Behrens, Peter

Behrens, Peter
   architect; perhaps the foremost industrial designer in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Born in Hamburg, he inherited considerable wealth as a teenage orphan and used it to study art. He moved to Munich, where his fertile mind profited from a milieu that, with the 1896 founding of the journals Jugend and Simplizissimus, generated an avid public. Influenced by Jugendstil, he gravitated to graphic design. At the request of Hesse's Grossherzog Ernst Ludwig, he helped found Darmstadt's Artists Col-ony during 1899-1903; while he led Düsseldorfs Kunstgewerbeschule during 1903-1907, he helped create the German Werkbund.
   In 1907 Paul Jordan, AEG's managing director, invited Behrens to become chief designer for the Berlin-based electric company. After unveiling Moabit's massive glass-and-steel turbine building in 1909, Behrens proceeded to design both the interior furnishings and exterior plans for numerous internationally recognized industrial buildings. He always viewed architecture as an extension of art, and his imagination increasingly led him beyond AEG's vision. In ad-dition to large buildings, he designed small industrial components such as arc lamps, ventilators, electric ovens, and teakettles. Nor were his activities confined to AEG. During 1909-1912 he designed private homes, a crematorium, a Cath-olic meeting house, the Ketten Bridge of Cologne, the new buildings of the Frankfurt Gas Company, the offices of the Mannesmann Conduit Company in Düsseldorf, the German embassy in St. Petersburg, and the villa of Peter Wie-gand in Berlin.* Concurrently, he completed numerous designs for AEG. When his creativity led him to work in stone, he contrived the gabled script on the Reichstag,* Dem deutschen Volk (1916), and a tombstone in Heidelberg for Friedrich Ebert* (1925). His garden designs were shown in Düsseldorf, Bern, Oldenburg, Mannheim, and Munich, and his Wintergarten appeared in 1925 at the Paris Exposition for the Decorative Arts.
   Although Behrens taught the master class in architecture at Vienna's Kunst-akademie in 1922-1927, he remained active in Germany; in 1920-1924 he de-signed IG Farben's* future administrative headquarters in Hoechst. Two large structures on Berlin's Alexanderplatz, Berolina and Alexander (both designed in strict, objective style), were completed in 1932. During the Nazi era he taught at Berlin's Kunstakademie and designed an unexecuted German embassy for Washington. Under his influence new building materials and methods were em-ployed throughout Europe; indeed, without him the vision of the Bauhaus* might have been much restricted (Walter Gropius* and Ludwig Mies* were his assistants at various times during 1908-1911). In evaluating the modernist tra-dition, he must be accounted the pacesetter for his many better-known col-leagues.
   REFERENCES:Blake, Master Builders; Buddensieg and Rogge, Industriekultur; NDB, vol. 2.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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