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Peter Behrens

Peter Behrens

Peter Behrens (1868-1940) was Germany's foremost architect in the early 20th century, as well as a painter and designer. His buildings greatly influenced the architecture of the next generation in Europe.

Peter Behrens was born in Hamburg on April 14, 1868. He studied painting at the School of Art in Karlsruhe (1886-1889). He spent the 1890s in Munich as a painter and designer in the current Jugendstil, or German Art Nouveau style, and cofounded the Sezession group of artists, architects, and designers in 1893. In 1899 he joined the artists' colony on the Mathildenhöhe in Darmstadt, where, under the influence of J. M. Olbrich, he turned to architecture. Behrens's house at Darmstadt (1900-1901) was a characteristic Art Nouveau work.

During his tenure as director of the School of Applied Arts in Düsseldorf (1903-1907), Behrens designed a series of buildings, including the exhibition hall for the Northwestern German Art Exhibition at Oldenburg (1905). In this design, simple rectilinear geometry, plane surfaces, and incised linear decoration replaced the curvilinear forms of his residence.

In 1907 Behrens succeeded Alfred Messel as architect and designer for the German General Electric Company in Berlin. In this capacity he designed everything from company brochures, light fixtures, and electric teakettles to factory complexes. Of major importance were his industrial buildings, such as the Turbine Factory (1909), the High Tension Factory (1910), the Small Motors Factory (1910-1911), and the Large Machine Assembly Hall (1911-1912), all in Berlin, which have come to be considered as a point of departure for much of the architecture of the first half of the 20th century. The Turbine Factory, of exposed steel, concrete, and large areas of glass, was especially admired by the next generation of architects.

Some of Behrens's other works of this period, however, were firmly within the German neoclassic tradition. The best of them, such as the houses at Eppenhausen near Hagen, including the Schröder House (1908-1909) and the Cuno House (1909-1910), continued the simplicity of the Düsseldorf period. But in other buildings, such as the German Embassy in Leningrad (1911-1912), the classical style became inert and pompous. Behrens's classicism was to have its influence upon the next generation, especially upon the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

In the years following World War I, Behrens's work became expressionistic, as did, briefly, that of many German architects of the time. An example is his I. G. Farben Company Building at Höchst (1920-1924). In 1922 Behrens became professor of architecture at the Academy in Vienna; he built little of consequence after the mid-1920s. He died on Feb. 27, 1940, in Berlin.

Further Reading

The basic monographs on Behrens are old and in German. There is a chapter devoted to Behrens and his German contemporaries in Henry-Russel Hitchcock, Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1958; 2d ed. 1963).

Additional Sources

Windsor, Alan, Peter Behrens, architect and designer, New York, N.Y.: Whitney Library of Design, 1981. □

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Behrens, Peter

Behrens, Peter (1868–1940). Hamburg-born artist, who became an architect under the influence of the teachings of William Morris. A founder-member of the Munich Sezession in 1893, his early graphic work was heavily influenced by Art Nouveau. From 1898 he became interested in the problems of designing mass-produced artefacts. In 1899 he was invited to Darmstadt by Ernst Ludwig II, reigning Grand Duke of Hesse (1892–1918), where he designed his own house for the artists' colony of Mathildenhöhe: incorporating a severe geometry with Gothic ogee gable and dormer-windows, it was designed as a whole, inside and out, drawing on the ideas of van de Velde and Mackintosh. From 1907 his work became more Neo-Classical: the crematorium at Delstern, near Hagen, in Westphalia (1906–7), is a good example. He became a founder of the Deutscher Werkbund and was appointed architect to the first electrical company in Berlin, the AEG, for which he designed the turbine-hall (1908–10), factories, offices, shops, workers' housing, and all manner of artefacts until 1914.

His Berlin office gained an international reputation for progressive design, and in c.1910 Le Corbusier, W. Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe all worked there. There was much that was Neo-Classical in his AEG work, and the influence of Schinkel was strong in his Haus Schröder, Hagen-Eppenhausen, Westphalia (1908), and Haus Wiegand, Berlin (1911–13). The Imperial German Embassy in St Petersburg (1911–12), a powerful essay in stripped Classicism, influenced many architects, including the Scandinavian Neo-Classicists of the 1920s and 1930s. In 1920–4 he built the offices of the I. G. Farben (now Höchst) Dyeworks in Frankfurt-am-Main, an Expressionist essay with touches of proto-Art Deco.

From 1922 Behrens was Director of the School of Architecture in the Vienna Academy of Arts, a post he held until 1936, when he became Head of the Department of Architecture of the Prussian Academy of Arts, Berlin. He designed one house in England: ‘New Ways’, 508 Wellingborough Road, Northampton (1923–5), for Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke (1877–1953), which incorporated an earlier room from 78 Derngate designed by Mackintosh in 1907. He designed the Werkbund's exhibition-house at the Weissenhofsiedlung, Stuttgart (1927), the Villa Lewin, Schlachtsee, Berlin (1929–30), an apartment-house at Westend, Berlin (1930), and the Villa Ganz, Kronberg-in-Taunus (1931–4), all with influences from the International Modern style, which he also employed in the Austrian State Tobacco Administration block, Linz (1936—with Alexander Popp (1891–1945) ). In 1937–9 he prepared a design for Speer's north-south axis in Berlin: it was to be for a new AEG administra-tion-building in a stripped Classical style.

Bibliography

S. Anderson (2000);
Behrens (1901);
Buddensieg & and Rogge (1984);
Weber (1966);
Windsor (1981)

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Behrens, Peter

Peter Behrens (pā´tər bā´rəns), 1868–1940, German architect, influential in Europe in the evolution of the modern architectural style. He established before World War I a predominantly utilitarian type of architecture that at the same time achieved qualities of clarity and impressiveness. His factory buildings were among the earliest European works to base a simple and effective style upon the frank terms of modern construction. Behrens is known also for residences, for workers' apartment houses in Vienna, and for his pioneering work in industrial design. Among his pupils were Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

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