The German architect Erich Mendelsohn (1887-1953) was a leading pioneer of modern architecture. Beginning with a sculptural and emotional approach, he later became more closely allied with the International Style.
Erich Mendelsohn was born in Allenstein, East Prussia, on March 21, 1887. He received his architectural training in Berlin and Munich, and he set up in private practice in Munich at the age of 25. In Munich he was friendly with leaders of the German expressionist movement in painting. Following military service in World War I, Mendelsohn returned to his practice and prepared an exhibition of his architectural sketches. His designs showed the strong influence of expressionism in their dynamic and dramatic use of line.
Mendelsohn's first major commission was the Einstein Tower (1919-1921), an observatory in Potsdam, Germany. Although he had originally intended the building to be executed in poured concrete (to emphasize the expressive forms of the tower), for technical reasons it was constructed of brick rendered with cement. The building attracted considerable attention, particularly because of the plastic treatment of form, which made the seven-story tower seem to flow upward from its rounded base to its domed observatory. This structure typifies his interest in an architecture of abstract, sculptural expressionism.
Shortly after this Mendelsohn began to turn away from free-flowing designs. An example of this new direction is his Steinberg Hat Factory (1920-1923) in Luckenwalde, Germany. During the late 1920s he became more and more attracted to the formal lines of the International Style. At this time he was commissioned to design several branches of the Shocken Department Store. In the one at Stuttgart (1926) he emphasized the horizontal by using continuous-ribbon windows separated with bands of brick. The rounded staircase at the corner of the asymmetrical structure was cantilevered over the entrance. Mendelsohn refined this approach in the design for the Shocken store at Chemnitz (1927-1928). Here, in an imposing curved facade, the windows alternated with opaque white bands, creating a feeling of clarity and lightness.
The rise of Nazism in Germany and its accompanying religious persecution forced Mendelsohn to flee in March 1933. In London he entered into partnership with Serge Chermayeff. Mendelsohn divided his practice between England and Palestine. His most important British design was the De la Warr Pavilion (1934) at Boxhill. In Palestine he executed a number of buildings, including a hospital at Haifa and the University Medical Center (1937-1939) on Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem.
Mendelsohn emigrated to the United States in 1941 but did not practice until after the war. His American work included many hospitals, synagogues, and community centers. Among the most important was the 14-story Maimonides Hospital in San Francisco (1946); here he emphasized the horizontal with conspicuously cantilevered balconies with small, curved projections.
Mendelsohn designed a number of synagogues and community centers in the Midwest, including those in St. Louis, Mo. (1946-1950), Cleveland, Ohio (1946-1952), Grand Rapids, Mich. (1948-1952), and St. Paul, Minn. (1950-1954). The Cleveland design was the most ambitious, successfully harmonizing the central dome of the synagogue with the building's undulating site. Mendelsohn died in San Francisco on Sept. 15, 1953.
A primary source is Erich Mendelsohn: Letters of an Architect, edited by Oskar Beyer and translated by Geoffrey Strachan (1968). An excellent discussion of Mendelsohn's early European career is Arnold Whittick, Eric Mendelsohn (1940). A more recent treatment, including his American projects, is Wolf von Eckardt, Eric Mendelsohn (1960). □
International Modernism impinged more and more on Mendelsohn's work, and in 1933 he settled in England where he joined Chermayeff, designing the celebrated de la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex (1933–5), which has bands of windows and a streamlined curved glass enclosure for the staircase derived from the Schocken Store, Stuttgart. With Chermayeff he also designed Shrub's Wood, Chalfont St Giles, Bucks. (1934–5), and 64 Old Church Street, Chelsea, London (1936—unfor-tunately altered in the 1990s), both important Modernist houses. In the late 1930s he moved to Palestine, where he designed buildings for the Hebrew University, Jerusalem (1937–9), and in 1941 emigrated to the USA, where his work lacked the power of his German designs. The Russell House, Pacific Heights, San Francisco (1950–1), was probably his best work in America.
Aschenbach (ed.) (1987);
Evenden (ed.) (1994);
K. James (1997);
Stephan (ed.) (1999);
Zevi (1985, 1999)
MENDELSOHN, ERIC (1887–1953), architect. He was born in Allenstein, Germany and was a member of the revivalist movement in European architecture from the 1920s onward. His early works, especially his sketches made during World War i and the buildings designed in the early twenties (such as the observatory near Berlin, 1920), are of an expressionist character. His later buildings are noteworthy, against the background of the contemporary style, for the originality of their shapes and their monumental nature. He built a large number of business-houses and large office blocks in Berlin and in other towns in Germany, as well as factories and dwelling-houses. When Hitler seized power in 1933, Mendelsohn left Germany and worked in Britain and Palestine until the outbreak of World War ii. Between 1934 and 1939, he built in Palestine the villa and library of Zalman Schocken in Jerusalem, the Anglo-Palestine Bank in Jerusalem, the Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus, Chaim Weizmann's villa in Reḥovot, part of the Hebrew University's Faculty of Agriculture at Reḥovot, and the Haifa government hospital. When World War ii broke out, he went to the United States, and from 1945 onward, built in various places. His works include the Maimonides Health Center in San Francisco, and many synagogues, in which he tried to achieve a monumental impression without adherence to any traditional style. These include synagogues in St. Paul, Minnesota; Washington, d.c.; Baltimore, Maryland; Dallas, Texas; Saint Louis, Missouri. He wrote the autobiographical Letters of an Architect (1967).
A. Whittick, Eric Mendelsohn (Eng., 19562); W. Eckardt, Eric Mendelsohn (Eng., 1960).