Erich Mendelsohn (1887-1953)

German Jewish architect Erich Mendelsohn was a leading pioneer of Modern architecture and Art Deco. His work is a prime example of Expressionism in architecture.

Portrait of Erich Mendelsohn, old picture

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About his life

Erich Mendelsohn was born in Allenstein, East Prussia on March 21, 1887. He studied architecture in Berlin and Munich, and at the age of 25 opened a private practice in Munich. In Munich, he met the leaders of the German Expressionist movement in painting. After serving in the army during World War I, Mendelsohn returned to his architectural practice and prepared an exhibition of his sketches. In March 1933, Mendelsohn was forced to flee Germany due to the religious persecution of the Nazis. Mendelsohn emigrated to the United States in 1941 but continued architectural work only after the war. He died on September 15, 1953, in San Francisco, California, USA.

Portrait of Mendelsohn with a sketch of Einstein Tower, old picture

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What are his major works?

  • Einstein Tower, Potsdam (1919–21) ;
  • Hat Factory of Steinberg, Hermann & Co. which he designed at Luckenwalde (1920–23) also had a striking appearance, and it was entirely functional as well;
  • Mossehaus (1921–1923) in Berlin was an office building renovated and with a new corner. During the 1920s Mendelsohn designed many structures that were particularly notable for their prominent and imaginative use of glass in strongly horizontal compositions;
  • Schocken stores at Stuttgart (1927);
  • Chemnitz (1928);
De La Warr Pavilion, Mendelsohn, 1933, Bexhill, England
De La Warr Pavilion, Mendelsohn, 1933, Bexhill, England

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  • Warr PavilionBexhill (with Serge Chermayeff, 1933) in England, which had a glass-enclosed, semicircular stairway tower;
  • Villa Weizmann (1934 to 1936) is the residence of the first president of Israel, Chaim Weizmann. This building is one of the most important pieces of Israel’s architectural heritage. The 22-room building is nestled among orange groves on an 11-acre estate in Rehovot, south of Tel Aviv. It currently houses the Weizmann Institute of Science.
  • Hospitals in Haifa (1937) and Jerusalem (1938);
  • Maimonides Hospital (1946) in San Francisco.
Villa Weizmann. A circular tower punctured by vertical glass panels tops off the spiral staircase.

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Einstein Tower

Einstein Tower, Potsdam (1919–21) is a bizarre, highly sculptured structure, which was his first commission after WWI and remains his most famous creation. The stucco molding on the outside allowed for the creation of smooth organic curves that flow around the building in ways never seen before. The reception was mixed, with some calling it a “clumsy spaceship” – perhaps not necessarily a bad thing for the observatory. The unusual arches and breathtaking levels of Einstein’s Tower elevated his status as an architectural innovator.

The Einstein Tower

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How can we identify Mendelsohn’s style?

Erich Mendelsohn created architectures that can be described as lyrical, rhythmic, and emotional. He did not strive for rationality but tried to undermine the dynamics of the world. He expressed the power of Expressionism in the grace of his architectural works. Mendelsohn’s international style, displaced with Art Deco and Art Nouveau, influenced architects around the world, thanks to which he took a place among the elite of modernist architects.

Mossehaus, Mendelsohn, 1921-1923, Berlin

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