The Einstein Tower (German: Einsteinturm) is an astrophysical observatory in the Albert Einstein Science Park in Potsdam, Germany designed by architect Erich Mendelsohn. It was built to house a solar telescope designed by the astronomer Erwin Finlay-Freundlich to support experiments and observations.
In 1911 Einstein published the initial version of his innovative General Theory of Relativity. One of the predicted effects according to the theory was a slight shift of spectral lines in the sun’s gravitation field, now known as the red shift. The solar observatory in Potsdam was designed and constructed primarily to verify this phenomenon.
The building was first conceived around 1917, built from 1920 to 1921 after a fund-raising drive, and became operational in 1924. Although Einstein never worked there, he supported the construction and operation of the telescope. It is still a working solar observatory today as part of the Astrophysical Institute Potsdam. Light from the telescope is brought down through the shaft to the basement where the instruments and laboratory are located.
This was one of Mendelsohn's first major projects, completed when a young Richard Neutra was on his staff, and his best-known building.
The exterior was originally conceived in concrete, but due to construction difficulties, much of the building was actually realized in brick, covered with stucco. The building was heavily damaged by Allied bombing during World War II, leaving it in a state that, as the architecture blog A456 noted, was ironically more in line with Mendelsohn's conceptual sketches than the pre-war structure was. It underwent a full renovation in 1999, for its 75th anniversary, to correct problems with dampness and decay that had meant decades of repair. It is often cited as one of the few landmarks of expressionist architecture.
According to lore, Mendelsohn took Einstein on a long tour of the completed structure, waiting for some sign of approval. The design, while logical and perfectly sufficient to its purpose, stood out like an "ungainly spaceship" in the suburbs of Potsdam. Einstein said nothing until hours later, during a meeting with the building committee, when he whispered his one-word judgment: "Organic". (Otto Friedrich, Before the Deluge.) Mendelsohn himself said that he had designed it out of some unknown urge, letting it emerge out of "the mystique around Einstein's universe" (Wolf von Eckardt, Erich Mendelsohn.)