Blog Connections

Expressionist Architecture

There’s always something to polish in our long list of Connections. After having deep-dived into some natural subjects during the past weeks, my eye fell on an Architecture topic: Expressionist Architecture. It has only 3 connected sites so far: Hamburg's Kontorhaus District, Sydney Opera House and the Works of Antoni Gaudi. Let’s see if we can find more.

Centennial Hall, Wroclaw

What is it?

Expressionist Architecture is an architectural style from the early 20th century. It is one of the three main subgroups of what we call Modern Architecture. Buildings in this style are distinctive as "they seem like sculpted forms, even though the construction material is primarily brick and concrete.". It originated a bit earlier than the International Style and was itself influenced by Art Nouveau. Notable variants of Expressionist Architecture are the Brick Expressionism of Germany and the Amsterdam School of The Netherlands.

Although the strict definition limits itself to works designed in Europe roughly between 1905 and 1930, sometimes later works on different continents (notably the Sydney Opera House) are categorized as (neo-)expressionist as well.

Carlton Hotel, Amsterdam

Additional connected sites

  • First I had a look at Amsterdam for examples of the Amsterdam School. Most of the buildings in that style lie outside the core zone of the Canal Ring WHS - no wonder as it is geared to 17th century architecture. However, at least three 20th century expressionist examples can be found within the Canal Ring. The Carlton Hotel at Vijzelstraat, De Bazel (often considered as Art Deco as well) at Vijzelstraat 32 and the former pharmacy at Keizersgracht 660. A number of bridges such as the Aalmoezeniersbrug also qualify. All were built when in the late 19th, early 20th century when access to the city centre had to be improved. Roads needed to be widened to allow for trams and ‘selective demolition’ took place.
  • The Centennial Hall (1911) in Wroclaw is labelled as Expressionist Architecture as well by Wikipedia. In the nomination file and the ICOMOS evaluation it is considered an early forerunner: “The comparative analysis has shown that the pioneering role of the Centennial Hall consisted also in its anticipation of the ideas informing architecture in the Expressionist style.” and “the Centennial Hall anticipated the later Expressionist and Organic Architecture.”
  • Bruno Taut is one of the style's main architects. He was responsible for the design of several of the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates. The nomination file for that WHS clearly mentions the Siedlung Schillerpark ("The architecture with its red brick walls, the flat roofs and the plastic shapes of the façades with loggias and balconies particularly reflects the Amsterdam school with its traditional, strong brick buildings.") and the Hufeneisensiedlung as having expressionist features.
  • Among the Works of Le Corbusier, the Notre-Dame du Haut is considered "the first building of the movement Expressionist architecture after World War II." (wiki)
  • Finally, a text search on the UNESCO WHS website brings Zollverein XII (1932) into play. It was “created at the end of a phase of political and economic upheaval and change in Germany, which was represented aesthetically in the transition from Expressionism to Cubism and Functionalism.” There’s no further explanation in the nomination dossier. Wiki categorizes it under New Objectivity, part of the International Style.

Einstein Tower (Astrophysikalisches Institut Potsdam)

Close enough

A special finding of researching this connection is that several major works of Expressionist Architecture are located just outside the core zone of a WHS. The boundaries of Tel Aviv’s White City are a mystery to me, but the Hechal Yehuda Synagogue (1980) is not named or pictured in the nomination file so I guess it’s out. It has an unusual seashell shape.

On the way to the Potsdam WHS one cannot overlook the Einstein Tower. Its architect, Erich Mendelsohn, is seen as one of the pioneers of Expressionist Architecture. He also designed the Red Banner Textile Factory in St. Petersburg. In Vienna, just outside the WHS, lies the Hundertwasserhaus.

Do you know of any other examples of Expressionist Architecture in or near (T)WHS?

Els - 17 January 2021

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Meltwaterfalls 18 January 2021

One for the close section.
Bremen has the magnificent (if some what ideologically awkward) Böttcherstraße, a fine example of Brick Expressionism.
The street leads to the square containing the Town Hall and Roland, it is partially in the buffer zone.
Personally I really love it and it is probably better than the actual WHS. The Haus Atlantic and Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum are real highlights.

Els Slots 18 January 2021

Good one, thanks Jurre.

Jurre 17 January 2021

St. Catherine's Church in Lübeck dates from the early 14th centry, but its brick facade was decorated with expressionist clinker brick sculptures by Ernst Barlach and Gerhard Marcks in the 20th century.