Expressionist architecture  

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"The influential architectural critic and historian, Sigfried Giedion in his book Space, Time and Architecture (1941) dismissed Expressionist architecture as a side show in the development of functionalism."--Sholem Stein

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Expressionist architecture was an architectural movement that developed in Northern Europe during the first decades of the 20th century in parallel with the expressionist visual and performing arts.

The term "Expressionist architecture" initially described the activities of the German, Dutch, Austrian, Czech and Danish avant garde from 1910 until ca. 1924. Subsequent redefinitions extended the term backwards to 1905 and also widened it to encompass the rest of Europe. Today the meaning has broadened even further to refer to architecture of any date or location that exhibits some of the qualities of the original movement such as; distortion, fragmentation or the communication of violent or overstressed emotion.

The style was characterised by an early-modernist adoption of novel materials, formal innovation, and very unusual massing, sometimes inspired by natural biomorphic forms, sometimes by the new technical possibilities offered by the mass production of brick, steel and especially glass. Many expressionist architects fought in World War I and their experiences, combined with the political turmoil and social upheaval that followed the German Revolution of 1919, resulted in a utopian outlook and a romantic socialist agenda. Economic conditions severely limited the number of built commissions between 1914 and the mid 1920s, resulting in many of the most important expressionist works remaining as projects on paper, such as Bruno Taut's Alpine Architecture and Hermann Finsterlin's Formspiels. Ephemeral exhibition buildings were numerous and highly significant during this period. Scenography for theatre and films provided another outlet for the expressionist imagination, and provided supplemental incomes for designers attempting to challenge conventions in a harsh economic climate.

Important events in expressionist architecture include; the Werkbund Exhibition (1914) in Cologne, the completion and theatrical running of the Grosses Schauspielhaus, Berlin in 1919, the Glass Chain letters, and the activities of the Amsterdam School. The major permanent extant landmark of Expressionism is Erich Mendelsohn's Einstein Tower[1] in Potsdam. By 1925 most of the leading architects of Expressionism such as; Bruno Taut, Eric Mendelsohn, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and Hans Poelzig, along with other Expressionists in the visual arts, had turned toward the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement, a more practical and matter-of-fact approach which rejected the emotional agitation of expressionism. A few, notably Hans Scharoun, continued to work in an expressionist idiom.

In 1933, after the Nazi seizure of power in Germany, expressionist art was outlawed as Degenerate art. Until the 1970s scholars (most notably Nikolaus Pevsner) commonly played down the influence of the expressionists on the later International style, but this has been re-evaluated in recent years.




  • Reactions to Art Nouveau impelled partly by moral yearnings for a sterner and more unadorned style and in part by rationalist ideas requiring practical justification for formal effects. Art Nouveau had however, opened up a language of abstraction and pointed to lessons to be learned from nature.<ref name="Frampton">Frampton</ref>
  • August 25 1900, death of Friedrich Nietzsche




  • Adolf Loos publishes his essay/manifesto "Ornament and Crime" which rejects ornamentation in favour of abstraction.





  • Hans Poelzig designs a chemical plant in Luban with strongly expressively articulated brick massing.
  • Wassily Kandinsky publishes Über das Geistige in der Kunst, ("Concerning the Spiritual in Art")
  • Work of the Amsterdam School starts with the cooperative-commercial Scheepvaarthuis (Shipping House), designed by Johan van der Mey



  1. Normative form (Typisierung) - Behrens, Gropius, and,
  2. Will to form (Kunstwollen) - Taut, van de Velde



  • Michel de Klerks starts building the Het Schip the third and most accomplished apartment buildings at Spaarndammerplantsoen, for the Eigen Haard development company in Amesterdam[2]. Work is completed in 1921.
  • Bruno Taut publishes Alpine architecture.


  • Adolf Behne expands the socio-cultural implications Scheerbarts writings about glass.
  • Armistice – Republican revolution in Germany. Social Democrats form Workers and Soldiers Councils. General strikes.
  • Free expression of the Amsterdam School elucidated in the Wendingen (Changes) magazine.
  • November - Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Worker's Council for the Arts), founded by Bruno Taut and Adolf Behne. They model themselves consciously on the Soviets and attach a leftist programme to their Utopian and Expressionist activities. They demand; 1. A spiritual revolution to accompany the political one. 2. Architects to form ‘Corporations’ bound by ‘mutual aid’.
  • November - Novembergruppe formed only to merge with Arbeitsrat für Kunst the following month. It proclaims; 1. Creation of collective art works. 2. Mass housing. 3. The destruction of artistically valueless monuments (This was a common reaction of the Avant Garde against the elitist militarism that was perceived as the cause of World War I.
  • December - Arbeitsrat für Kunst declares its basic aims in Bruno Tauts Architeckturprogramm. It calls for a new 'total work of art', to be created with active participation of the people.
  • Bruno Taut publishes Die Stadtkrone.



  • February 26, the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari premiered at the Marmorhaus in Berlin.
  • Hans Poelzig declares affinity with the Glass Chain. He designs sets for The Golem.
  • Solidarity of the Glass Chain is broken. Final letter written by Hermann Finsterlin. Hans Luckhardt recognises the incompatibility of free unconscious form and rationalist prefabrication and moves to Rationalism.
  • Taut maintains his Scheerbartian views. He publishes ‘Die Auflösung der Städt' (The dissolution of the city) in line with Kropotkinian anarchist socialist tendencies. In common with the Soviets, it recommends the break up of cities and a return to the land. He models agrarian communities and temples in the Alps. There would be 3 separate residential communities. 1. The enlightened. 2. Artists. 3. Children. This authoritarianism is noted in Frampton as although socialist in intent, paradoxically containing the seeds of the later fascism.


  • Taut is made city architect of Magdeburg and fails to realise a municipal exhibition hall as the harsh economic realities of the Weimar republic become apparent and prospects of building a ‘glass paradise’ dwindle.
  • Walter Gropius designs the Monument to the March Dead in Weimar. It is completed in 1922 and inspires the workers' 'Gong' in the 1927 film, Metropolis by Fritz Lang.
  • Frülicht loses its impetus.
  • Eric Mendelsohn visits works of the Dutch Wendingen group and tours the Netherlands. He meets the rationalists JJP Oud and W M Dudek. He recognises the conflict of visionary and objective approaches to design.
  • Eric Mendelsohn’s Mossehaus opens. Construction is complete on the Einstein Tower. It combines the sculptural forms of Van de Weldes Werkbund Exhibition theatre with the profile of Taut’s Glashaus and the formal affinity to vernacular Dutch architecture of Eibink and Snellebrand and Hendrikus Wijdeveld. Einstein himself visits and declares it ‘organic’.
  • Mendelsohn designs a hat factory in Luckenwalde. It shows influences of the Dutch expressionist De Klerk, setting dramatic tall pitched industrial forms against horizontal administrative elements. This approach is echoed in his Leningrad textile mill of 1925 and anticipates the banding in his department stores in Breslau, Stuttgart, Chemnitz and Berlin from 1927 and 1931.
  • Hugo Häring and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe submit a competition entry for a Friedrichstrasse office building. It reveals an organic approach to structure and is fully made of glass.



  • Bauhaus expressionist phase ends. Standard arguments for the reasons for this are 1. Expressionism was difficult to build. 2. Rampant inflation in Germany changed the climate of opinion to a more sober one. Jencks postulates that the standard arguments are too simplistic and instead argues that 1. Expressionism had become associated with extreme utopianism which in turn had been discredited by violence and bloodshed. Or 2. Architects had become convinced that the new (rationalist) style was equally expressive and more adequately captured the Zeitgeist. There is no large disagreements or public pronouncements to precipitate this change in direction. The only outwardly visible reaction was the forced resignation of the head of the basic Bauhaus course, Johannes Itten, to be replaced with the, then constructivist, László Moholy-Nagy.
  • Chilehaus in Hamburg by Fritz Höger.
  • Walter Gropius abandons expressionism and moves to rationalism.
  • Bruno and Max Taut begin work on government funded low cost housing projects.
  • Berlin secession exhibition. Mies van der Rohe and Hans and Wassili Luckhardt demonstrate a more functional and objective approach.
  • Rudolf Steiner designs second Goetheanum after first was destroyed by fire in 1922. Work commences 1924 and is completed in 1928.
  • Michel de Klerk dies and the style of the Amsterdam School effectively dies with him.


  • Germany adopts the Dawes plan. Architects more inclined to produce low-cost housing than pursue utopian ideas about glass.
  • Hugo Häring designs a farm complex. It uses expressive pitched roofs contrasted with bulky tectonic elements and rounded corners.
  • Hugo Häring designs Prinz Albrecht Garten, residential project. Whilst demonstrating overt expressionism he is preoccupied with deeper inquiries into the inner source of form.
  • Foundation of Zehnerring group.
  • June 3, Death of Franz Kafka.
  • Hermann Finsterlin initiates a series of correspondence with Antoni Gaudí.<ref>Archinform</ref>



  • Founding of the architectural collective Der Ring largely turns its back on expressionism and towards a more functionalist agenda.
  • Wassily Kandinsky publishes Point and Line to Plane.
  • Max Brod publishes Franz Kafka's The Castle





  • Completion of 'The house of Atlantis' in Böttcherstraße (Bremen).





  • Expressionism reborn without the political context as Fantastic architecture.
  • Rebuilding of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1963 by Hans Scharoun.

Notable Expressionist architects

See also

20th century architecture, expressionism

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