A founding member for one of Europe’s first art movements, ‘The Munich Secession,’ Peter Behrens was primarily an architect, painter and designer of decorative and graphic art, who exerted a paramount influence and was regarded as one of the most inspiring 20th Century German designers.
Born in Hamburg in 1868, Behrens studied at the Hamburg School for the Applied Arts before attending the Kunstschule in Karlsruhe and the Düsseldorf Art Academy. In his early years, Behrens worked as a painter and graphic artist in Munich, where he joined the Jugendstil (‘Youth Style’) movement – producing woodcuts, coloured illustrations, book bindings and craft objects inspired by decorative forms and floral characters.
Behrens’ first foray into architecture began when he was appointed by the Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig von Hesse-Darmstadt, where he designed and built his first house, his own dwelling. Designed as a total work of art, the four-storey Haus Behrens with its brick and stucco façade depicted a modern Art Nouveau-style criticised for deviating from the more flowing forms that had characterised Behrens’ earlier work.
In 1912, after masterminding German electrical brand AEG’s entire corporate identity, Behrens designed the AEG Turbine Factory, utilising classical design forms in a functional and industrial setting. It was during this period that together with celebrated architects Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, Behrens founded a large architectural and design practice, producing several preeminent commissions, including the neo-classical German Embassy in St Petersburg, the Mannesmann-Werke in Düsseldorf and perhaps Behrens’ most celebrated achievements, the brick-clad Technical Administration Building of Hoechst AG in Frankfurt.
Built on the model of the Larkin Building by Frank Lloyd Wright between 1920-1925, the ‘Peter Behrens Building’ (as it was later coined) displays a strong influence of Dutch Expressionism; divided into two, three-storey administrative wings and a representative entrance area. The highlight is seen inside the central hall, which occupies the entire height of the building and illuminated by three octagonal domed windows. Crystal motifs, stained-glass windows and kaleidoscopic-themed brickwork pay homage to Behrens’ expressionist influences, rooted in modern industrial design.