With the commission to design the facade of Carl Benscheidt’s factory building, the Fagus-Werk, Walter Gropius was able to establish himself as an independent architect. Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer, both of whom were once employed in Peter Behrens’s office, turned the shoe last factory in Alfeld an der Leine into an early masterpiece of modern architectural history. The two architects continued to supervise the expansion of the Fagus-Werk until 1925. Its fascination owes a great deal to the light and airy quality of the main building. This was primarily achieved by foregoing supporting corner pillars, achieved by relying on an elaborate support structure and by windows that extend from floor to ceiling.
Carl Benscheidt not only wanted a factory where well-trained workers from the region could fully develop their skills, he recognized the marketing effect of the steel and glass facade sketched by Gropius. The factory stood right next to the railway line between Hannover and Kassel, “and such an exemplary building,” thus Benscheidt in a letter to Gropius, “can also serve as good advertising at the same time.” He therefore commissioned the Berliners to develop a new concept for the facade. Eduard Werner of Hannover, who had planned the building up to this point, was tasked with the construction.
In retrospect, Carl Benscheidt showed excellent intuition with his faith in Gropius’ modern concept of architecture, 15 years before the Bauhaus Dessau (1925-1926), the factory was the advance manifesto of the “New Objectivity.” The buildings were laid out in accordance with the production process that a shoe-last passed through, from delivery of the raw material – wood - to completion, a saw mill, storage depot, drying house and production hall.
Modern Industrial Design
While the other buildings of this industrial complex, built in three construction phases from 1911 to 1925, are completely adapted to their respective functions – the storage depot is a solid stone building. The production hall with its large glass windows offers ideal lighting for shoe-last production, the three-storey main building of the “Fagus” became an icon of modernity and the transparency it advocated. Its unsupported, fully glassed-in corners represented a departure from Industrial Classicism and mark the beginnings of modern skeleton construction. Gropius and Meyer, who had even the construction site regularly documented by one of the most prominent architectural photographers of the time, contributed to the canonisation of their debut work.
The Fagus Factory is today considered as one of the most important industrial structures of modern architecture. The design is examined as a blue-print of the functional design style that later became associated with the Bauhaus. Also the concept of the curtain wall- the glass facade that Gropius featured in his Bauhaus building in Dessau was put into practice here for the first time. Today the entire factory has been renovated and is open to the public.
The Fagus Factory is still in use today and was included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2011.