Expressionist architecture

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Expressionist architecture uses the form of a building as a means to evoke or express the inner sensitivities and feelings of the viewer or the architect. This tendency can be coupled with the notion that the form can represent the physical manifestation of a transpersonal or mystic spirit.[1]

The term "Expressionist architecture" initially described the activities of the German, Dutch, Austrian, Czech and Danish avant garde from 1910 until ca. 1924 which occurred concurrently and interdependently with the expressionist movement in the visual and performing arts. Subsequent redefinitions extended the term backwards to 1905 and also widened it to encompass the rest of Europe. Today the meaning has broadened even further to refer to architecture of any date or location that exhibits some of the qualities of the original movement such as; utopianism, distortion, fragmentation, or the communication of violent or overstressed emotion.[2]

The style was characterised by an early-modernist adoption of novel materials, formal innovation, and very unusual massing, sometimes inspired by natural biomorphic forms, sometimes by the new technical possibilities offered by the mass production of brick, steel and especially glass. Many expressionist architects fought in World War I and their experiences, combined with the political turmoil and social upheaval that followed the German Revolution of 1919, resulted in a utopian outlook and a romantic socialist agenda.[3] Economic conditions severely limited the number of built commissions between 1914 and the mid 1920s,[4] resulting in many of the most important expressionist works remaining as projects on paper, such as Bruno Taut's Alpine Architecture and Hermann Finsterlin's Formspiels. Ephemeral exhibition buildings were numerous and highly significant during this period. Scenography for theatre and films provided another outlet for the expressionist imagination,[5] and provided supplemental incomes for designers attempting to challenge conventions in a harsh economic climate.

Important events in expressionist architecture include; the Werkbund Exhibition (1914) in Cologne, the completion and theatrical running of the Grosses Schauspielhaus, Berlin in 1919, the Glass Chain letters, and the activities of the Amsterdam School. The major permanent extant landmark of Expressionism is Erich Mendelsohn's Einstein Tower in Potsdam. By 1925 most of the leading architects of Expressionism such as; Bruno Taut, Eric Mendelsohn, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and Hans Poelzig, along with other Expressionists in the visual arts, had turned toward the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement, a more practical and matter-of-fact approach which rejected the emotional agitation of expressionism. A few, notably Hans Scharoun, continued to work in an expressionist idiom.[6]

In 1933, after the Nazi seizure of power in Germany, expressionist art was outlawed as Degenerate art.[7] Until the 1970s scholars[8] commonly played down the influence of the expressionists on the later International style, but this has been re-evaluated in recent years.


  • define the term
  • outline the movements

European Expressionist movements

Germanic Expressionism


  • Preceding movements - Vienna succession and Jugendstil
  • Political history
  • Theories of perception
  • Expressionist art
  • Die Brucke, Der Ring, Der Sturm, Walden etc.
  • Werkbund

Expressionist movement

  • Characteristics
    • Abstraction
    • Form
    • Materials
      • The importance of glass and the significance of the crystal
  • Philosophy
  • Ideas
  • Protagonists
  • Built works
  • Projects

First world war and Revolution

  • First world war
  • Arbeitsrat fur kunst, Novembergruppe
  • Bauhaus - Johannes Itten, Gropius manifesto
  • Politics

Theatre and Film

  • Metropolis
  • Set design

Decline of the movement

  • Bauhaus - the move away from expressionism towards constructivism.
  • Nazi repression

The Amsterdam School


  • Mendelsohns visit


  • Materials
  • Form

Other expressionist schools



  • Josef Chochol - 1913 Neklan street apartments prague.
  • Pavel Janak [1]- 1913 Fara House - Pelhrimov
  • Novotny - crystal design for royal palace in sofia
  • Moved towards cubism

Early examples

  • Gaudi

Immediate Legacy

History of scholastic interpretation

  • Discuss how expressionism was seen as a sideshow by Gideon and Pevsner attempting to force a narrative thread to modernism.
  • Critical reappraisal in the 1970s onwards.
  • Jencks 'Intuitive' tradition.[9]

Post war expressionism

See also


  1. Klein, Rudolph (2002) Lecture notes for Changing architectural languages of the 20th century
  2. Stallybrass and Bullock, p.301-392 - entry by John Willett
  3. Jencks, p.59
  4. Sharp, p.68
  5. Pehnt, p.163
  6. Pehnt, p.203
  7. Pehnt, p.203
  8. Most notably Nikolaus Pevsner
  9. Jencks, p.59