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Peter Behrens

Peter Behrens (April 14, 1868–February 27, 1940) was a German architect and designer.

Portrait of Peter Behrens by Max Lieberman.

Behrens was born in Hamburg.

He studied painting in his native city, as well as in Düsseldorf and Karlsruhe, from 1886 to 1889. In 1890, he married Lilly Kramer and moved to Munich. At first, he worked as a painter, illustrator and book-binder in a sort of artisanal way. He frequented the bohemian circles and was interested in subjects related to the reform of life-styles. In 1899 Behrens accepted the invitation of the Grand-duke Ernst-Ludwig of Hesse to be the second member of his artist colony recently inaugurated in Darmstadt, where Behrens built his own house and fully conceived everything inside the house (furniture, towels, paintings, pottery, etc.) The building of this house is considered to be the turning point in his life, when he left the artistic circles of Munich and moved away from the Jugendstil towards a sober and austere style of design.

In 1903, Behrens was named director of the Kunstgewerberschule in Düsseldorf, where he implemented successful refoms. In 1907, Behrens and ten other people (Theodor Fischer, Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Bruno Paul, Richard Riemerschmid, Fritz Schumacher, among others), plus twelve companies, gathered to create the Deutscher Werkbund (DWB). The Werkbund was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, though it had more modern purposes. They were willing to create for the industry, change the social structure from a class divided society to an egaletarian mass society and re-humanize economy, society and culture.

In 1907, AEG (Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gessellschaft) hired Behrens as its artistic consultant. He created the entire corporate identity of the company (logotype, product design, publicity, etc.) and for that he is considered the first industrial designer in history. Peter Behrens was never an employee for AEG, and always worked as a freelancer. From 1907 to 1912, he had students and assistants, and among them were Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Charles Edouard Jeanneret-Gris (also known as Le Corbusier), Adolf Meyer, Jean Kramer and Walter Gropius (who later became the first director of the Bauhaus.)

In 1922, he accepted an invitation to teach at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna. In 1936, after the death of Hans Poelzig, Behrens became the director of the Architecture Department of the Preußische Akademie der Kunste in Berlin.

Peter Behrens was a paradox of the architectural policy during the Third Reich as he remained head of the Department of Architecture at the Prussian Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin. Behrens was one of the leaders of architectural reform at the turn of the century and was a major designer of factories and office buildings in brick, steel and glass. Moreover, he was praised by Albert Speer and was internationally famous. Under these circumstances, it was unwise for the Nazi government to restrict his activities, even if it so desired.

Peter Behrens was a pioneer in everything he did in the first half of the 20th century and his ideas were spread around the world by his students, especially by Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. The creation of the concept of corporate identity had a direct influence in other posterior companies such as Braun.