply as the best way to do things.

Building Design

Statics

Building Services & Fittings

Modelmaking

In this 1925 workshop photograph, that’s Ludwig standing at the back of the room, working on the steeple model.

Final Project (pages 9 and 10)

This is Ludwig’s licence attesting that he completed the course and can call himself a Master Carpenter.

• • • 

The Master Carpenter Years

Ludwig set up his own workshop almost immediately. From surviving photographs, he seems to have specialised in complex roof structures including church steeples and the onion domes common to the area.

Workshop, 1935

This newspaper page was folded inside the cover of the Descriptive Geometry notebook. From Ludwig’s later work, it is clear he was more interested in roof structures than ornamented windowboxes and bargeboards and other ornamental expressions of the Tyrol vernacular.

1937
1938: Ludwig is not in this photograph but, as a larger and framed version exists, he most likely took it

Anton Hofer (1888-1979) was a student of both the German Werkbund and The Bauhaus. He is remembered mainly as a sculptor and painter but also designed furniture and upholstery fabrics.

Having served in WWI, Ludwig was exempt from serving again but war was to interrupt carpentry once more. He and Anton Hofer worked for a committee to preserve culture and, over the period 1940–1941, they produced measured drawings of over 100 castles and other culturally important buildings that might not survive the war. Ludwig made a personal catalog of this work in 1982, three years before he died. Below is a scan of the entry for Sprechenstein Castle, in South Tirol, Italy, rebuilt in 1241. The double-A0 drawings must be beautiful things.

Sprechenstein Castle is still there.

This is a thank-you card Anton Hofer sent Ludwig (at left, standing on the railing). The inscription reads “In remembrance of shared work”.

Ludwig designed and built three houses. The first was in Meran around 1938-39.

Ludwig and family at the first house in Meran circa 1942

The second was in Salzburg but the site was appropriated by the city and a residential block built. As compensation he received another site in Salzburg and built a three-storey house for himself and his family, as well as an adjoining workshop that he ran until his early seventies. In his early eighties he wrote down the order in which things had happened and this was the closest he ever came to having a CV.

• • • 

Ludwig Kurz,
misfits’ salutes you!

• • • 

I’m pleased Ludwig and Anton Hofer had a shared interest in recording threatened culture but the two of them being in the same place at the same time puzzles me as I was taught to believe that craftspeople and The Bauhaus were opposites, the former representing the past of education, design and production, and The Bauhaus their future. In next week’s post I will ask why we remember The Bauhaus for linking education, design and production when the three were already completely and perfectly integrated, as these notebooks evidence.
What was it the new era had no need for?

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2 thoughts on “The Notebooks of Ludwig Kurz

  1. Jean-Martin von Siebenthal

    Interesting article! Big nostalgia moment too.

    I clearly remember doing the very same truncation exercices and n sided polygon construction, first on paper (but we were spared the use of ink), then in CAD.

    It sure was boring the hell out of the other apprenctices, as for me I’ve always loved geometry.

    At least here in Switzerland, these are still taught in school to apprenctice draftsmen.

  2. Colin Bisset

    What a great resource! And looking forward to your follow-up re the Bauhaus (oddly, perhaps, I’ve always thought of the Bauhaus being craft-based in essence).

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