Before Bauhaus found its first footing in Weimar, there was in the town of Alfeld in central Germany the Fagus-Werk factory building.
The Fagus factory building is looked upon as the first building in the world for the modern architectural age, and is the predecessor to the elegant 1926 Bauhaus headquarters building in Dessau. Fagus company founder Karl Benscheidt commissioned architect and future Bauhaus founder, Walter Gropius, to create and build a shoe-making factory as an artistic project. Gropius and his collaborator Adolf Meyer stuck with working floor-plans by architect Eduard Werner, and set their sights on new exterior and interior designs. Completed in 1911, the factory’s office building set a new standard for 20th-century industrial architecture with steel and glass construction and tall unsupported windows at the corners of the building.
“Fagus” is Latin for “beech tree”, and shoemaking began with shoe lasts or moulds constructed from beech wood, which were sold and distributed around the world to other companies for the productions of shoes. In the 1920s, Benscheidt developed the turning precision-lathe speeding up production, prompting growth and expansion and elevating the company to world’s top producer of shoe lasts. Today, the building is still a working factory: Fagus creates plastic lasts milled by automated machinery to precise specifications for specific designs by shoe companies. Also on-site is GreCon which produces systems for fire-detection and fire-extinguishing in industrial settings. The Fagus factory building was recognized as “unique living monument” and inscribed by UNESCO as World Heritage Site (Welterbe) in 2011.
With a population of over 20-thousand people, Alfeld is located in the German federal state of Lower Saxony. The town’s reach by train is 30-minutes from Hannover or 40-minutes from Göttingen, after which is a short 5- to 10-minute walk from Alfeld(Leine)1 train station to the entrance of the Fagus/GreCon complex. Visitors can walk around the working factory site, stop at the World Heritage Site Visitor Centre, sit in the neighbouring café for coffee or tea, and visit the museum dedicated to the building’s origins, the building’s century-long history of shoe-making, and a general history of footwear.
Walter Gropius and others would move to Weimar to establish a centre of art, design, thought, and attitude for Bauhaus in 1919, eight years after inauguration of the Fagus-Werk.
Die Baukunst soll ein Spiegel des Lebens und der Zeit sein.
(Architecture should be a mirror to life and its time.)
– Walter Gropius.
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21st-century Modernity, from 1919 on
The chair or couch on which you sit.
The table on which you’re resting your mobile or pad.
The desk on which your laptop or desktop resides.
The light fixture on your desk or above your head.
The windows in your room, your house, or in the café where you’re reading this.
The “universal” idea of living in a house or apartment with the furnishings we all take for granted from bathroom to bedroom and kitchen to living room is a relatively young idea by historical standards. It’s easy to imagine a time where only the rich upper-class could afford and were allowed to have and live in heated furnished residences, and the poor lower-class lived in unheated homes under damp dirty squalid conditions. Past designs with its heavy stone, porcelain, and ornate decorative components gave way to steel, glass, lightness of space, to favouring function over form. Simpler designs were meant to provide universal access: to the home, and to the essentials which furnished the home.
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