The Fagus factory is considered a key work in modern architecture. The building complex (1911–1925, 1938) designed by the architect Walter Gropius in Alfeld, Lower Saxony, for a shoe manufacturer, with its steel and glass construction, became a signpost of later Bauhaus architecture.
Fagus factory in Alfeld: facts
|Official title:||Fagus factory in Alfeld|
|Cultural monument:||First industrial building of the modern age, built by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer from 1911 in the Bauhaus style factory complex with ten buildings for the production of shoe lasts in Alfeld, Lower Saxony; fundamental break with the industrial architecture of the time due to large glass surfaces and functional aesthetics for the factory that is still in operation today; Light-flooded, light-weight construction made of steel and glass in a skeleton construction (“curtain wall”) with pillarless, fully glazed corners|
|Location:||Alfeld, Lower Saxony|
|Meaning:||Milestone of functional industrial design with groundbreaking elements for the aesthetics of buildings in the 20th century; outstanding contribution to the humanization of industrial working life and groundbreaking aesthetic manifestation of the social changes of the industrial age; remarkable exchange between generations of architects from Germany, Europe and North America according to computergees|
Modernity in the field of industrial architecture began not in a global metropolis, but in the province of Lower Saxony. From 1911 Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer set up a factory for shoe lasts in Alfeld an der Leine. With the Fagus factory, they created the original revolutionary building of the “New Building”.
Carl Benscheidt (* 1858, † 1947) imagined his new, “ideally designed” factory to be accident-proof and with a pleasant atmosphere. An airy, bright environment should protect the health of the employees and offer them the best conditions for quality work. For the tough working world of 1911, these were revolutionary ideas that the manufacturer wanted to implement in his shoe lasts factory. Benscheidt also wanted to organize the production process of the lasts, which corresponded to the latest orthopedic findings, according to the rational methods of modern industrial production that he had got to know in the USA. The beech trees – Latin fagus – provided the name and raw material for the company- the forests in the vicinity of Alfeld an der Leine. In the 1970s, beech wood was replaced by plastic materials, but shoe lasts are still produced in the Fagus factory today.
The first constructive plans for the Fagus factory came from the Hanoverian architect Eduard Werner. According to the company chronicle, the application for Werner’s building had already been submitted and the excavation work had already started when Carl Benscheidt commissioned two young architects from Berlin in 1911 to redesign the outer skin of the factory building: Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer (* 1881, † 1929). Gropius, then almost 28 years old, and thirty-year-old Meyer had only recently set up an architecture firm in Berlin. The expansion of the Fagus factory was her first major contract – and it was to write architectural history.
It was not by chance that Benscheidt came across the two young architects. Gropius had found out about the planned new building from his brother-in-law Max Burchard, who lived in Alfeld. In his application letter written in December 1910 “for the imminent grand new building”, he used the district administrator as a reference. The building owner’s specifications met with open ears with the Berlin architects, as Gropius had demanded in a lecture in Hagen in January 1911 on the social and aesthetic task of industrial architecture: “Work must be built with palaces for the factory worker, the slave of modern architecture Industrial work, not just giving light, air and cleanliness, but also letting him feel something of the dignity of the common great idea that drives the whole thing. “Also the” subtly calculating master of the factory “,
Gropius and Meyer took over Werner’s floor plan, but rejected the Wilhelminian style facade on the main building that he had planned in favor of a glass facade – according to Gropius a “radical solution” that met with astonishment from the local building police and was only approved without compromise thanks to Benscheidt’s support.
For his part, Benscheidt recognized early on the effective advertising potential that was contained in what he considered to be the “exemplary building” by Gropius and Meyer. The plant, located directly on the railway line between Hanover and Kassel, offered a bold contrast to the historicizing architecture of the time and, he hoped, would provide spectacular advertising.
The production hall, which is still used for production today, was also designed in an innovative manner. Here the light falls through the two-thirds glazed front to the street and from the other side through the large windows in the “saw teeth” of the shed roof. This creates a bright, pleasant atmosphere – and, as Carl Benscheidt had wished, contributes to the safety of the workers: the accident rate in the Fagus plant was well below the average for comparable companies from the start.
Today the Fagus factory is considered a milestone in architectural history; it has been a listed building since 1946. In 2011 it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site as the key building of modernity.