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Culture

The Pioneer of Industrial Architecture

Relatively unknown architect Konrad Wachsmann designed a component which led to the world-famous prefabricated house. An exhibition in Frankfurt-Oder commerates his 100th birthday.

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Following in Wachsmann's footsteps: modern architure today

He was a man ahead of his time – architect Konrad Wachsmann designed a building element which was to be the start of the era of the prefabricated house. Hardly known in his home country, the Kleist Forum in Frankfurt-Oder has now launched an exhibition to commerate the 100th birthday of German architect Konrad Wachsmann.

Konrad Wachsmann was born in 1901 in Frankfurt-Oder as the son of a Jewish chemist. Wachsmann studied at art schools in both Berlin and Dresden. In 1925 he designed and built the so-called "Wachsmann cube", panels of wood slotted together over a corner. The cube was to be the start of a new era in architecture – prefabricated housing.

One of the first and most famous examples of Wachsmann’s prefabricated houses is the summer house which he built for his friend Albert Einstein in 1929. More than a decade later, Einstein helped Wachsmann to emigrate to the USA.

It was here that Wachsmann met fellow architect Walter Gropius. Together whith Gropius, Wachsmann developed the General-Panel-System – a buiding system which was to lead to international fame.

It was due to the General-Panel-System that house-building became easier than ever: Black and white adverts in the 40s showed off whole houses complete with furniture which fitted on just one truck and houses built by 5 workers within less than 8 hours. The prefabricated house soon became popular in countries all over the world.

Later, Wachsmann developed further contributions to the mass production of building components, and invented complicated constructions for major building projects, such as the roof construction of Munich’s 1972 Olympic Stadium, designed by architect Frei Otto. Wachsmann also developed radical designs for free-standing buildings – ideas which were way ahead of their time.

According to Frei Otto: "Konrad Wachsmann is the keenest thinker and philosopher of modern architecture. He managed to marry innovation and beauty like no other before him." His work still has a great influence on many of today’s leading architects, such as Renzo Piano, Nicolas Grimshaw and Christian Sumi.

According to architect Claus Konrad, "the beauty of Wachsmann’s solutions are evoked by the inner logic of his solutions". A logic which is still celebrated today.