»Tradition is a dare for innovation.«

Alvaro Siza

Blog Review

Man in a Hurry

A show of Erich Mendelsohn’s Drawings in Berlin

  • Erich Mendelsohn's 1925 sketch for his Red Flag textile factory in Leningrad, charcoal and red crayon. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz) 1 / 14  Erich Mendelsohn's 1925 sketch for his Red Flag textile factory in Leningrad, charcoal and red crayon. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz)
  • Erich does constructivism: the Red Flag textile factory in St Petersburg today. (Photo: Wikipedia commons) 2 / 14  Erich does constructivism: the Red Flag textile factory in St Petersburg today. (Photo: Wikipedia commons)
  • Erich Mendelsohn's quick worms-eye view of the Einstein Tower in Potsdam, 1920, ink on tracing paper. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz) 3 / 14  Erich Mendelsohn's quick worms-eye view of the Einstein Tower in Potsdam, 1920, ink on tracing paper. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz)
  • Detail of the Einstein Tower in 1923. Photo: Arthur Köster. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz) 4 / 14  Detail of the Einstein Tower in 1923. Photo: Arthur Köster. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz)
  • A bit of organic-expressionism. The Einstein Tower in Potsdam today. (Photo: Wikipedia commons) 5 / 14  A bit of organic-expressionism. The Einstein Tower in Potsdam today. (Photo: Wikipedia commons)
  • Massing and façade studies for the Schocken Department Store in Stuttgart from 1926. Colour pencil on paper. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz) 6 / 14  Massing and façade studies for the Schocken Department Store in Stuttgart from 1926. Colour pencil on paper. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz)
  • The finished façade of the Schocken Department Store in Stuttgart. (Photo: Wikipedia commons) 7 / 14  The finished façade of the Schocken Department Store in Stuttgart. (Photo: Wikipedia commons)
  • A 1927 sketch for the Woga housing complex and Universum cinema in Berlin, which was completed in 1931. Colour pencil on paper. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz) 8 / 14  A 1927 sketch for the Woga housing complex and Universum cinema in Berlin, which was completed in 1931. Colour pencil on paper. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz)
  • A perspective sketch for the Columbushaus, Potdamer Platz, Berlin, one of Mendelsohn’s most high profile projects, blue pencil on paper. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz) 9 / 14  A perspective sketch for the Columbushaus, Potdamer Platz, Berlin, one of Mendelsohn’s most high profile projects, blue pencil on paper. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz)
  • Frantic modernity. Mendelsohn’s Columbushaus on Potdamer Platz, Berlin in 1932, a building where his own office was situated. (Photo: Wikipedia commons) 10 / 14  Frantic modernity. Mendelsohn’s Columbushaus on Potdamer Platz, Berlin in 1932, a building where his own office was situated. (Photo: Wikipedia commons)
  • The De La Warr, Bexhill-on-Sea, England. Designed with Serge Chermayeff in 1934, after Mendelsohn relocated his office to England. (Photo: Wikipedia commons) 11 / 14  The De La Warr, Bexhill-on-Sea, England. Designed with Serge Chermayeff in 1934, after Mendelsohn relocated his office to England. (Photo: Wikipedia commons)
  • Sketch perpectives from 1934 for the Villa Weizmann, at Rehovoth, near Tel Aviv, designed for the future first President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann. Colour pencil on paper. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz) 12 / 14  Sketch perpectives from 1934 for the Villa Weizmann, at Rehovoth, near Tel Aviv, designed for the future first President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann. Colour pencil on paper. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz)
  • A design dating from after Mendelsohn moved to the United States: the Park Synagogue and community centre in Cleveland, Ohio, 1948, pencil on paper. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz) 13 / 14  A design dating from after Mendelsohn moved to the United States: the Park Synagogue and community centre in Cleveland, Ohio, 1948, pencil on paper. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz)
  • One of Mendelsohn’s final works: the Russell House in San Francisco, 1950-1951, photographer unknown, silver gelatin print. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz) 14 / 14  One of Mendelsohn’s final works: the Russell House in San Francisco, 1950-1951, photographer unknown, silver gelatin print. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz)

The architect Erich Mendelsohn’s work seemed to define the spirit of the modern world in the Weimar Republic and 1920s Berlin. A current exhibition of his sketches reflects the extraordinary fertility and vitality of this architect’s vision, which continued even after he had to leave his whole life and practice in Germany behind with the coming of the Nazis. uncube’s Rob Wilson visited and considers how these drawings compare favourably with today’s computer visualisations – and touch on genius.

Erich Mendelsohn (1887-1953) was the author of some of the most instantly recognizable buildings of the 1920s: from the extraordinary organic expressionism of the Einstein Tower observatory in Potsdam to the dramatic horizontal curving lines of the Schocken Department store chain across Germany.

His buildings seemed to perfectly capture the mood of the moment, expressing in graphic new forms the strange and exciting world of modernity emerging after the First World War. And nowhere was change or the hunger for novelty more extreme than in 1920s Berlin, where Mendelsohn’s practice was based. The third largest city in the world at the time, and still expanding rapidly, was the crucible of intense artistic, social and technological developments during the years of the Weimar Republic: from the biting social critique of the New Objectivity movement in the plays of Bertolt Brecht and art of George Grosz, to Magnus Hirschfeld’s sexology institute and Albert Einstein’s work at Humboldt University, and Europe’s first traffic lights, installed at Potsdamer Platz, the busiest traffic junction in the world. Berlin was a city on speed.

The De La Warr, Bexhill-on-Sea, England. Designed with Serge Chermayeff in 1934, after Mendelsohn relocated his office to England. (Photo: Wikipedia commons)

And Mendelsohn himself seems a man possessed in the 1920s, building up his practice almost from scratch to become the largest architects’ office in Germany by the end of the decade. Whilst Le Corbusier was still just polemicising about new modernist cities, Mendelsohn was getting on and building large chunks of them, from offices, to housing, cinemas and factories, and not just across Germany but in Russia too.

This exhibition communicates this extraordinary energy and breath of his practice – not so much through the representation and analysis of the buildings themselves – which is fairly scant – but through their genesis, in a series of brilliant sketches – which form the basis of a large archive of the architect’s work held by the Kunstbibliotek at the Staatliche Museum in Berlin. These quick expressive drawings, often distinctive worms-eye views, show the phenomenal productivity of his imagination.

Erich Mendelsohn's quick worms-eye view of the Einstein Tower in Potsdam, 1920, ink on tracing paper. (Image: © Kunstbibliotek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Dietmar Katz)

Many sheets of paper are covered with three or four rapid re-workings of one idea, of the massing of a building, their breathless, urgency still evident. This was a man in a hurry.

Luckily so in retrospective. As the most prominent German-Jewish architect, his career in Germany was cut short by the coming to power of the Nazis in 1933 – yet his enormous output in the 1920s meant he had already produced a body of work that many only accumulate over a long career.

He emigrated first to England where he successfully restarted his practice in London, moving this later to what was then Palestine and then just before the Second World War, to the United States. That he could successfully juggle so much set-back and change, is perhaps explained by another part of the archival display: the copious and affectionate letters between him and his wife Luise, a celebrated cellist, which indicates the stability of the happy home life he enjoyed, despite its peripatetic nature – the latter underlined by these letters often written on hotel notepaper from across Europe and the US.

Of course his very energy and eclecticism of his work – flirting with expressionism, constructivism , moderne-luxe, and white box high modernism – can at times seem to undermine the importance of the work. He had such ease and facility in design that the heart of the work sometimes seems to be missing, and he left no polemical architectural tracts to help fill in the blanks. His projects were never as spatially inventive internally as Corb or Mies, their effect more concentrated on the outside – in the graphic photogenic shapes of their façades. Yet as such, they are perhaps far more relevant and prescient of so much contemporary work and practice today: an architecture of form and image.

However unlike the dead CGI’s with which today’s architects try to communicate their visions, these visualisations of his buildings in his sketches are themselves touching on genius.

– Rob Wilson, uncube, Berlin

3 Continents - 7 Countries.
Works by Erich Mendelsohn from the Kunstbibliothek's Architecture Collection

until January 26, 2014

Kunstbibliothek
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Matthäikirchplatz
10785 Berlin

 

  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

Advertisement

RECENT POSTS

more

Recent Magazines

25 Apr 2016

Magazine No. 43
Athens

  • essay

    From the Bottom and the Top

    Powering Athens through collectivity and informal initiatives by Cristina Ampatzidou

  • photo essay

    Nowhere Now Here

    A photo essay by Yiorgis Yerolymbos

  • Essay

    Back to the Garden

    Athens and opportunities for new urban strategies by Aristide Antonas

  • Interview

    Point Supreme

    An interview by Ellie Stathaki

>

03 Mar 2016

Magazine No. 42
Walk the Line

  • Essay

    The Line Connects

    An essay on drawing and architectural education by Wes Jones

  • Essay

    Drawing Attention

    Phineas Harper sketches out new narrative paths with pencil power

  • Essay

    Gotham

    Elvia Wilk on a city of shadows as architectural fiction

  • Interview

    The (Not So) Fine Line

    A conversation thread between Sophie Lovell and architecture cartoonist Klaus

>

28 Jan 2016

Magazine No. 41
Zvi Hecker

  • essay

    Space Packers

    Zvi Hecker’s career-defining partnership with Eldar Sharon and Alfred Neumann by Rafi Segal

  • Interview

    Essentially I am a Medieval Architect

    An interview with Zvi Hecker by Vladimir Belogolovsky

  • viewpoint

    The Technion Affair

    Breaking and entering in the name of architectural integrity by Zvi Hecker

  • Photo Essay

    Revisiting Yesterday’s Future

    A photo essay by Gili Merin

>

17 Dec 2015

Magazine No. 40
Iceland

  • Viewpoint

    Wish You Were Here

    Arna Mathiesen asks: Refinancing Iceland with tourism – but at what cost?

  • Photo Essay

    Spaces Create Bodies, Bodies Create Space

    An essay by Ólafur Elíasson

  • Focus

    Icelandic Domestic

    Focus on post-independence houses by George Kafka

  • Essay

    The Harp That Sang

    The saga of Reykjavík's Concert Hall by Sophie Lovell & Fiona Shipwright

>

more

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MAILING LIST Close

Uncube is brandnew and wants to look good.
For best performance please update your browser.
Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer 10 (or higher), Safari, Chrome, Opera

×