Peter Behrens (April 14th 1868 - February 27th 1940) was one of the leaders of architectural reform at the turn of the century and a major designer of factories and office buildings in brick, steel and glass. Behrens studied painting in his native Hamburg, as well as in Düsseldorf and Karlsruhe In 1890, he married Lilly Kramer and moved to Munich. At first, he worked as a painter, illustrator and book-binder. He frequented the bohemian circles and was interested in subjects related to the reform of life-styles. In 1899 Behrens accepted the invitation of Grand Duke Ernst-Ludwig of Hesse to the Darmstadt Artists' Colony. In Darmstadt Behrens turned to architecture and designed his first building, a house for himself for which he also designed all furniture and fittings.
In 1903, Behrens went to Düsseldorf where he was named director of the Kunstgewerbeschule. In 1907, Behrens and ten other people (Hermann Muthesius, Theodor Fischer, Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Bruno Paul, Richard Riemerschmid, Fritz Schumacher, among others), plus twelve companies, gathered to create the German Werkbund.
At the same time he was appointed as architect and artistic consultant to the first electrical company in Berlin, the AEG, a position he held until 1914. His first commission for AEG was to design advertising material. Later he designed a turbine-hall (1908–10), factories, offices, shops, workers' housing, and the AEG logo, thus creating the company's corporate identity.
Meanwhile is Berlin architecture practice gained an international reputation for progressive design. The architects Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe all worked there for a time.
Although he spearheaded architectural reforms and industrial concerns, classical influences never completely left him. There was much that was Neo-Classical in his AEG work, and the influence of Schinkel was strong in his Haus Schröder, Hagen-Eppenhausen, Westphalia (1908), and Haus Wiegand, Berlin (1911–13). His powerful, classical design for the Imperial German Embassy in St Petersburg (1911–12) influenced many architects, including the Scandinavian Neo-Classicists of the 1920s and 1930s.
From 1922 Behrens was Director of the School of Architecture in the Vienna Academy of Arts, a post he held until 1936, when he became Head of the Department of Architecture of the Prussian Academy of Arts, Berlin. He designed the Werkbund's exhibition-house at the Weissenhofsiedlung, Stuttgart (1927), the Villa Lewin, Schlachtsee, Berlin (1929–30), an apartment-house at Westend, Berlin (1930), and the Villa Ganz, Kronberg-in-Taunus (1931–4), all with influences from the International Modern style, which he also employed in the Austrian State Tobacco Administration block, Linz. In 1937–9 he prepared a design for Speer's north-south axis in Berlin, but the war stopped the project. Until the end of his life Behrens held the position of Professor of Architecture at the Prussian Academy of Arts. He died in 1940 in Berlin.
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