Peter Behrens (1868–1940)

Peter Behrens was one of the most creative architects of the twentieth century, and designed many industrial buildings that were both elegant and innovative.

He was born in Hamburg, and studied in Karlsruhe and Munich amongst other cities, before becoming the director of the Kunstgewerberschule (school of applied art) in Dusseldorf in 1903. He read and admired the writings of William Morris, and in 1907 was a founder member of the Deutsches Werkbund, which was in part inspired by Morris’s ideals.

From 1907 he gave advise to AEG (Allgemeine-Electricitats-Gesellschaft), the electrical conglomerate, founded in 1883 by Emil Rathenau (1838-1915). Behrens was responsible for the company’s house style, expressed in its stationery and advertisements, and designed some products intended for domestic use, including clocks, ventilators and electric kettles. He was the architect for several AEG buildings in Berlin, the most celebrated of them the Turbinenfabrik (turbine factory) in Huttenstrasse, of 1909. He was one of several architects who designed buildings in the AEG cable-manufacturing and power station complex at 76-78 Wilhelminenstrasse, in Kopenik, Oberschoneweide, and was himself responsible for the nearby factory of the AEG-owned Nationale Automobil Gesellschaft (NAG) at 1-4 Ostendestrasse in 1913-14. He also designed a factory for high voltage products on Hussitenstrasse in the Wedding district in 1910, and a small engines factory on Voltastrasse in 1910-13.

Elsewhere in Germany he designed the company headquarters of Mannesmann in Dusseldorf in 1911-12, offices for the Hochst group at Frankfurt in 1920-24, and an adminstration building at Oberhausen for Gute Hoffnung Hutte. With Alexander Popp (1891-1947) he designed a celebrated tobacco warehouse at Linz in 1936-7, and in 1925 was responsible for a house, No 508 Wellingborough Road, Northampton, which incorporated a room from an earlier building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928).

His pupils included many of the greatest proponents of the International Modern Movement in architecture, amongst them, Walter Gropius (1883-1969), Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (1887-1965).