TUM Emeritus of Excellence Manfred Schuller

“We had to fly high up to avoid being shot at”

As Professor of Building History at TUM, Manfred Schuller directed major large-scale projects. His maxim of carrying out research through field work took the TUM alumnus to many different countries – among them sunny holiday resorts as well as dangerous war zones.

Professor Dr. Manfred Schuller has been fascinated by architecture from an early age. He visited castles and cathedrals enthusiastically with his parents. “Building was always part of my childhood: entire cities sprang up in the sandpit and from sheets of paper,” he remembers. “One question in particular always puzzled me: How was that made? How was it possible, long before the time of Christ, to hew 300 tons of heavy obelisks from the hardest granite without iron tools and transport them over hundreds of miles?”

As a building researcher and building historian, Manfred Schuller pursued these questions with unbroken enthusiasm throughout his life. Building historians usually specialize in one period only. With Manfred Schuller that was not the case. His interests were too diverse. And so the core areas of his research spanned Greek temples, medieval cathedrals and Renaissance palaces, along with Baroque gardens, Islamic architecture and Russian metal construction.

With heart and soul

It was always clear that Manfred Schuller would study architecture, as even as a boy he had collected books on historic buildings. He started his architecture studies at TUM in 1975. At the same time he also studied Classical archaeology and art history at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University. For his diploma thesis under Professor Friedrich Kurrent at TUM in 1981 he received the rare mark of 1.0 – and a number of offers from prestigious architectural firms; but he stuck to his passion, the history of architecture. In 1985, he received the award of the Association of Friends of TUM for his doctorate in architectural history and building research under the renowned chair holder Professor Dr. Gottfried Gruben.

TUM managed to lure me away.

In 1986, he became the youngest professor in Bavaria when he took up the position of Chair of Building Research and Building History at the University of Bamberg. As the only architect at this humanities-based university, he had a lot of freedom. He was able to develop and establish the department of building research completely from scratch, and he zealously supervised the postgraduate course of monument conservation. Schuller was happy in Bamberg. “But the TUM managed to lure me away,” he says. “The deciding factor was the tempting offer by the Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the time, Professor Dr. Norbert Huse,” who held out the prospect of major research projects. So in 2006 Schuller returned to his alma mater to take up the Chair of Building History, Building Archaeology and Conservation.

TUM alumnus Manfred Schuller sitting on a Hellenistic fortified tower.

In following his great passion, no distance was too far and no historic monument too high for TUM alumnus Manfred Schuller. On the Greek island of Naxos he sat sketching at a dizzying height on a Hellenistic fortified tower (Pciture: private).

Beyond the beaten track

Ever since his student days at the TUM, Schuller has found it fascinating that the methods of building research – examining stones and timbers as the primary source, forming chains of clues and linking them together as completely as possible like a puzzle – work for all epochs from Classical times to the 20th century. His lifelong drive was to apply the sophisticated methodology which he had learnt from his doctoral supervisor Gottfried Gruben in the Cyclades to other periods and traditions beyond Doric architecture and outside Greece.

Not only for his own projects, but also for the dissertations he supervised, Schuller’s basic principle was always that of field work. With the cathedrals of Regensburg and Trier and the remains of Lorsch Abbey he was studying UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In Venice he carried out research on St Mark’s Basilica, in Rome and on Greek islands on temples and ruins, and in Russia on the iron constructions of the great engineer Vladimir Shukhov. “Each of these projects had its own attraction,” he says. “Often also due to the location of the monuments, in historic towns or completely away from everything in stunning landscapes.”

Like in the movies

Manfred Schuller was contacted not infrequently by the tax office. People there could not believe that a university professor was supposedly hanging around in tranquil holiday spots rather than libraries.

If the tax officials had found out about his research trip to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, he would certainly have gotten rid of them. In the hermetically sealed exclave of Azerbaijan Schuller was to investigate monumental medieval burial structures. No foreigners were normally allowed to go there. The only way to get in was by plane from Baku. “We had to fly high up so as not to be shot at from Nagorno-Karabakh,” he says of this adventure. “But the impressive tombs seen in front of the snow-covered Mount Ararat were worth it.”