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einsteinEric Mendelsohn (1887-1953) and his architecture continues to fascinate me. Most people interested in architecture know that he is best known for that very famous early twentieth century observatory he designed near Berlin, the “Einstein Tower” (shown above courtesy of wikipedia)It was completed in 1924 and had a shape so unusual at the time that the best architectural reference used was: ” his work reminds me of “Gaudi’s” work in Spain or Antonio St. Elia’s in Italy“, to name just two forerunners of the International Building Style.

Mendelsohn wrote three books early in his career that would be prized additions in any architectural library, but more interesting is how, perhaps due to his frequent changes of residence and countries, from Germany to Holland to Israel, England and to the United States that his important work was spread out over many places during those difficult times. His practice in Germany before the  mid-1930’s had as many as 30 to 40 people working there.

The buildings he constructed were extra ordinary for the times, like the modern Schocken Department Stores he designed in different German cities. Although the above sketch is not of the store in Chemnitz (photo shown above) one realizes how much he loved curves! The Columbus House (photo below) in Berlin oozes modernity with its curves, it also had uninterrupted space so new occupants could be accommodated quickly, a novelty at the time. Mendelsohn’s peers like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Professor Fahrenkamp, all had busy offices that were not much bigger at the time than his, if at all.

Of course being Jewish, designing for Jewish shop owners in the mid-thirties under the the Hitler Regime in Germany was not easy, so he left. Going to Israel he laid the cornerstone for Modern Architecture there and designed the residence of Chaim Weizmann and the very famous Hadassah Hospital. (shown below)

Yet in the press of the period, we do find articles about his work but no books or monographs were written on his work of any consequence until the middle fifties when he had designed a number of Jewish houses of worship in the United States, all exceptional for their attention to detail and the spirit they exalted.

One of the first books on his work, a slender 128 page hardbound volume was published in 1960 written by Wolf von Eckardt and published in the well written and edited series: The Masters of World Architecture, published by George Braziller Inc. What wonderful photographs in this little book!

mendelson fly pagemendelsohn3mendelsohn8Some of these photographers listed above are well known but others are not. Drawings were an important tool for Mendelsohn, as he would say “It is all in my sketches”. The Museum of Modern Art in New York has one of the finest collections of Architectural drawings in the world and over the years devoted a number of fine exhibitions to this subject matter. The museum published a wonderful book Envisioning Architecture, Drawings from the Museum of Modern Art in 2002 on the occasion of the exhibition held in London with the same title and here is the essay and the Mendelsohn drawing in their collection.(Copyright MoMa)

mendelsohn drwngThe little sketch (above) published in the book, and how closely that sketch relates to the actual building site can be learned from the photograph in the Eckardt book in the second photograph below.

So much about Mendelsohn for today!

If you would like to see more Architectural Drawings you can visit the Architech Gallery in Chicago by clicking on our Blogroll link on the left side of our page.

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