The Einstein Tower: An Expressionist Landmark
Erich Mendelsohn began his creative architectural sketches while standing guard in World War I, along with many other famous architects such as Mies van der Rohe, Gropius, and Le Corbusier. What was it about standing guard between life and death that enticed a certain creative architectural vision? Maybe it simply provided an ability to envision a world unlike the one being occupied or maybe it reminded these young men of the preciousness of life and gave them the yearning to create beautiful places. There seems to be an experienced awareness in Mendelsohn’s work, an understanding and balance between function and dynamism, as he calls it, that could be a large part of the curiosity and draw his work has received over the years. The Einstein Tower specifically is known as an expressionist landmark with its concave and convex curvilinear forms, while simultaneously being functional for a very specific purpose, making measurements to validate Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. This building since its completion in 1921 has continuously drawn attention and brings up questions of what contemporary architecture should be. It provides an interesting example of a purely expressionist form, juxtaposed with a very specific function. "Erich Mendelsohn's small, but powerfully modeled tower, built to symbolize the greatness of the Einsteinian concepts, was also a quite functional house. Mendelsohn was after a completely plastic kind of building, molded rather than built, without angles and with smooth, rounded corners…this 'sarcophagus of architectural Expressionism' is one of the most brilliantly original buildings of the twentieth century." (Dennis Sharp. Twentieth Century Architecture: a Visual History. p65).
Mendelsohn began designing with a young excited outlook imagining the potential of building in the future using steel and concrete, what he believed to be the materials for a new artistic expression. He was born in Poland in 1887. After studying in Berlin, he developed a personal philosophy of "Dynamism" that was his unique interpretation of modernism and design style. Mendelsohn used no historical precedents in his early designs, making his first buildings surprisingly unique. His architectural ideas were derived from expressionistic sketches and romantic symbolism, both leading him to study and use materials to help dictate a building’s form. Erich was a member of the modernist movement and claimed to be a modernist himself; yet, many have questioned his adherence to the movement because of his expressionist style within his architecture. At the time that Mendelsohn was designing, very influential political movements and social changes were taking place, possibly enticing him to adhere to the modernist movement for other reasons besides architectural philosophies. He was Jewish and living in Germany while Hitler was coming to power, eventually forcing him to leave his country in exile. From here he worked and lived in many countries besides his own, eventually dying in San Francisco in the 1950’s. In my opinion, he seems to have defined his style through creating an interesting balance of multiple architectural techniques and ideas, including modernism and expressionism. Mendelsohn could easily have been forgotten, because he founded no school and was much more of a maker rather than a philosopher, unlike his famous contemporaries of the time such as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Although, he managed to maintain acknowledgement through the years, because of his successful modern buildings all over the world, and of course his most famous work, the Einstein Tower. Much of Mendelsohn’s success seemed to be based around in his understanding of place and the relationship that architecture has to its place. His buildings have an identity that has been appreciated in many countries around the world, even though he moved frequently and...
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