Why is it that a boot-last factory in rural Lower Saxony becomes a turning point in modern architecture? The former warehouse of the Fagus Factory turns that question into an exciting story, displayed on five floors, and recounting various aspects that still shape our reception of architecture. This story has two fathers: the enlightened entrepreneur Carl Benscheidt (1858-1947), who considered his employees to be his most valuable asset, and the aspiring architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969), whose pioneering understanding of an architecture serving human needs, famously known as Bauhaus style in the years to come, takes shape here for the first time. Most surprising for visitors: the Fagus Factory, which was added to the world heritage list in 2011, is still in function. So it's not only history the exhibition explores but also a living monument. Interactive displays, 3D visualisation, videos and a large number of exhibits illustrate past and present of the industrial plant. This includes the innovative architecture of the original buildings dating back to the years between 1911 and 1914 as well as shoe designs of the last century and a glance at the employees now and then.
1911: The later founder of the Dessau Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, and his partner Adolf Meyer, lay the foundations for the Fagus Factory. The public life of those days is dominated by top-hats and spiked helmets, by the pomp of the German Empire and hot rum punch kind of cosiness whereas the architecture is a battlefield of various styles like Historicism, Neoclassicism and Art Nouveau. In this context Gropius and Meyer hit the scene with a building that seems to lack everything: historical roots, monumental scale, architectural decoration, grandeur. Instead they confine themselves to basic geometric forms, dispense with load-bearing cornerstones and rely on a continuous glass front structured by a subtly steel-framed construction. It is this deliberate break with all traditions rigorously implemented here for the very first time that make the Fagus Factory the birthplace of modern architecture, thus setting standards still relevant today.
But how come that this milestone of architecture is situated at Alfeld? It is because the owner of the building, Carl Benscheidt, was very clear about what his boot-last factory should look like. First of all he wanted it to meet functional criteria, namely a structure following the requirements of production. Moreover, and this in full agreement with the assigned architects, he put emphasis on good lighting conditions and a valorisation of the workspaces by means of a clear and aesthetically pleasing interior design. This is particularly reflected in glass and steel as predominant construction materials which, regarding the workshop with the lathes for lasts, create a perfect working environment. At the same time the 'dematerialised' architecture of the three-storey building creates a light, airy and elegant structure that is revolutionary for industrial plants of that era. Listed already in 1941, the complex has witnessed several changes, conversions and refurbishments. In 2000 the Fagus-Gropius exhibition opened in the former warehouse, since 2015 accompanied by a brand new UNESCO World Heritage Visitor Centre in the historic wooden chips depot.
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November to March:
closed: 1 January, 24/25/31 December
Saturday and Sunday 1pm
April – October additional 11am
Individual guided tours: Monday - Sunday by arrangement