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In Perspective: German Architect, Erich Mendelsohn

Erich Mendelsohn

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Erich Mendelsohn, the most famous Jewish German architect, was an unmistakeable designer, whose work expresses his incredible fertile and dynamic vision at the turning point of architectural history – at the dawn of modernism.

After finishing his architecture studies ”cum laudae” in Munich he established his own architectural practice, which quickly became one of the leading German offices. His friendship with the Astrophysicist Erwin Finaly Freundlich got him the assignment of designing the Einstein tower in 1919. Freundlich had been planning the construction of a suitable Observatory for several years, together with Albert Einstein, with the purpose of experimentally proving the physicist's Theory of Relativity. It immediately became a sensation, especially when Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1921, one year after its inauguration. The exceptionally expressive construction, with its soft curves, exhibits Mendelsohns revolutionary attitude towards materials, construction techniques and forms of architectural expression.

The organic curves of the Einstein tower were followed by other iconic buildings, like the Hat factory Luckenwalde, with its innovative ventilation system that was realised through the shaft-like roof and the ribbed concrete structure, making it possible to incorporate large glass skylights, through which natural light could flood the building.

Other remarkable works of Mendelsohn are the Mosse House, with its dramatic horizontal curved lines, which made him a pioneer of the Streamline Modernism, or the Schocken Department Stores, which also became icons of Modernism.

1933, under the growing pressure of National Socialism, Erich Mendelsohn moved to England together with his wife, where he joined Serge Chermayeff's practice. After winning an architecture competition, Mendelsohn and Chermayeff built one of the first modern buildings in England: the De La Warr Pavillion.

In 1935, Mendelsohn opened an architecture office in what was then Palestine, through which he brought modern architecture to the near East. His design for the Mount Scopus Campus of the Hadassah Medical Centre shows his ambition to overcome the limits of functionality and to include his artistic sensibility into his work, so that, through the warm materials, the tranquil pond, the well-tended courtyard and the vaulted veranda with a view towards the city, the hospital became a place for healing.

Before the Second World War Mendelsohn and his wife moved to the USA, where he lived until his death in 1953. Once again, he had to restart his life and, even though he did not have the American citizenship, he managed to occupy a position as a consultant for the US-government, held lectures at the University of California, Berkeley, and later on received several commissions within the Jewish community.

His extraordinary energy and productivity enabled him to appropriate many different approaches for his designs – whether it was expressionism, modernism, constructivism, he slid with ease through several styles and had a worldwide influence on the architectural discourse, counting among the most important architects of the 20th century.

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