Hans Poelzig – passivity and hermeticism

Hans Poelzig (30 April 1869 – 14 June 1936) was a German architect, painter and set designer. One of the finest examples of German Architectural Expressionism. As an architect and theoretician, Poelzig was particularly interested in developing a language specific for factory buildings : “the true monumental task of contemporary architecture“, in a period when Germany was developing as a major industrialised nation. Whereas Behrens (read our recent article) metamorphosized his activity during the years, looking for a complete adherence to the changing mythologies of German haute-bourgeosie, Poelzig identified in a sinister neo-Gothic style, the proper setting for his monumental plants.

After finishing his architectural education around the turn of the century, Poelzig designed many industrial buildings. He designed the 51.2 m tall Upper Silesia Tower in Posen (today Poznań) for an industrial fair in 1911. It later became a water tower. Poelzig was also known for his distinctive 1919 interior redesign of the Berlin Grosses Schauspielhaus for Weimar impresario Max Reinhardt, and for his vast architectural set designs for the 1920 UFA film production of The Golem: How He Came Into the World. (Poelzig mentored Edgar Ulmer on that film; when Ulmer directed the 1934 film noir Universal Studios production of The Black Cat, he returned the favor by naming the architect-Satanic-high-priest villain character “Hjalmar Poelzig”, played by Boris Karloff.)

Poelzig’s single best-known building is the enormous and legendary I.G. Farben Building, completed in 1931 as the administration building for IG Farben in Frankfurt am Main, now known as the Poelzig Building at Goethe University. Some of his designs that were never built included one for the Palace of the Soviets and one for the League of Nations headquarters at Geneva.