The Architecture of Erich Mendelsohn

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Erich Mendelsohn

                                                  1887, Olsztyn – 1953, San Francisco
Erich Mendelsohn’s architecture was strong without being monumental. Throughout his career, the works have evolved from sculpted expressionist buildings, such as the Einstein Tower to the delicate Columbushaus apogee modernism. Mendelsohn succeeded in reconciling the pragmatism of functionalism with expressionist interest for a time and a mystical space. In Mendelsohn’s hands, expressionism was an energy, not a style. He adopted the language of modernism, but it gave him a dimension of infinite and undetermined.
One of Mendelsohn’s first projects, the Einstein Tower was built as an astronomical observer. For expressionists, the architectural forms should not have been deduced from historical precedents or architectural canons, but, according to Hans Pölzig’s expression, “from the mystical abyss” of intuition. However, it is hard not to compare the Einstein tower profile with that of a sphinx. At the base of the building’s vertical mass there are working spaces for researchers and laboratories. Above, the stairs lead to the observer’s telescope. Mendelsohn would have wanted to carve out and mold the reinforced concrete construction, but due to technological limitations, the entire structure had to be made of stucco-covered brick.

Einstein Tower, 1919-1924, Potsdam

Columbushaus was an exercise with the infinite – the extremities of the structure remain undefined in that its slightly curved horizontal lines followed those of one of the most crowded intersections of interwar Europe. A thin wrapper wraps around the top and sides of the entire volume of glass, almost to stop the expansion of the building for a moment. The façade could be imagined by encircling the city as a symbolic manifestation of the modernization of Germany.

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Columbushaus, 1932, Berlin

In contrast to modernist symbols such as Bauhaus or even its own Einstein Tower, Mendelsohn’s shops were urban. Their design was intended to make people associate the brand with the modern energy of the city. During the day, the glass of the façade reflects the adjacent traditional architecture, but the nightly, expressive interior staircase was lit up and could be seen shining through the curves of the building. Mendelsohn’s shop seemed to flow, despite its horizontal nature, created by commercial spaces and window lines. The entire building pivots on the corner cylindrical section, which creates a diagonal tension in the repetitive structure.

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The Schocken universal store, 1926, Stuttgart

 

 

Text by: Claudiu C. Crețu

Source: Wikimedia Commons

© The Bunget 2018

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