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Peter Behrens

(1868—1940) German architect and designer

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German architect and designer, whose factories were among the first to be treated as architecture. A prolific self-taught architect, he was also an influential teacher.

Born in Hamburg, Behrens studied art in Hamburg, Karlsruhe, Düsseldorf, and Munich before establishing himself as a successful painter. However, by about 1890 he was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement of William Morris and over the next ten years designed a variety of different objects as well as typefaces. In 1900 his success came to the notice of the Grand Duke of Hesse, who invited him to join the artists' colony at Darmstadt, of which he was patron. There Behrens designed his first house (for himself), which led him into architecture. By 1907 he had been appointed architect to AEG, and for them he built the turbine factory in Berlin (1909), which had an architectural form of its own unrelated to its functional purpose of housing machinery.

During the next ten years Behrens's style developed in the direction of neoclassicism, influenced to some extent by the expressionist trend in Europe. The German embassy in St Petersburg (1911) and the I. G. Farben office in Höchst (1920) are examples of this trend.

As a teacher, Behrens had a considerable influence on Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier, all of whom worked in his office at AEG. Behrens also ran a masterclass for postgraduate architects at the Vienna Academy (1922–36). During the Nazi regime Behrens was on the staff of the Berlin Academy – a measure of the extent to which he was prepared to compromise.

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