Peter Behrens, the first industrial designer in history

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Peter Behrens (born April 14, 1868, Hamburg—died Feb. 27, 1940, Berlin), was one of the emblematic figures in the development of architectural modernism, noted for his influential role on Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier.

Born in Hamburg, Behrens studied art in Hamburg, Karlsruhe, Düsseldorf, and Munich. Although Behrens’ background was in fine arts (painting and illustration), he eventually moved into architecture in 1899.

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He is viewed as the founder of modern objective industrial architecture and modern industrial design, as he designed the entire corporate branding for AEG (being responsible for the appearance, as well for the product design of the concern), and went on to design the AEG Turbine Factory.

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Among the requirements and expectations of the AEG was the intent to design an impressive and sophisticated, large scale construction. The AEG turbine factory was built in 1909. The fascinating industrial monument, of exposed steel, concrete, and large areas of glass, was a “temple of power” showing the grandness of production.

Behrens’ revolutionary design created an architectural style for the industry as a manifestation and archetype for a new understanding of architecture. With weighty gable ends and trabeated ‘columns’ to either side, the Turbine Factory in Berlin displays the industrial nature of most of his buildings.

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“The turbine hall for the AEG in Berlin-Moabit —on the corner of Hutten Street —of 1909 …represented the culmination of his efforts to give architectural dignity to a workplace, similar to the achievement of [Frank Lloyd Wright] with the Larkin Building in Buffalo. Glass and iron took over a workshop of an industrial plant, with an enormous span. Behrens achieved a plastic effect and a dynamic form of construction of the trusses, which were pulled towards the outside, as well as through the tapering iron trusses and the glass areas which were drawn towards the inside. In particular, the monumental shape of the facade with corner pylons, which could not be considered a necessity for construction, and which were built with a thin ferro-concrete shell, caused criticism among younger architects. [Udo Kultermann. Architecture in the 20th Century]

[photos: Architales on Pinterest]

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