Peter Behrens (1868-1940)

Peter Behrens was German architect and designer. As one of the most influential designers of the 20th century, he is considered the founder of modern industrial architecture and modern industrial design.

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About his life

Peter Behrens was born in Hamburg in a Protestant family. He studied painting in his hometown before moving to Düsseldorf and Karlsruhe between 1886 and 1889. In 1899, after marrying Lilly Kramer, he moved with her to Munich, where he joined the Jugendstil movement. There he first worked as a painter, illustrator and artisan bookbinder, gradually approaching bohemian circles and developing a deep interest in themes related to modern living. In 1893 he was a founding member of the Munich Secession.  Later, in 1899, he accepted the invitation of the Grand Duke Ernest Louis of Hesse to be one of the participants in his project of an artists’ settlement. 

House Behrens
Behrens House, 1899, P. Behrens

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About his work

In addition to architecture (housing for workers and their families), Behrens also designed household appliances. He worked to standardize shapes of their components to make them interchangeable and to simplify production process. In 1898, Peter Behrens collaborated with the Berlin design magazine Pan and created his first furniture design. He produced also woodcuts, coloured illustrations, designs for book bindings and crafts objects entirely shaped by the Jugendstil formal language.

A page from an AEG catalogue showing variations on a theme – consumers were able to customise their kettle purchase by choosing from three shapes, sizes and finishes.

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Behrens made significant contributions to the development of painting, architecture, graphic and industrial design. His outstanding works have had a huge impact in all these areas, laying the foundation for the experiments and discoveries of future generations (including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius).

Peter Behrens’ AEG Turbine Factory

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About his style

Peter Behrens  was one of the leaders of architectural reform at the edge of the century and was a major designer of factories and office buildings in brick, steel and glass.  He was one of the most important forerunners of Modernism and Functionalism, as much as fellow contemporary designers, architects and painters Henri van de Velde, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Josef Hoffmann or Gustav Klimt and Mies van der Rohe

Interior of Hoechst Administration Building in Frankfurt, Germany (1924)

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What are the major works of Peter Behrens?

  • Behrens House, Darmstadt, Germany, 1899;
  • AEG Turbine Factory Berlin, Germany, 1909;
  • AEG Factory Hall, Berlin, Germany, 1910;
  • Office building of the Hoechst AG, Frankfurt,Germany, 1920-1925;
  • Winarsky-Hof (with J. Frank, J. Hoffmann, O. Strnad, Wlach), Vienna, Austria, 1924;
  • Franz-Domes-Hof, Vienna, Austria, 1928;Tobacco Factory. Linz, Austria, 1929-1935 (with A. Popp).
Poster by Peter Behrens for the company (AEG- year of creation 1907)

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