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Peter Behrens (1868-1940)

AEG Turbine factory

Designer: Behrens, Peter (1868-1940)
Copyright: Julian Osley/RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection (2000)

Although Behrens’ background was in fine arts (painting and illustration), he eventually moved into architecture in 1899. This was because Grand-Duke Ernst-Ludwig of Hesse invited him to be the second member of the Darmstadt Artists Colony. Here, Behrens was able to design and build his own house and everything in it, a move which was a turning-point in his life.


Behrens move toward a more serious and austere style of design led to him being appointed director of the Kunstgewerberschule in Düsseldorf in 1903 where he was able to take a role as a leader in architectural reform.


In 1907, Behrens was one of just a handful of architects who came together to create the German Werkbund. This organisation was sited and bound within the Arts and Crafts movement but reached beyond this style to improve the design of everyday products and objects. Of course, this practical aspect of the German Werkbund led to it being recognised as an serious influence within the design and industrial communities. Behrens' work for Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gessellschaft (AEG) was the first large-scale demonstration of the viability and vitality of the Werkbund's initiatives and objectives.


Behrens is considered the first industrial history designer in history as he designed the entire corporate branding for AEG, and went on to design the ARE Turbine Factory in 1910.


From 1907-1910, Behrens took on a series of students and assistants, including Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius (all of them who went on to win the Royal Gold Medal), but by 1922, Behrens chose to go back into academia accepting an invitation to teach at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna. Behrens joined the then illegal Nazi party in Austria on May Day of 1934 which may have resulted in Behrens’ association with Hitler's urbanistic dreams for Berlin. However, war intervened and Behrens died in Berlin's Hotel Bristol in 1940.