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Peter Behrens

graphic artist-artistic consultant-designer-architect

Peter Behrens

Peter Behrens was born in Hamburg, Germany, on April 14, 1868. He studied painting at the Hamburg Kunstgewerbeschule (School for the Applied Arts) from 1886 to 1889, and then at the Kunstschule in Karlsruhe and the Düsseldorf Kunstgewerbeschule (Art Academy). From 1890, he worked as a painter and graphic artist in Munich. As a member of the Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau) movement, he produced woodcuts, colored illustrations, designs for book bindings and other craft objects entired shaped by the Jugendstil formal language. In 1897 he co-founded (with Hermann Obrist, August Endell, Bruno Paul, Richard Riemerschmid and Bernhard Pankok) the Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst und Handwerk in Munich, the aim of which was to produce handmade utilitarian objects. In 1898 he collaborated on designing the Berlin journal Pan and produced his first furniture designs.

Behrens turned to architecture after 1899, when he was appointed by Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse-Darmstadt to the Mathildenhöhe artists' colony at Darmstadt. There, he designed and built his first house, which also happened to be his own. Intended to be a total work of art, Behrens not only designed the structure itself, but the interior and all its appointments and furnishings, down to the last detail.

Haus Behrens
Haus Behrens

From 1901 to 1902, Behrens taught at the Düsseldorf Kunstgewerbeschule. He left the artists' colony in 1903 to become director of that institution, and remained in that capacity until 1907.

In 1906, Behrens was hired by Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG) to design a wide variety of advertising material. He was subsequently hired as an artistic consultant, in which capacity he designed virtually anything and everything having to do with AEG, from the company logo to its furnishings. He also designed a number of household electrical appliances, and standardized the forms of their components in order to make them easier to mass-produce.

an AEG clock designed by Behrens
an AEG clock designed by Behrens

As AEG's resident architect, Behrens designed several of the company's principal factory buildings, including the Turbinenhalle (Turbine Factory) in Berlin. Built in 1908-1909, this massive concrete, steel and glass structure is still standing today, and is still in use. Behrens also designed AEG's High Tension Factory (1910), Small Motors Factory (1910-1911), and Large Machine Assembly Hall (1911-1912), all in Berlin, as well as apartment buildings for the workers.

AEG Turbine Factory
AEG Turbine Factory

Although Behrens remained associated with AEG until 1914, he did not exclude work in other areas. In October 1907, he, along with Peter Bruckmann, Josef Maria Olbrich, Fritz Schumacher, Richard Riemerschmid, and Hermann Muthesius, founded Deutscher Werkbund. The aim of this project was to promote craft skills that could lead into industrial production.

Also in 1907, Behrens founded a large architectural and design practice in Berlin. Two of the most important commissions handled by this practice were the German Embassy in St. Petersburg (1911-12) and the IG Farben Höchst headquarters in Frankfurt (1920-25). In 1926 he designed "New Ways," a private dwelling in Northampton, England, that is regarded as an early example of the International Modern style. In addition to structures, Behrens also designed china, glass objects and patterned linoleum flooring for various companies.

From 1922 to 1936, Behrens headed the Architecture Department of the Vienna Akjademie der Bildenden Künste. From 1936 to his death he headed the Architecture Department at the Preußische Akademie der Künste, Berlin.

Peter Behrens died in Berlin on February 27, 1940. Two of his students went on to become internationally architects in their own rights -- Ludwig Mies van der Rohe became a Professor of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Walter Gropius became a leader in the Bauhaus Movement in Germany.

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This page was last updated on 05/26/2017.