As the saying goes some of my best friends are architects. Well, maybe the saying does not exactly go like this, but this is actually true, and this is not the only reason I hold in high esteem their profession. With my friends in mind I went last night to see at the Herzlya cinematheque the documentary Incessant Visions written and directed by Duki Dror and dedicated to the life and work of one of the greatest but maybe not that famous as he would have deserved architects of the 20th century Erich Mendelsohn.

 

source http://wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il/an-architects-life-erich-mendelsohn

 

source http://wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il/an-architects-life-erich-mendelsohn

 

Incessant Visions is by no means a dry documentary about architecture or just a biographical feature about a great architect. It is also or maybe first of all a love story. A love story about a young German Jewish architect named Erich who writes letters to his beloved girlfriend Louise (herself a gifted cellist) from the trenches of the First World War. These are not however usual letters from the trenches, they are beautiful love letters, and they include visions – visions of fantastic buildings inspired by the dunes and the hills of the unfamiliar Eastern European landscape, dreams about structures the soldier architect may build one day if he survives the nightmare.

 

(video source zvuki999)

 

Erich Mendelsohn did survive the nightmare, and back from war he married Louise and became one of the fashionable architects of Berlin after the war.

 

source http://www.architectureinberlin.com/?cat=15

 

One of the first clients after the war was Albert Einstein, who required to build in Postdam an astronomic observatory which could help prove his relativity theory. The Einstein Tower stays until today one of the most famous works of Mendelsohn, and it started from sketches made during the war.

 

source http://www.urbanrealm.com/news/287/Mendelsohn_Symposium.html

 

source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Schaubuehne_am_Lehniner_Platz_2009_IMGP1721.JPG

 

With fame came a lot of significant projects, many of them in Berlin, one being the Universum Cinema, today the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz theater which was the first big scale cinema theater in Europe. I will not say too much about the style of his works, as my architect friends may read the blog, what I heard is that it does belong to the International Style or Bauhaus, but with an evident twist in the rounded forms taking inspiration mostly from nature rather than from the artificial structures. On the other hand the concrete and steel structures are in line with the technology developed and used by most of the significant architects of the period.

 

 

(video source ateliritalia)

 

Here is a clip I found on youTube about another work of Erich Mendelsohn in Berlin, the Metal Workers Union Building. During this time his relation with Louise was not that smooth, as while he was absorbed by his work and growing fame, she got involved with the playwright and revolutionary Ernst Toller, an affair which lasted until Toller comited suicide in 1939.

 

source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:De_la_warr_front_view.jpg

 

The ascendance of the Nazis to power led quickly to Mendelsohn being deprived of his position as one of the lead architects of Germany, and soon of his right to work. He took the road of exile, with the first stop being England, Although he did not stay long, he created in England one of his major works in the Southern England coastal town of Bexhill on Sea, the De La Warr pavilion, which stays until today a landmark of the city.

 

source http://wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il/the-daniel-wolf-building

 

The meeting with Haim Weizman, head of the Zionist movement and later the first president of the State of Israel was decisive in his decision to traval to Palestine in 1934. In 1935 he opened an architecture office in Jerusalem. During his stay here he created a little more than ten buildings, but his influence on the path taken by the architecture in Palestine and future Israel was tremendous. Among his major works here are the Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus, the Rambam hospital in Haifa, the Anglo-Palestinian bank in Jerusalem and several buildings in the Weizman Institute complex in Rehovot, including the house of the first president and the Daniel Wolf building above.

 

(video source zvuki999)

 

With the German forces advancing in North Africa, Eric Mendelsohn feared that the German Nazis would conquer Palestine and flew in 1941 to the United States. He settled in California at Berkeley and the clip above talks about his period there. Actually only part of the filmed material here made it to the film, or at least to the version of the film that I saw yesterday.

 

source http://www.hughpearman.com/articles5/bexhill.html

 

The theme of the film is that Mendelsohn is today an almost forgotten figure, although his contribution in the history of architecture deserves higher recognition. It may have been his fate of never being at home any place he went – a Jew in Germany, too short time in Palestine to become a man of the land, and then a ‘German’ refugee in America. His dreams however, the ones he was drawing on sketches in the trenches of the first world became at least in part reality wherever he worked. “Architects think they leave something eternal. Their buildings are carved in stone and steel, but they too finally decay and vanish” wrote Louise Mendelsohn in her journal. The memory of Erich Mendelsohn has maybe a second chance with this film.