A universal thinker

"Human evolution is best supported by an environment which offers a balanced diversity of stimuli. Regardless of whether this world is built of physical or social conditions and factors - the diversity of the environment is the foundation of life."

With this quote by Hugo Kükelhaus it is possible to condense his complex work into a central idea. His work was mostly about the activities of the senses and how to experience them as part of our human existence and to be conscious of the fact that their impact can be seen in relation to ourselves and to the human, natural, and material environment.

Against this background, Hugo Kükelhaus has not only drawn attention to key issues of our time, but always searched for ways to overcome them. At the same time, he was active in various areas of creative and artistic work.

Photo of Hugo Kükelhaus at his desk

“What does exhaust us is the disuse of our organs and our senses, the disconnection, repression… what does motivate us is development. Development that takes place because we are challenged by the outer world.”
(Hugo Kükelhaus)

Hugo Kükelhaus was a universal thinker who called attention to central problems of our times and also made suggestions to how these problems might be overcome. He observed our technical civilization weakens humans physically and emotionally and thus throws them out of balance. The reason behind this is a system of values which separates the intellect from the whole range of human capabilities, as well as technology and environmental design directed to providing comfort to the body and the senses instead of challenging them.

 This kind of environment is becoming more and more monotonous, not giving the senses much to do and offering less and less freedom to fundamental physical experiences and developmental capabilities, which, for Kükelhaus, corresponds with an artificial sensory overstimulation. By overcharging particular senses such as seeing and hearing it contributes to a further decay of differentiated perception. Kükelhaus goes so far as to see here a deprivation of life itself. Tirelessly he illustrated the devastating consequences of sensory deprivation in all its aspects – for the individual and its relationships with others as well as for nature and technology.

In the early 1930s, he emphasized the importance of diverse sensory experiences – right from the start – with the production of “Allbedeut” objects, wooden toys fostering sensory development in the early years of a child.

Buchcover Organismus und Technik - Hugo Kükelhaus

Over the course of many years, Hugo Kükelhaus spread his cultural critique and human ecological perceptions and concerns through an intensive lecturing and teaching as well as a great number of publications. In 1934, Kükelhaus published his first great work Urzahl und Gebärde, which was followed by many other writings, including Werde Tischler (1936), Das Wort des Johannes (1953), Organismus und Technik (1971), Unmenschliche Architektur (1973) and Entfaltung der Sinne (co-authored Rudolph zur Lippe, 1982).

For a long time Kükelhaus was like a voice in the wilderness when he delivered a lecture or wrote a text – it came down to the vision before one's nose, the minimal effort of the human organs of perception, the practice of it through utilization and challenge:
“We have to do it. Experience is an activity, that’s where the obstacle is. For hundreds of years, we have been trained to replace practical experience by simply knowing – with the result that we are now living in a substitute world!”

Foto von Hugo Kükelhaus während eines Vortrages 1984

Kükelhaus did not succeed in making his concern accessible to a broad public until he developed the ‘Field of Sensory Experience [Erfahrungsfeldes zur Entfaltung der Sinne].  The Field of Sensory Experience’ was presented as a touring exhibition in numerous places in Germany and abroad since the mid-70s. At some forty stations, people have the possibility to gain actively experiences: With their autonomous nervous system, they are able to experience laws of nature ( e.g. oscillation, gravity, polarity, colour) in their relationship with the laws of their own physiological make-up, i.e. their sensory perception and their bodily movements.

Sensory experience, which is often already much reduced, will be stimulated and extended in the Field of Sensory Experience, so that we can become aware of “how the eye sees – the ear hears – the nose smells – the skin feels – the fingers grope – the foot (under)stands – the hand grasps – the brain thinks – the lungs breathe – the blood pulses – the body swings - …”

However, for Kükelhaus the Field of Sensory Experience was only a means to sensitize and make aware, and balance out the deficits he had determined. And as long as it doesn't come to a fundamental re-orientation of our relationship with external and internal nature, this field of sensory experience – and similar ventures in many places –will not lose its currency and necessity.

Two children on a barefoot path... how the foot (under)stands and feels ...

The thoughts of Hugo Kükelhaus have been taken up reluctantly by research and only recently has their topicality been realized.  This is certainly in part due to the fact that his integral approach is located between natural sciences and humanities. Since  negative  consequences –  especially with regard to perceptual disorders, movement disorders and learning disorders – of a decade-long contempt concerning perception and the body have become increasingly clear, recently various academic disciplines have drawn attention to Hugo Kükelhaus. He is discovered as the pioneer of a holistic approach that takes the sensory and bodily experiences in the educational process seriously.

“In recent years it has become more and more apparent that Kükelhaus’ thoughts concerning education were far ahead of the times, and that he became prominent very early in fields whose importance has been recognized and schematized increasingly by the science of education […]. I am thinking in particular of the rediscovery of body and the senses in their importance for (curative) education [...]
Kükelhaus campaigned for the rehabilitation of the senses in teaching, the holistic education of the human [...], for study based on perception, activity, experience, fun and delight, which includes also the situational and architectural context”

(Walter Dreher, Curative Education, University of Cologne).

Buchcover - In den Ordnungen des Leibes - Markus Dederich

Kükelhaus was acutely concerned with questions of construction and living facilities. Since the early 1970s he has substantially criticized the tendencies of the architecture of those days, which was in great parts hostile to life, and developed the baselines of an organological construction, i.e. construction orientated towards the human senses and the human organism. For Kükelhaus building and designing that centered on human needs and measures was a concern throughout his life.

Buchcover - Unmenschliche Architektur 1973

Beyond the fields previously addressed, Hugo Kükelhaus worked creatively and artistically in diverse patterns: as a designer of furniture  and graphic designer, as sculptor, illustrator (of craft productions), painter and author of illustrated parables.

Many of his works are linked to architecture: colour schemes, stained glass designs, ‘Sgraffitos’ and murals also made by Kükelhaus, as well as architectural sculptures. Furthermore, he did research on Goethe, dealt with basic questions of form design in the crafts and wrote philosophical essays. His calligraphic and in many cases illustrated letters and manuscripts together with the furniture of his house in Soest/Westphalia convey a strong impression of his broad artistic impetus.

Despite all this diversity, his activities were always closely linked to each other. Kükelhaus was “undisciplined” in the best sense of the word: He never limited himself to a single field of work, didn't accept boundaries to his thoughts, and always created connections between the most different disciplines.

As such the reception of his work today ranges from the academic discussion within many different disciplines over the practical realization in educational institutes and interactive museums to an approach by an anthroposophical and even esoteric perspective.

Additional Links:

Bildgeschichten vom Träumling

stained glass designs by Hugo Kükelhaus

Colored design drawing of kinetic free sculpture

Kükelhaus has sometimes been called an “undiscovered guru” because of his elementary teaching of life which assimilates mystical and Eastern teachings with modern scientific knowledge in an entirely unique way. During the course of his life, however, he kept his distance to his followers and admirers. It was never his aim to preach a worldview with unchangeable truths, as his fundamental thoughts implied an openness much too comprehensive for such close-mindedness.

Kükelhaus wanted to enable people to make immediate experiences in order to inspire and to encourage them to create their life in a way which enables them to unfold with all their possibilities and abilities instead of depriving themselves more and more of their own livelihood.

What did Kükelhaus leave behind? The invitation to do something, methods instead of mere opinions, instructions for self-experience by means of independent activity – all with the purpose to enable a life lived with all senses. No more, no less.

Graphics by Hugo Kükelhaus

Life and Oeuvre


Born in Essen on the 24th of March

father: Hugo Kükelhaus senior, writer, middleclass economic politician, co-organiser of the professional self-governing body of the German Craftsmanship; mother: Marie Kükelhaus, born in Hovestadt; two sisters, brothers Heinz and Herman: both writers


Abitur (A-Levels)

following apprentice years and its years of travel as carpenter and furniture maker


Master exam

studies in Heidelberg, Münster, Königsberg: focus on sociology, philosophy, mathematics (logic), physiology


Marriage to Emilie

née Scharpenack (1898 – 1986) from Kettwig/Ruhr;
1934 son Friedrich, 1937 daughter Barbara

seit 1930

Interior decorator in Bochum (Fa. Dickerhoff)

beginning free decorating work and journalistic writing activities


Following his father’s death assumed control of the journal Das Tischlergewerk [The Carpenter Trade]

with interruptions, editor till 1943. 1948 till 1956 freelance contributor to the journal


Moved to Caputh near Potsdam

seit 1934

Employee of the Alfred Metzner Verlag [publishing house] in Berlin

as editor of the series Schriften zur deutschen Handwerkskunst [Writings on the German Arts and Crafts] (1935 ff), Die deutsche Warenkunde [German Journal of product trade] (1939 ff) and as author of Urzahl und Gebärde [Primordial Number and Gesture] (1934), Werde Tischler [Become a carpenter] (1936). Lectures, seminars, organization of exhibitions; collaboration in the Deutsches Handwerks-Institut [German Institute of Crafts] and the Kunstdienst (Berlin)


Development of the Greiflinge Allbedeut

a multifunctional assortment of wooden toys for babies and toddlers

1939 - 1945


partly exempted for technical schooling and rehabilitation of disabled wounded. Member of the resistance with Fritz-Dietlof Graf von der Schulenburg.

1940 - 1941

Curator of arts and crafts in Schlesien [Silesia] through the count’s mediation

by von der Schulenburg Landeshandwerkspfleger [Curator of arts and crafts] of Schlesien [Silesia] in Breslau


Move to western germany

1949 - 1954

An apartment in Wamel-on-Möhnesee

House and graphics studio Kätelhön

1950 - 1953

Teaching at the Werkschule Münster

(today Fachhochschule für Design [college of higher education for design]), Bildgeschichten vom Träumling [pictured stories of the dreamer] (1951/1952), Das Wort des Johannes [The Word of St. John] (1953)



Move to Soest, Bergenthalpark

seit 1954

Exclusively occupied as a freelance writer (anthropology, cultural criticism, architecture, human physiology and therapy, pedagogy) and visual artist (paintings, sculptures, glass etc.)

lecturer for seminars. Contributed as a staff member to interior designs for numerous churches and public buildings.


Artistic design of Evangelical Erlöserkirche in Essen

including stained glass windows, coloring, interior decor

seit ca. 1960

Intensified theoretical and experimental research into human sensory perception

created objects for experimental exploration


In cooperation with Fritz Kuhn he designed the steel wall in the foyer of the municipal theatre in Dortmund


Presented about twelve objects for experimental exploration at the World Exhibition in Montreal

and at the 2nd International School Exhibition in Dortmund


Coined the term “inhumane architecture”

consultant and artistic contributor in terms of organilogical architecture to build schools, kindergartens and industrial companies; e.g. from 1975 in several plants of the Schweisfurth company (HERTA KG), 1980/1981 at the Rodtegg/Lucerne school home for physically handicapped children (architect: Otto Schärli), 1980 in the redesign of the schoolyard of the Archigymnasium in Soest


First presentation of the “field of experience for the development of human senses”

at the international crafts exhibition 'EXEMPLA' in Munich

since then travelling exhibition in numerous German and Swiss cities


Founded the working group for an organological lifestyle Organismus und Technik e.V.

in Germany and Switzerland


Honoured with the Konrad-von-Soest Prize by the regional authority Westphalia-Lippe


Book project "Development of the Senses" together with Rudolf zur Lippe

1982 - 1984

Planning and construction of the 'Graubner House' in Herrischried (southern Black Forest)

with Wolfram Graubner


Death on October 5

in Herrischried, grave in Mustin near Ratzeburg, his daughter's place of residence.