Fagus bauhaus before bauhaus

In 1911, last maker Carl Benscheidt offered Walter Gropius the chance to plan and build the buildings for production and offices of the factory he had founded the year before. Benscheidt wanted his workers to work in good lighting conditions and clean air, having started his own professional career in a dimly lit and poorly ventilated shoemaker's workshop.

Gropius, then a young architect, had just left the office of Peter Behrens - where Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and other architects to become famous later had also been working - to found his own office. With his fellow Adolf Meyer he accepted the offer. They were required to base their constructions on a plan that had been developed by architect Eduard Werner but did not please Benscheidt.

The most striking feature is the glass facade of the office buildings, a common sight today, but revolutionary at that time. It was designed to make the rooms inside as bright as possible. Narrow brick columns, leaning slightly inwards towards the roof, separate large window panes which are equipped with a special mechanism to allow for draft-free ventilation. Narrow black steel panes separate the floors. The production facility was also designed to provide good conditions for the workers.

Another innovation are the corners of the building with freely hanging floors and roof which are not supported by any column at the edge of the building. Even the staircase does not touch the walls, resulting in glass corners that give the building a very transparent appearance. Gropius had a hard time convincing conservative authorities that the statics of the building were safe - and in fact was not completely sure of his own design as can be seen in the roof construction of the first construction phase.

While Gropius' design was very modern, it was not purely functional. The form of the brick columns, their warm colour, the decorations on the doors and many details on the outside of and inside the building show that the architects were concerned about aesthetics as much as about functionality. This can best be seen in the vestibule in its simple, clear forms with black glass tiles on the walls and an elegantly curved staircase and railing.

Gropius was not only concerned with master plans, but also involved in details. In an effort to reduce building costs, e.g., the famous Gropius door handle is said to have been designed for this building.

The Fagus Factory is in Alfeld on the Leine, a small town in the southern part of Lower Saxony, Germany. Shoe lasts are still being manufactured there. Tours of the factory are offered on Saturdays and Sundays.

Created By
Harald Selke
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