Expression of New Architecture: Expressionism

After the World War I, many in the construction industry longed for a change. Individual, fascinating buildings were created that consciously distanced themselves from the New Building structures. We take a closer look at some of them and, finally, summarize what we can learn from Expressionist architecture in our modern construction.

After the horrors of World War I, people wanted a way to express their emotions, individuality, and desire for a change. In the post-war period, the Expressionism style developed in painting and literature. In architecture, we can also find numerous works of that period, although often not as obvious, which does not make these interesting buildings any less fascinating. Expressionism took place in Germany between the end of the World War I to the end of the 1920s.

Expressionist architecture is a response and counter-movement to the often sober modern construction with its various trends. The anonymity and interchangeability of simple, straight lines tore the architecture's soul apart. It is this crack that should be closed via individual structures. The architects wanted to give back the soul to the construction, so to speak.

Expressionism peaked in Germany in the first decades of the 20th century. To this day, this architectural style has changed our understanding of buildings and interior design. Jagged, expressive outlines clearly stand out from the surrounding buildings and create individual monuments.

In this blog post, we take a look at some of the most impressive expressionist buildings. What makes the Expressionist architecture so special, and what can we learn from it in our modern construction?

Features of Expressionism

The features of the Expressionist architecture can be seen at first glance in many of the buildings. While modernism has so far been characterized by straight lines and minimalism, the expressionists want their buildings to highlight with unconventional shapes and structures. Emotions and movement should find their way back into architecture. The result was an organic and often asymmetrical building with an interesting facade design.

As in most of the construction movements, new building materials can also be found in Expressionism. Particularly well-known is the Brick Expressionism, which was mostly widespread in northern Germany. Rough, exposed brick walls were used to create a pure aesthetic.

Light and shadow were also used consciously. Large windows in the expressionist buildings allow daylight in, while unusual window shapes and curved facades often create an almost mystical atmosphere with their play of light and shadow. This makes visiting such places a very special experience.

Examples of Expressionist Architecture

Expressionism in the construction industry was especially widespread in Germany. For this reason, we will focus our journey on German buildings with strong Expressionism features. Together, we'll take a closer look at these impressive buildings. What makes them special? What is the story behind them? Be excited!

Einstein Tower


Let's start with a building that is somewhat contentious in terms of attribution to Expressionism. The Tower was the first important building by the architect Erich Mendelsohn, which later became well-known. Mendelson himself never considered his building to be expressionist, and also professionals are still in disagreement to this day.

The harmonic shapes are more suited to the organic construction, as deliberate table warping is an important feature of Expressionism. Nevertheless, the Tower is usually assigned to Expressionism. It was designed as a reinforced concrete structure, but this construction technology was not yet too developed at the time, and there were already problems during the construction. A large part of the structure was reworked using solid construction with bricks. Finally, a spray plaster ensured the homogeneous appearance. The thermal stresses between the different materials repeatedly led to new problems, which frequently called into question the tower's continued existence.

The tower was built between 1919 and 1924 in direct cooperation with the eponymous physicist Albert Einstein and the astronomer Erwin Finlay Freundlich. In fact, this is not just a building that was simply dedicated to Einstein. It is a solar observatory, to be more precise, the most important solar telescope in Europe until the World War II. A rather unusual combination of science and architecture was created here.

Originally, the red shift of spectral lines in the Sun's gravity field was to be designed, based on the theory of relativity. Unfortunately, it later became clear that this intention was not feasible. At the end of the 20th century, the Tower was fundamentally renovated, and built opened again on July 1, 1999.

A powerful solar research facility is still located in the tower today. The image resolution is so high that a coin of the euro size could be easily recognized even from a distance of 3 miles. This makes the observatory an important addition to the already large solar telescopes on the Canary Island of Teneriffe.

Today, the Einstein Tower is open to visitors after prior registration, and it also plays a major role in the training of young people at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP).

Buildings in Leipzig Zoo


In 1878, the restaurateur Ernst Pinkert expanded his restaurant "Pfaffendorfer Hof" with a wild animal enclosure. In doing so, he laid the foundation stone for one of the first and still one of the most beautiful zoos in Europe. After the limited company, which had bought the zoo, became insolvent as a result of World War I, it became the property of the City of Leipzig in 1920.

As a result, new modern facilities were built, many of which still exist today. One of them is the Elephant Temple, opened in 1926. Architect James Bühring designed the elephant house in the Expressionist style. It is a detached, longitudinally rectangular building with an outdoor area. The single-story structure is characterized by a dark clinker brick facade and is strongly structured, which is typical of Expressionism.

In the meantime, the Elephant Temple has been extensively renovated, but has retained its expressionist charm. The free-flight aviaries built in 1928 and the old Bear Castle also show clear features of Brick Expressionism.



Now, we come to perhaps the most famous building of Expressionism. Not far from Hamburg's Central Station, the spectacular outline of the Chilehaus building is an absolute eye-catcher. This imposing structure is still considered a symbol of the economic upswing of the Hanseatic City of Hamburg after the World War I and has become a landmark of the city.

The future building owner, a destitute salesman, emigrated to Chile in his youth. At the age of 60, Heinrich Brarens Sloman returned as a rich man and wanted to do something good for his hometown. In October 1922, he purchased a piece of land of about 53,800 ft² and 4.8 million bricks. His goal: the construction of a unique monument in the shape of a passenger ship, to commemorate the crossing to Chile that fundamentally changed his life.

The renowned architect Fritz Höger took over the management of the construction works, and in 1924, Brick Expressionism had another attraction in the center of Hamburg. As a ten-story building, the Chilehaus has more than incredible 1.5 acres of floor area and about 9 acres of usable area. The striking spire of a building holds a European record for the sharpest facade angle and is intended to be reminiscent of the imposing ship's bow.

For over 50 years, numerous well-known companies from various industries have been based here. In 1993, Union Investment Real Estate GmbH (formerly DIFA) bought the Chilehaus, which is under monumental protection since September 27, 1983.

Anzeiger-Hochhaus (Gazette-Building)


We also encounter this well-known name in Hanover. Fritz Höger designed another monument of Expressionism for the publisher Hannoverscher Anzeiger A. Madsack & Co.. In 1928, a building of a unique architectural style opened here as the journalistic and entertainment center of the city.

It became a landmark not only because of its striking facade, but also because of the green dome of the roof with a height of 39.37 ft, which housed a planetarium that was also used as a cinema. This dome structure made of green patinated copper sheeting is unique in German high-rise construction. A cultural film stage with 210 seats and its own theater pipe was created.

Like many landmarks, the Anzeiger-Hochhaus building was damaged in World War II, but, unlike many other buildings, survived almost unscathed. It withstood 88 air attacks without major damage, mainly due to its skeleton structure, which provided it with good stability.

After the planetarium burned out as a result of an attack on March 25, 1945, the cinema changed hands again and again until it was moved to the cinema on Raschplatz in 1982. After extensive renovations, the Germany's highest cinema is still open to all movie-loving visitors under its original name, "Hochhaus-Lichtspiele".

The area below the dome cinema is also special. The well-known magazine "Der Spiegel" was founded in the press building after the World War II. The first issue was published on of January 4, 1947. Moreover, the Anzeiger-Hochhaus is the media venue of the first edition of the magazine "Stern", which saw the light of day on of August 1, 1948.

The publishing company Madsack still publishes the newspapers Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung (HAZ) and New Press (NP) here today. As a part of the Hannover Media Center, the Anzeiger-Hochhaus is a seat of the regional editorial department of RTL and Sat.1, as well as the departments of ffn and Antenne Niedersachsen.

Buildings in Böttcherstraße


We stay in northern Germany and travel together to Bremen. Here, we can find numerous fascinating buildings, from the Middle Ages through to our modern architecture. However, the secret main street of Bremen is interesting for us today. Böttcherstraße is a true work of art. The buildings were built between 1922 and 1931 and with a length of about 108 m (354 ft), it provides space for trading, arts, culture, as well as the breathtaking Expressionist architecture.

It is obvious at first glance that the designer of these beautiful and unique buildings was actually a sculptor. With the buildings of Böttcherstraße, Bernhard Hoetger created a rare example of how Expressionist architecture can shape an entire street.

The most famous of them is the "Glockenspiel House". Every hour, 30 Meissen-porcelain bells ring here from January to March at noon, 3 p.m., and 6 p.m., and from April to December between noon and 6 p.m., while ten carved wooden panels rotate on the front of the house. Well-known conquerors of the ocean are depicted here.

Furthermore, anyone interested in museums can find a complete artwork of Expressionism here. As the first house in the world dedicated to a female painter, the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum welcomes numerous visitors and shows them the artist's works as well as exhibitions of classical modern art.

Architecturally, the building is really a masterpiece. Two towers rise above the roof, which is not even visible, while in the interior, curved walls and organically shaped staircases almost give the impression of being on an accessible sculpture. In the craftsmen's courtyard, the inner courtyard of the museum, artistic craftworkers exhibit their goldsmithing and glass-blowing art, as well as the traditional sweets production since the museum's opening in 1926.

However, the most striking feature of Böttcherstraße is the bronze relief created in 1936 by Bernhard Hoetger, which decorates the entrance to the street. A youth falling from the sky defensively points his sword at a three-headed dragon creature. The "Lichtbringer (Bringer of Light)" is probably the most photographed object of the entire street.

Conclusion Expressionism

Expressionist architecture was and is something very special. After World War II, this movement expanded the boundaries of the traditional construction, creating a counterpart to the New Building movement.

Architects have once again been guided by emotions, individuality, and the strive for change. The buildings still have strong distinctive features today, which made them unique pieces of art.

What can we learn from Expressionism?

First of all, Expressionist architecture is a movement that calls for creativity and for exploring unconventional ideas. This approach may also help us in the modern construction industry to find innovative solutions to technical challenges. We have to overcome traditional patterns of thinking and construction methods in order to develop us further. Even if that means taking risks and breaking new ground.

The Expressionist architecture shows once again that the building design should not only focus on technical requirements. The aesthetic aspects and the claim to create something individual also make a building.
One-size-fits-all solutions are not always the best option. Often, it's simply necessary to look beyond the traditional construction industry, and it is this attitude that has helped the followers of Expressionism to design such buildings that not only fulfill their purpose, but that will remain in the memory for a long time.

Another thing we can learn from Expressionism is the strong collaboration between architects, engineers, and artists to implement complex concepts. In order to build coherent structures that meet all requirements and standards, it is absolutely necessary to constitute interdisciplinary teams. Together, you can develop and learn from each other in order to create innovative solutions for the joint projects.

Once again, our building history has shown us that fascinating structures are created when art and the construction industry work hand in hand. The Expressionist architecture goes far beyond the limits of functionality and creates a breathtaking sythesis of the arts that will continue to attract many admiring glances in the future. Even modern architects often use expressionist elements to incorporate emotional and individual experiences into their buildings.


As a copywriter in marketing, Ms. Ruthe is responsible for creating creative texts and gripping headlines.