Erich Mendelsohn’s Einsteinturm
Considered one of the foremost examples of German expressionist architecture
Einstein’s Tower sits on Telegraphenberg on the grounds of the Astrophysical Observatory in Potsdam’s Albert Einstein Science Park. A short distance from Berlin, the tower, which is in fact a lab, was built between 1920-22. The plan, to design a place where experiments could be carried out to demonstrate the accuracy of predictions of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, was in fact conceived whilst Einstein’s theories were still in development. The project was disrupted by the November Revolution and financial setbacks, in 1921 Einstein received his Nobel Prize for Physics. Suddenly money worries melted away and the project went ahead at full speed. The early experiments were directed towards showing that solar spectral lines would be red-shifted, made a longer wavelength, by the sun’s gravity.
It was German modernist Mendelsohn’s first major building and one which brought him to the public’s attention. The design successfully merged art with hard science in order to get accurate observations unaffected by the then-understood, outside influences of climate. A matter of 12 years later Einstein and Mendelsohn, both Jewish, had no choice but to leave Germany to save their lives. Einstein had renounced his German citizenship and the Nazi government promptly retaliated by confiscating all of Einstein’s property and funds that remained in Germany.
Mendelsohn left the moment it became clear that his life was in danger should he remain in his homeland, he was removed from the list of the German Architects Union and his assets were seized. He moved to England, later becoming a citizen (dropping the ‘h’ from Erich in the process) where he formed a partnership with Serge Chermayeff.
In truth Mendelsohn’s time in England was transitional (somewhat echoing Chermayeff); whilst he only stayed in the country for two years, he left his mark in the form of De La Warr Pavilion. A pre-war connection with Germany came to the fore when Salman Shocken, now residing in Jerusalem commissioned him to build a family home, Villa Shocken. A further commission to build a family home came from Chaim Weizman, who would later become the first President of the State of Israel. One has only to glance at Tel Aviv’s White City to see Mendelsohn’s influence. In 1941 he made the permanent move to the United States where he lectured until the end of the war, amongst the students who encountered him at this stage was a young Frank Gehry.
His final home was in San Francisco.
Architect: Erich Mendelsohn (founder member of Der Ring with Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe). 1887-1953
Location: Telegraphenberg, Albert Einstein Science Park, Potsdam, Germany
Header image Marcus Winter CC BY SA 2.0