EXPRESSIONISM

   Expressionist architecture originally developed parallel to the aesthetic ideals of the Expressionist visual and performing arts in the European avant-garde from around 1910 through 1924. From its German, Dutch, and Danish origins, the term Expressionism is now used to describe the style of any building that reveals an expressive, organic distortion of shape with reference to movement and emotions, symbolic or visionary works, or natural, biomorphic shapes. Not stylized in the same manner as Art Nouveau, Expressionism takes its inspiration from a more unusual massing of form. Less practical than the opposing International style of architecture, the earliest Expressionist buildings exist either on paper or were designed for temporary exhibitions or theatrical stage sets.
   Expressionism in architecture was introduced by Bruno Taut, a German painter and visionary who sought to explore a highly utopian, socialist vision of modernist architecture. His Glass Pavilion, built for the Cologne Werkbund Exhibition of 1914, reveals a blending of Gothic and more exotic features in its pointed dome made of diamond-shaped panes of glass set atop a drum designed from piers that frame glass curtain walls. The entire structure rests on a base of concrete, formed like an earth mound elevated slightly off the ground. Although known today only in black-and-white photo-graphs, Taut's structure was brightly colored, with stained glass to provide a symbolic, almost spiritual interior, much like that of a Gothic church. Taut's bold use of color is unique in early-20th-century modernist architecture. Original colors are rarely preserved on such extant buildings, but Taut's bright palette can be seen in his illustrations for Alpine Architecture, a utopian treatise published in 1917. Interest in a glass structure had existed in the previous century, and Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace, built for the London Exhibition of 1851, initiated a debate on the merits of a glass house that did not reach its resolution until Philip Johnson's famous Glass House was built in New Canaan, Connecticut, in 1949. Bruno Taut offered the idea that a glass house could create a transparency that would meld public and private and that would force honesty and shape more ideal human interactions. Taut's 1912 Falkenberg Housing Estate in Berlin and his housing complex built in Magdeburg in 1912-1915 both reveal his interest in bringing a humane functionalism, informed by the English garden city movement, to popular housing in Europe. As hostility toward Taut's political views mounted, he moved to Russia, then Japan, and finally to Istanbul, where he died after completing several municipal housing projects in Turkey.
   The first major permanent Expressionist structure is considered to be Erich Mendelsohn's Einstein Tower, built in Potsdam, Germany, beginning in 1917 as an astrophysical observatory for the study of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Here Mendelsohn created a building with gentle curves and rhythms best described in musical terminology. Made to look like concrete, the shape of the building was actually created with plaster-covered brick, and Mendelsohn himself described the organic shape as an exploration on the mystery of Einstein's universe. In 1933, Expressionist art was outlawed by the Nazi Party as degenerate, but nonetheless expressive tendencies endured in later International style architecture. For example, the building that most closely follows Mendelsohn's curved shapes is Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut, built in Ronchamp, France, in the 1950s. Situated on a hill, the church features masonry walls of sprayed white concrete and a mushroom-shaped dark roof. The roof tilts on a slant, as if it is sliding down one side, while a bell tower grows out of the opposing side. Developing a more expressive late style, here Le Corbusier uses the symbolism of light and organic shape to reflect religious spirituality. The church is constructed with thick walls that are soft in appearance and have an assortment of variously sized square and rectangular windows spread across the exterior. These windows emit moving patterns of colored light in the interior of the church, creating a deeply moving ambience.
   Other Expressionist architects include Alvar Aalto, whose Opera House in Essen, Germany, begun in 1959, features a white façade that appears to fold into curves like a piece of paper. Such later forms of Expressionism reveal a blending of modernist styles, which formed the foundation for the work of Eero Saarinen, Bruce Goff, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Frank Gehry. Thus, the legacy of Expressionism continues to inform Deconstructivism, High-Tech architecture, and the even more recent bulging, amoeba-styled buildings called "Blobitecture."

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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