Fagus Factory is one of the remarkable creations of architecture that thrashed down the idea of a standard office building during the times back then. Walter Gropius, one of the pioneering masters of modernist architecture, was responsible for the “artist building design” and “to give the entire plant a stylish appearance”. The design of this famous building was highly influenced by AEG’s Turbine Factory, designed by Peter Behrens. Walter Gropius along with Adolf Meyer tried to portray their ideas, interpretation, and criticism of the Turbine Factory in the design of the Fagus Factory.
Begun in 1911 and extended in 1913, the Fagus Factory in Alfeld stands as an architectural complex that foreshadows the fundamentals of the early modern functionalist architecture. It is an architectural complex that constitutes homogeneous, territorial, and built structures, rationally, and completely designed to suit the functions of an industrial project. A manifesto of modernity in architecture, the Fagus Factory became the starting point of the famous Bauhaus Movement led by the architect.
Gropius was visibly influenced by Japanese ideas in his design; he believed in the idea of a more open relationship between the interior and exterior space and the lack of ornament often referred to as “Form follows function”. The Fagus Factory very well reinterprets the Japanese shoji screens in steel and glass. The steel framework bears the weight of the building, so factory workers can have unobstructed natural light and open views of the surroundings. The social implications of the design and the reliance on new building technologies, merging art with industrial functions, are the hallmarks of modern design.
Fagus Factory was one of the early structures that had facades completely conceived in the glass. The facade was designed such that it aimed at diluting the indoor-outdoor boundaries. The facade is designed to have narrow brick pillars, slightly recessed, which were placed between the iron frames sticking out of the building and housed the large windows creating a light curtain wall, which allowed the natural light to penetrate inside. The corners of the building, where the two glass walls meet, are entirely without supports: an absolute innovation in the early twentieth century. This was made possible with the steel reinforcement that was invisible from the exterior, inserted in the roof over the corners, in a building otherwise built of conventional brick masonry. The front door of the factory is designed to have two beautiful convex corners that create a more fluid relationship between the facade and the small porch that is set up at the door. Gropius always believed that the factory should be a kind of a palace for the workers working there, who were offered light, air, and hygienic atmosphere but also “feel the dignity of the great common idea, which of course would improve their performance”.
Although all the buildings that constituted the Fagus Factory were constructed using different materials, all of these had a common feeling that unified the entire complex. The architects tried to achieve this similarity amongst buildings through various repetitive elements that were reflected throughout. The first unifying factor is the usage of floor-to-ceiling glass windows supported on steel frames that go around the corners of the buildings without visible structural support. Another unifying element is the usage of brick masonry. All buildings in the complex have a base of about 40 cm of black brick and the rest is built of yellow bricks. The combined effect is a feeling of lightness or as Gropius referred it as “etherealization: the process of making something extremely delicate or light, that it seems to be not of this world.”
The Fagus Factory became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011 for its early influence on the development of modernist architecture. Design elements of the factory, such as its simple geometric forms, generous use of glass glazing, and the perceived weightlessness of the building, became inseparable from the vocabulary of Modernism and remain common principles in contemporary construction.