Eric Mendelsohn

Eric Mendelsohn

Eric Mendelsohn

Eric Mendelsohn

Excerpt

"The truly creative artist has faith in his time."

--RICHARD LIPPOLD

1. FANTASIES REALIZED

IT WAS THE uneasy spring of 1919. Eric Mendelsohn had just returned from the war and was eager to resume his architectural practice. To make himself known, he decided to exhibit some of the flamboyant fantasies he had sketched in the trenches--visions of buildings of a kind no one had seen before. He had them redrawn as bold, black posters and called them "Architecture in Steel and Concrete." The critics, however, saw in them little more than imaginative vignettes, amusing, perhaps, as book illustrations.

Just before the exhibition opened at the famous avant-garde art gallery of Paul Cassirer in Berlin, the architect's wife was contemplating these drawings in silence. Her meditation was jolted when Cassirer said: "Tell your husband to take another road. He will never be able to realize such fantastic structures!" Mrs. Mendelsohn found it hard to control herself. All she said was: "He will!"

And he did.

The exhibition was not a success. But the following year an exciting new building went up near Potsdam which catapulted the unknown young Mendelsohn to immediate fame--the Einstein Tower, an observatory and astro-physical laboratory (plates 1, 4-6). It was an entirely novel structure, reminiscent at once of Gaudí's bizarre art nouveau architecture of some fifteen years earlier and of Le Corbusier's triumph of architectural sculpture at Ronchamp some thirty-six years later--a Mendelsohn fantasy realized.

That same year Mendelsohn also designed a steel-and-glass hall for a hat factory in Luckenwalde, near Berlin, which is as squarely "modern," as "radiant and naked," as any of the early "functional" architecture. Soon thereafter he replaced this hall with a completely new plant, built in concrete, which, according to Henry-Russell Hitchcock, was "rightly recognized as one of the signal productions of those crucial years in the early twenties when the concepts of the new architecture were first tentatively recognized . . ." (plates 7-10).

Mendelsohn himself, thirty years later, could not fully explain the design of the Einstein Tower. It was a product of "the mystique around Einstein's universe," he said. But Luckenwalde, he continued, was the result of "the clear-cut facts of industry . . . a building which in its use, structure, and shape is clearly intelli-

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