Developed from the genesis of the art nouveau movement in the 20th century the Expressionist architecture style was an exotic, irrational, intense exaggeration of this movement. The style was characterized by early modernist adoption of novel materials, formal innovation, and unusual massing that was inspired by biomorphic forms, or by the technical possibilities offered by mass-produced materials like steel, brick, and glass. This style of architecture exhibits qualities like distortion, fragmentation, the communication of the violent, overstressed emotion which are referred from the original movement. Erich Mendelsohn was one of the important architects who entered the expressionism principles and movement into architecture. His drawings showed forms that are derived from the structure and the expression of the purpose of the building.
Expressionist Architecture dealt with communal concepts after World War I due to the shock of having lost a war that brought a feeling that an era had passed and that it was time to orchestrate the rebirth of communal life and arts in Germany. Expressionism rejected the machine age as the foundation of artistic creation, which came out as an opposition to designing in architecture as the design is conditioned by utility, materials, construction, and economics. By transposing the social uprising into artistic activity, expressionism advocated that political and artistic revolutions are the same.
One can find the stylistic sources of Expressionism in architecture in the Art Nouveau that rejected industrial construction and especially in the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, Otto Wagner, Hendrik Petrus Berlage apart from its origin in painting. Gothic architecture showed the triumph of expression over function that provided examples for the social and communal purposes of architecture, whereas the Far Eastern architecture was an important source that demonstrated combined architectural and sculptural forms informed by mystical doctrines.
The Expressionist architects were influenced by literary and philosophical sources which based the psychological background for this style in the spiritual searching and feeling of despair, produced through material instability. This style of architecture was an attempt to solve the problems of the world through symbolic architecture, to act on behalf of society, and to bring people into the spiritual realm which is far away from reality. The expressionist architecture had a utopian urge and based the projects on a cosmic scale that appealed to the intellect through feeling which helped them achieve modernity independently. The style avoided literal imitation of the traditional style but was bound to focusing on expressing ideas.
The form development was preferred to have cave-like interiors, pointed edges, surfaces, intersections, and tower-like exteriors that gave a feeling of being encompassed by a membrane rather than walls and ceiling. Materials like glass, concrete, and crystals were used that denoted brighter awareness, clearer determination, gentleness, and a search for light and higher truth. The transparent effect of glass helped in continually relating to both natural and cosmic environments that represented states of emotion and suggested infinite space and its natural form as a crystal symbolized the new life, thus it gave birth to a new culture of spirituality.
Most of the structures were on-screen construct models of the respective architect’s hand-built models. Expressionist structures express a dynamic feeling and attempt to engender a communal expression through color and façade articulation. The form is based on industrial forms and materials. The gesture of the form coincides with aerodynamic lines producing formal energy of industrial energy replacing the craft-oriented look.
Here are 5 great examples that represented expressionist architecture style –
1. Einstein Tower , Potsdam by Erich Mendelsohn
The tower’s design was derived from the structure and the expression of the purpose of the building. Although the structure was not able to resist the seduction from formal aspects of architecture at the expense of all other concerns, many expressionists think the design looks like it is ready to depart that create a notion of mobile architecture that symbolized metamorphosis and transcendence.it was designed to hold Einstein’s astronomical laboratory. He used reinforced concrete as the primary construction material for the tower that helped him achieve the surface plasticity to get curves into the structure. The structure has a plastic appearance and looks more molded into its form rather than built, without angles and with smooth rounded corners. Through the form of the structure, the architect has tried to represent energy through mass and wanted to show the movement that is immanent in the building mass.
2. Eigen Haard Housing Estate, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Michel de Klerk
The brick expressionist structure has a progressive mixed-use program that incorporates 102 dwellings with 12 different street entrances to it for the working class, a community hall, and a post office. The form of the structure is treated as a single architectural sculpture whose principal material is brick. Changes in the interior functions are noticed through changes in the rhythm, texture, scale, and color in the structure. The facades are animated by a myriad of white framed orthogonal and trapezoidal window types and the several plane changes in the façade create shadow lines that emphasize the structure’s horizontality. Each elevation is designed to respond to the context it faces and therefore has different appearances at different angles. The form of the structure represents the outlines of the ship with its seamlessly curved exteriors.
3. Chile House, Hamburg, Germany, Fritz Höger
Image Sources: Image 9 – Chile House
This brick expressionist structure resembling a ship is regarded as an architectural masterpiece of its time. The seamlessly curving façade outlining the streets running across it gives an impression of the front side of a ship. A total of 4.8 million dark Oldenburg bricks were used in building the structure that absorbs sunlight and whose appearance changes with the time of the day and weather conditions giving the building a varied and magnificent look. The 2800 windows create an awe-inspiring view of some of the most scenic views of Hamburg city. Linoleum floors and mahogany coffered doors with handcrafted brass handles decorated and elaborated ornamentation in the interiors.
4. Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland by Rudolf Steiner
Situated in the mountainous regions of Donarch the spiritually expressive and primordially emotive architecture of Rudolf Steiner is an architectural embodiment of the creator’s ‘anthroposophical ‘philosophy. The organic and functional structure has a dramatic expression with its unusual form carved by boat builders, colored glass windows, and a double-domed roof. The architect has tried to express the union of spirit and matter through architecture in this structure. Concrete was used to achieve the sculptural quality on an architectural scale. The large glazing windows connect the interiors of the structure to its beautiful rocky terrain backdrop. A spiritual experience of moving around a giant sculpture is achieved in its interior and the color of the space in the interiors mirrors the shades of the sun and earth.
5. Guggenheim Museum Bilbao,Spain,Frank Gehry
This groundbreaking 20th-century architecture designed by Frank Gehry, set on the edge of the Nervión River in Bilbao covers an expanse of 24000 sq.m. It contains spaces for art exhibitions and a museum. The sculptural form perfectly integrates with Bilbao’s industrial urban context and the area it surrounds. The circulating form with its extrusion creates a curved riverside promenade and generous public space on its southern side. The building alludes to landscapes through narrow passageways, curved walkways, and water features in response to the river. The metallic curved form closely resembles a boat evoking the past industrial life of Bilbao along with catching the sunlight and reacting to the sun and the weather of the city. Materials like limestone, titanium, glass are used to construct the structure.