Hans Poelzig (1869-1936)

German architect and set designer, Hans Poelzig  was one of the finest examples of German Architectural Expressionism.

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About his life

Hans Poelzig was born in Berlin in 1869. He was appointed Professor of the Academy of Arts and Crafts in Breslau (now Wroclaw). He became City Architect of Dresden (1916–20) and Professor at the Technische Hochschule there. In 1918 he joined the Novembergruppe. By 1920 he had moved to Berlin, heading a studio in the Academy of Arts there and, from 1923, teaching at Berlin-Charlottenburg. He died on June 14, 1936, Berlin.

Portrait of Hans Poelzig, 1927

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What are his major works?

  • Grosses Schauspielhaus, a theatre in Berlin whose structure was originally a market built by architect Friedrich Hitzig, and it retained its external, gabled form;
  • Chemical Factory (1912) in Lubań, German (now Poland);
  • Haus des Rundfunks (1930) in Berlin, which is the oldest self-contained broadcasting house in the world;
  • IG Farben Building (or the Poelzig Building, 1928-1930) in Frankfurt, whose building’s original design was the subject of a competition which was won by Poelzig;
IG Farben Building | Architectuul
IG Farben Building (1928-1930), Frankfurt

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  • Palace of the Soviets, which was a project to construct an administrative center and a congress hall (if built, it would have become the world’s tallest structure of its time) in Moscow;
  • Office Building in Breslau.
  • He worked on the set for The Golem: How It Came Into the World (or Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam). Directed by Karl Böse and Paul Wegener, this silent feature film is one of the most important films of the German Expressionist period.
Set of The Golem: How He Came Into the World, designed by Hans Poelzig

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Grosses Schauspielhaus

In 1919, in Berlin, Hans Poelzig designed Grosses Schauspielhaus. This theater for 5000 people constitutes an expressionist experience in his career. The most characteristic element of the work is the roof, a large dome inside completely covered with stalactites. Inside, the scene overlooked the stalls, sloping down onto a semicircular orchestra, which for its spatiality was reminiscent of classical Greek theater. Along the perimeter of the orchestra the tiers of the large auditorium branched off, which was interspersed with columns that supported arches with edges made of stalactites. In the upper part there was a truncated cone dome with bands sloping upwards, with the edges made up of numerous stalactites.

Grosses Schauspielhaus, Hans Poelzig, 1919

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How can we identify Poelzig’s style?

Poelzig’s work developed through Expressionism and the New Objectivity in the mid-1920s before arriving at a more conventional, economical style. He was particularly interested in developing a language specific for factory buildings: “the true monumental task of contemporary architecture“, in a period when Germany was developing as a major industrialised nation. Poelzig identified in a sinister neo-Gothic style, the proper setting for his monumental plants.

Chemical Factory, Hans Poelzig, 1912, Luban, Poland

Image source: http://www.arthistory.upenn.edu

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