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Brick Expressionism Backstein-Expressionismus German Brick Art Deco Expressionist Architecture

Examples, Hamburg and Northern Germany    
Chilehaus, Hamburg Anzeigerhochhaus in Hanover. Reemtsma Cigarette Factory, Hamburg, architect: Fritz Höger
Offices at Gänsemarkt, Hamburg Bricks set to form a complex pattern, Böttcherstrasse, Bremen. Sprinkenhof, Hamburg
Walddörfer Gymnasium (school), Hamburg Jarrestadt school, Hamburg Böttcherstrasse, Bremen
Examples, Ruhr area, Westphalia, Rhineland    
St. Antonius, Castrop-Rauxel-Ickern Hans-Sachs-Haus, Gelsenkirchen Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche, Gelsenkirchen-Ückendorf
Shop and apartment house "Ring-Eck", Gelsenkirchen Tramyard, Gelsenkirchen Rotthausen multi-purpose hall, Gelsenkirchen
Shop and apartment house Lommel, Hamm by Max Krusemark, 1927 BOGESTRA headquarters, Bochum Regionalverband headquarters, Essen
Train station, Oberhausen St. Engelbert, Essen  
Examples, Berlin    
Berlin, Fritz Höger's Lutheran Church at Hohenzollernplatz (1933). Berlin, Kirche am Hohenzollerndamm Kreuzkirche in Berlin-Schmargendorf
Fernmeldeamt, Winterfeldtstraße Borsig-Tower in Berlin-Tegel from 1922-1925  
Examples, Netherlands See Amsterdam School    
Amsterdam: Het Schip by Michel de Klerk 1917-20 De Bijenkorf, The Hague Scheepvaarthuis, Amsterdam
Examples, outside the core areas    
Grundtvig's Church, Copenhagen Hansahochhaus, Cologne Mousonturm (factory building, now theatre), Frankfurt am Main
Grossmarkthalle, Frankfurt am Main Martin-Luther Church, Ulm Capitol (originally a cinema), Mannheim
 Brick Expressionism

The term Brick Expressionism (German: Backsteinexpressionismus) described a specific variant of expressionist architecture that uses bricks, tiles or clinker bricks as the main visible building material. Buildings in the style were erected mostly in the 1920s, primarily in Germany.

The style's regional centres were the larger cities of Northern Germany and the Ruhr area, but the Amsterdam School belongs to the same movement. The style also had some impact outside the areas mentioned.


Brick Expressionism developed at the same time as the "New Objectivity" of Bauhaus architecture. But whereas the Bauhaus architects argued for the removal of all decorative elements (ornaments), expressionist architects developed a distinctive form or ornamentation, often using rough, angular or pointy elements. They were meant to express the dynamic of the period, ots intensity and tension.

The most important building materials were the eponymous bricks and clinker bricks. Hard-fired clinker was very fashionable, especially for facades. That material was adapted especially to the difficult climatic conditions at industrial buildings, particularly in the Ruhr area. Its characteristic rough surface and rich variety of colours, from brown via red to purple, also contributed to the material's popularity.

A striking feature of Brick Expressionism is the liveliness of its facades, achieved purely through the deliberate setting of bricks in patterns. This helped to enliven large, otherwise monotonous, walls. In some cases, even brick wasters (i.e. pieces that had been damaged during firing, or had been fired too long, or too short, leading to uneven or undesired colouring) were used as decorative elements, exploiting their individual appearance. The angular bricks were combined in various arrangements, creating a rich ornamental repertoire, including specific forms of sculpture. Horizontal brick courses that alternate between protruding and being slightly recessed are another common feature, eg. on the Hans-Sachs-Haus in Gelsenkirchen (1927).

The facade designs were enhanced by the use of architectural sculpture, made of clinker bricks or ceramics. A well-known representative of this form of art was Richard Kuöhl. Ernst Barlach also created clinker statues, such as the frieze Gemeinschaft der Heiligen ("community of saints") on St. Catherine's in Lübeck (completed by Gerhard Marcks).

Occasionally, elements from other architectural styles were referred to, translated into the brick repertoire of forms. For example, Fritz Höger's Chilehaus in Hamburg is dominated by Art Déco aesthetics. The Anzeigerhochhaus in Hanover quotes oriental architecture. But Brick Expressionism also created its very own, often quite idiosyncratic forms, such as Parabola Churches (Parabel-Kirchen), eg. the Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche at Gelsenkirchen-Ückendorf.

Northern Germany

Some outstanding examples of Brick Expressionism are found at Hamburg. Here, Fritz Höger created the highly innovative Chilehaus, with its pronounced vertically orientated design and near-playful use of material. Other examples are the neighbouring Sprinkenhof, the Broschekhaus and the Zigarettenfabrik Reemtsma (Reemtsma cigarette factory).

Another important Northern German representative of the style was Fritz Schumacher. He created numerous public buildings in Hamburg, such as the financial offices on Gänsemarkt, the crematorium on Ohlsdorf Cemetery, the Walddörfer-Gymnasium secondary school at Volksdorf and the Jarrestadt school.

Böttcherstrasse at Bremen is a further important example of the style in Northern Germany.

Ruhr area

In the Rhine-Ruhr area, Brick Expressionism had its densest distribution, developint the character of a regional style. The material could withstand difficult industrial conditions and permitted the creation of well-balanced and varied facade designs with relatively little effort. Only heard-fired clinkler was comparatively expensive, so that many buildings were designed with part-clinkered and part-whitewashed facades.

Examples were created all over the Ruhr area, including industrial architecture (assembly halls, office buildings, water towers, etc.) and residential buildings. Brick was also used for representative buildings, such as town halls, post offices, churches and villas.

An important example is Alfred Fischer's Hans-Sachs-Haus in Gelsenkirchen, planned as multi-functional building but eventually used as the city hall. Its comparatively simply brick facade and rounded corners characterise it as a synthesis between expressionism and "New Objectivity".

Also in Gelsenkirchen, in the Ückendorf area, is the main work of Josef Franke, the Parabola Church of Heilig-Kreuz (Holy Cross). Its vault has the shape of a tall parabola. The top of the square tower is crowned by a brick-built figure of Christ. The church was deconsecrated on the 18th of August 2007.

Other important Brick Expressionist buildings in the Ruhr area are the police headquarters, Bert-Brecht-Haus and city hall at Oberhausen, Alfred Fischer's offices for the Regionalverband Ruhrgebiet (regional development authority) at Essen, the BOGESTRA building and the police headquarters at Bochum, as well as the pediatric surgery war of Dortmund city hospital.

Architects (Selection)
Peter Behrens
Martin Elsaesser (Southern Germany)
Theodor Veil (Southern Germany and Aachen)
Alfred Fischer (Essen, Ruhr area)
Josef Franke (Gelsenkirchen, Ruhr area)
Fritz Höger (Northern germany and Hamburg, eg. Chilehaus)
Michel de Klerk (Amsterdam)
Edmund Körner (Ruhr area)
Max Krusemark (Münster area, Westphalia)
Wilhelm Kreis (Rhineland and Westphalia)
Paul Mebes (Berlin, Eastern Germany)
Wilhelm Riphahn (Cologne)
Hans Poelzig (Berlin, Breslau)
Fritz Schumacher (Hamburg)
Dominikus Böhm (Cologne, Ruhr area, Swabia, Hesse)

Backstein-Expressionismus, brochure by Gelsenkirchen City (Can be ordered free of charge) (German)